Struggling to go to the toilet on a daily basis can be draining and extremely painful. Constipation is a common condition that affects your usual pattern of bowel movements. You may find that you’re going to the toilet less than usual, or you may find it difficult or painful to go. If you’re unsure whether you’re suffering from constipation, consider whether you’re experiencing some of the following symptoms:
- Fewer than three bowel movements in a week
- A feeling that your bowel hasn’t emptied completely, even after passing stools
- Small, hard or dry stools that cause pain and discomfort when passing
- Difficulty passing stools on a regular basis and having to strain
- Abdominal bloating and pain
It isn’t all bad news. If you’re suffering from any of the above symptoms, they can often be treated at home by trying out some relatively simple natural remedies.
What’s causing my constipation?
Constipation can have lots of different causes. Sometimes the reason for constipation isn’t always obvious, but here’s a few suggestions as to what could be causing it:
- Not drinking enough fluids and becoming dehydrated
- Not consuming enough fibre in your diet
- Living an inactive lifestyle where you don’t get much exercise
- A change in your diet
- A change to your usual routine meaning that you don’t have time to go to the toilet
- Taking certain medications
- Feeling stressed, anxious or depressed
- Holding your stools in and ignoring the urge to go to the toilet
- Being pregnant or recently giving birth
- Having a surgical procedure
- Previously having a dependency on laxatives
If constipation is causing you stress and discomfort, here’s 6 natural remedies you can try.
Drinking plenty of water throughout the day will help to keep you hydrated. If you’re dehydrated, it can cause your stools to become hard and dry, making them difficult to pass.
Aim to drink around eight regular glasses of water each day. Drinks such as herbal and green teas and coffee also count.
Fluids also help to move food along the digestive tract. This means that you’ll be less likely to experience slow, sluggish bowels which can lead to constipation.
If you’re still constipated, drinking some carbonated water can help to get things moving naturally again. Avoid sugary fizz drinks however, as these are a poor choice for general overall health and if you have Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), carbonated, high sugar drinks can make your symptoms worse.
A high fibre diet
Increasing your intake of fibre can also help improve your bowel movements.
There are two different types of fibre – soluble and insoluble fibre. Soluble fibre is found in foods such as oats, nuts, seeds, beans and lentils. They absorb water which makes the stools softer and less dry, making them easier to pass.
Insoluble fibre is found in fruits, vegetables and wholegrains. Foods high in insoluble fibre include bananas, prunes, potatoes with their skins on, brown rice and wholegrain breakfast cereals, bread and pasta. These foods bulk up the stools, allowing them to pass through the digestive system more quickly and easily.
Introducing extra fibre very quickly to your diet can cause bloating and gas, and doesn’t always work for constipation. Try adding in high fibre foods slowly and make sure also you drink plenty of water.
If you are not eating enough prebiotic fibre in your diet, then consider a supplement. Natural prebiotic supplements containing ‘galactooligosaccharides’ may help with constipation. Galactooligosaccharides are derived from lactose, a sugar found in cow’s milk. They’re indigestible by humans but are fermented by the beneficial good bacteria that naturally live in our guts, which helps these good bugs thrive.
These good bacteria, or ‘probiotic’ bacteria form what’s known as our microbiome. Our microbiome is essential for the health and normal functioning of our gut, our immune system and for our overall general wellbeing. A healthier gut is less likely to lead to constipation.
Staying active can help keep your bowels moving as they should. Even having a brisk walk on a daily basis can be enough to make sure you avoid constipation.
Movement and exercise help to stimulate the muscles in the small and large intestines. It's these muscle movements within the digestive tract that move stools along the intestines, helping to prevent constipation.
Exercise benefits our general overall health as well as that of our bowel movements.
The NHS recommends that we do 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week. This is in addition to 2 sessions of strength exercises each week that work all the major muscles. This can include using weights, performing squats, sit ups and push ups, yoga or pilates.
Drink a cup of coffee
Drinking a cup of caffeinated coffee each morning can help constipation in two ways. It can help increase the urgency at which you need to pass stools and make the stools softer and therefore easier to pass.
Coffee is thought to have a stimulating effect on the muscles of the large intestine, or colon. These muscles intermittently restrict and contract, which helps squeeze stools along the colon towards the rectum.
This process is called peristalsis, and the stronger and faster this relaxation and contraction process is, the better for healthy bowel movements.
Decaffeinated coffee may also help, but not to the same extent as caffeinated coffee will. Coffee also contains small amounts of soluble fibre, which helps stools absorb more water, making them softer and easier to pass.
Speak to your GP
Although often effective, these natural remedies won’t work for everyone. If you’ve tried all you can to help make your bowel movements easier and more regular to no avail, then it’s best to speak to your GP.
Your GP will ask some general medical questions, and then questions relating to your bowel habits. They will also look at any medications you’re taking to see if they could be causing your constipation.
You may be recommended some diet and/or lifestyle changes too, to see if they help. Your GP may also recommend some medications that can help.
Always speak to your doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- Blood in your stools
- Severe pain in your abdomen
- Pain in your rectum
- An inability to pass wind when you feel you need to
- Severe cramping pains that come on suddenly
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