Constipation is an annoyance that affects us all from time to time, some more than others, and can leave you feeling sluggish, crampy and bloated. So how can you relieve constipation?
Each person has his or her own bowel routine and the normal amount of bowel movements can range anywhere from 3 times a day to 3 times a week. Anything less than 3 times a week would be the clinical definition of constipation, with bowel movements that are small, hard, dry and difficult to eliminate.
Most constipation is not serious and usually is temporary, but nonetheless uncomfortable and accounts for millions of doctor’s visits a year. Over the counter laxatives is the most widely used relief and is a multi-million dollar industry.
In order to effectively answer the question of how to relieve constipation it is important to examine the typical causes of constipation before you start constipation remedies that include drugs with side effects. The biggest culprits are poor diet, not enough fibre and fluids, inactive lifestyles, and medications. Other contributing factors are irritable bowel syndrome, milk, changes in daily routines, abuse of laxatives, ignoring the urge, dehydration, bowel and colon problems, and specific diseases or conditions.
Depending on the severity, if you want to relieve constipation it should begin with the least intrusive method for your body and system such as changing your eating habits to include foods high in dietary fibre and drinking plenty of fluids including water. Dietary associations recommend 20 to 35 grams of fibre daily but most people consume only 5 to 14 grams, significantly less than the recommendation. Today’s diets include too many refined and processed foods from which the natural fibre has been removed. Foods rich in fibre include beans, whole grains and bran, fresh fruits and vegetables. Make it a daily habit to include fruit and vegetable juices with and/or between meals.
Exercise and an active lifestyle can prevent and help relieve constipation, and when the urge hits to have a bowel movement, don’t ignore it.
After all natural methods are exhausted it may be necessary to use a laxative. Again the least intrusive method is your best option to begin with because this way you avoid any side effects as you try to relieve constipation. Relying on laxatives for extended periods can create a lazy bowel and dependency.
There is a multitude of types of laxatives that vary in forms of route administration and the action they provide for relieving the constipation.
- Bulk forming laxatives or fibre supplements are generally considered the safest form and must be taken with water or they may cause obstruction. An example would be Metamucil. The down side to using this method is that if not effective can worsen bloating and abdominal pain.
- Stimulants such as Dulcolax and Senokot cause the walls of the intestines to contract encouraging the movement of the stool.
- Osmotics such as Cephulac create bowel distention by causing fluids to move through the colon in a unique way.
- Stool softeners such as Colace should not be used for prolonged periods. Fluid from the body is absorbed through the colon walls and moistens the stool. However overuse can cause electrolyte imbalance.
- Oral lubricants like mineral oil lubricate the stool enabling it to eliminate more easily.
- Saline laxatives absorb fluids like a sponge into the colon improving movement. An example would be Milk of Magnesia.
- Chloride channel activators work by increasing fluids in the intestines improving motility.
Other forms of relief for constipation include suppositories and enemas and provide quicker relief. Some people may prefer to use more naturopathic methods using herbal remedies instead such as senna leaves, ground flaxseeds, psyllium husks, or ground fenugreek seeds. Other methods may include the use of ascorbic acid in Vitamin C and the mineral Magnesium.
The method you use will be affected by the severity of the constipation and possibly the advice of your doctor. The best medicine is prevention and a healthy diet which includes plenty of fibre rich foods and fluids is the perfect beginning.