Let’s talk about constipation!
Many of us shy away from talking about our bowels, but meanwhile, many suffer from gut problems! It is estimated that 1 in 7 people struggle with constipation which can make you feel sluggish, bloated, uncomfortable, full and, overall, a bit miserable. What’s more, this figure increases to 1 in 4 over the age of 60.
Constipation is generally considered a dietary issue, caused by either an insufficient fibre intake or dehydration, and if you have difficulty passing a stool, it can make you feel anxious about using the bathroom. Some of us are shy about using public bathrooms for a poo, and that’s when problems can occur, from putting off bowel movements until later to not taking enough time to completely empty your bowel.
So, how do I know I’m constipated?
- Passing a stool is difficult or painful.
- Infrequent bowel movements which could be considered less than 3 bowel movements a week.
- The stools are hard, dry and unusually large.
- The stools are difficult to pass.
- Small, hard, pellet-like stools.
- A feeling of incomplete emptying or fullness in the back passage.
The three main factors we look at regarding bowel health include diet, fluid intake and exercise. Including fibre in the diet is the first step. Aim to include some fruit or vegetables with every meal, and try to reach the recommended 7/day. All fruits and vegetables contain soluble fibre, although some include more than others (e.g. raspberries are the berry with the highest fibre content, pears are a great high-fibre snack option that is also delicious when heated with cinnamon, and kiwis, specifically, have been shown to help relieve constipation). In fact, research has shown that two peeled kiwi fruits per day improved chronic constipation.
Wholegrains are another dietary component that is very important. Including brown bread, high-fibre cereals, brown rice, nuts and seeds in our diet can help increase insoluble fibre intake. With increased fibre, you do need to ensure adequate fluid intake, so make sure you are getting 1.5-2L of fluid per day.
There are lifestyle factors to look at too. Exercise and increased mobility help the bowel motion to move along. Getting in at least 30 minutes of exercise or activity per day can help keep you regular. Bowel habit training is something that can really help. This involves trying to use the toilet at the same time each day, such as after breakfast in the morning, but make sure you allow enough time for this process; don’t rush! Also, using a footstool can give better positioning to help evacuate the bowel. Raising your feet when on the toilet can reduce straining by mimicking a more squat-like position. (Might sound strange, but it works!)
Medicine for constipation is always the last route and should only be done under medical supervision. Firstly, look at your diet and see if you can increase your intake of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Then, check if you are getting enough fluid, and then ensure you are relaxed when going to the loo and not trying to rush it!