One of the most common digestive problems faced by individuals, constipation is characterized by a difficulty in passing stools and fewer than three bowel movements in a week. It affects more than 2.5 million Americans and is likelier to affect people aged 65 or older, those confined to bed, pregnant women, children, those with poor diets, and very little physical exercise.
Occasional cases of the condition are seen quite frequently but go away on their own within a few days. Chronic constipation, however, is more severe and can lead to discomfort in everyday life.
Symptoms and causes of constipation
Having lumpy or hard stools, a sustained feeling of something stuck in the rectum, the need for external intervention to help move the stool, and fewer than three bowel movements in a week are symptoms of chronic constipation.
An unhealthy diet is the biggest cause of the condition. Certain foods and adequate water help make the stool soft, thus easing its removal through the colon. Low-fiber diets and dehydration, on the other hand, result in hard and dry stools that get stuck in the colon. Additionally, travel or other changes in nature, certain medications such as high calcium antacids, diseases like diabetes and Parkinson’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and hormonal problems can also result in constipation.
How is it treated?
In most cases, dietary changes are enough to eradicate constipation. However, in case the problem is too severe, medicines may be recommended after diagnosis. Laxatives such as fiber supplements, stimulants, osmotic, lubricants, and stool softeners are common and aid in bowel movement. Surgery to remove the entire colon is considered as the last retort, but it rarely reaches that stage.
Diet as a treatment method
Given its link to the digestive system, constipation of any kind can be treated by consuming the right foods. As alluded to earlier, foods rich in fiber are exceedingly important, whereas those that cause dehydration and similar problems must be done away with. Here are seven foods that you should consume, and three you should avoid, in order to eliminate constipation.
Foods to eat
Among the many benefits of this cruciferous vegetable includes the presence of sulforaphane — a compound that helps protect the gut and improves digestion. As little as half a cup of cooked broccoli provides over 2.5 grams of fiber to help aid constipation. The vegetable is also rich in Vitamin A, C, E, K and further contains iron, magnesium, potassium, and calcium among others.
A fantastic source of dietary fiber, organic acid, and cellulose, grapes are one of the best fruits to relieve constipation problems. The high skin-to-flesh ratio of grapes is the secret of its fiber content, with the fruit being equally rich in water. Individuals eating grapes have reported lesser difficulty in passing stools.
As straightforward as it gets, water is extremely crucial as it helps soften the stool, resulting in its easy removal through the colon. Dehydration is a major contributor to constipation and therefore, adequate water intake is important. Having a mixture of lemon juice and water is also known to relieve constipation.
These edible seeds are high in fiber, promoting good digestion and reducing constipation. Beans are the best at it, containing a resistant starch that acts as a mild laxative and aids stool passage through the colon. Lentils, chickpeas, and peas are the other common pulses that are also rich in potassium and zinc, among others.
Probiotics are live microorganisms that generally improve gut health and are naturally found in certain foods and beverages. Yogurt is one such product that not only helps improve digestion but also increases the frequency of bowel movement.
Another fiber-rich food, this dried fruit is known to contain sorbitol and phenolic compounds, which have multiple gastrointestinal benefits. Furthermore, prunes help increase the frequency of bowel movements, improve stool consistency, and the water absorption capacity in bowels.
- Whole wheat products
The insoluble fiber found in whole wheat products like whole wheat bread and cereals supports healthy digestion by speeding up the flow of materials in the intestine. Probiotics are also found in some of these fibers, further improving gut health.
Foods to avoid
- Gluten-rich foods
Problematic for people suffering from conditions such as celiac disease, gluten is a protein that attacks the gut and causes harm in these cases. It is found in wheat, barley, and rye and can cause constipation issues in people suffering from non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) as well.
- Fried or fast foods
Frequent consumption of fast or fried foods results in the excessive collection of fats and salts in the body. This slows digestion, with the salts lowering the water content in stools and making it dry and hard to pass through. Snacks like chips and cookies, meanwhile, reduce the fiber content in the body, accelerating constipation.
Although it depends from person to person, excessive consumption of alcohol can have dehydrating effects on the body. The excretion of a high amount of fluid is the major reason behind this, as increased alcohol intake steadily increases the need to visit the loo.