Have you seen the movie “constipation?” No?
It’s because it has not come out yet. Just kidding.
We often make jokes and puns on constipation. But do you know constipation is common among people, and each one has faced acute constipation at some point? There sure are many instances where constipation has kept us away from our daily routine work. In this article, we’ll learn all about constipation, its causes, and some of the best home remedies for constipation.
1) What is Constipation?
Every person makes bowel movements; however, the frequency varies from person to person. Some people have bowel movements several times each day, while some might have them 3-4 times a week. Constipation occurs when there are fewer (once or twice a week) and infrequent bowel movements, and stools are hard and painful to pass.
The stools passed are generally hard and dry. (Note:- normally, stools are soft and firm and are not accompanied by pain.)
It may also feel like not all stool has been discharged properly.
2) How Common is Constipation?
Chronic constipation is a serious gastrointestinal issue that affects 15-20% of the US population.
Constipation is common among a particular section of people, which consists of:-
• older people (generally over 65 years old).
• women, especially pregnant or those who have given birth recently.
• people who eat low-fiber foods.
• people who take certain medications.
• people who suffer from any health issue.
• people who never engage in any physical activity.
3) What are the Symptoms of Constipation?
Constipation symptoms include:-
• difficulty in passing stool.
• stools being hard and dry.
• stool frequency has decreased (less than 1-2 times per week).
• feeling that the rectum is not empty even after defecation.
• pain and cramps in the abdomen region.
• feeling nauseous
• feeling bloated
4) Causes of Constipation
We have learned in biology classes that nutrients are absorbed from food moving through the digestive system. The partially digested food (waste) moves from the small intestine to the large intestine (also known as the colon). As the waste moves through the colon, it is absorbed by the colon in its process of making a stool. The stool then reaches the rectum due to muscle contractions, and by the time it reaches the rectum, the stool becomes solid as most of its water content is already absorbed.
Now in the case of constipation, the colon’s muscle contractions are slow and sluggish. As a result, the food passes through the colon slowly, and too much of its water content gets absorbed by the colon. Hence, the stool becomes hard and dry when it reaches the rectum.
Some of the causes behind chronic constipation include:-
4.1) Lifestyle Factors:-
Your daily lifestyle choices play a very important role in determining if you’ll end up with constipation or not. These include:
• Having low fiber intake.
• Less water and fluid intake.
• Little or no physical exercise.
• Too much stress.
• Changes in regular day routine like traveling, eating, and sleeping at different times.
• Delaying the urge to have bowel movements.
Certain over-the-counter and prescription medicines can also cause constipation:
•Antacids that contain aluminum or calcium.
•Calcium channel blockers.
•Narcotic pain medicines.
•Certain medicines used to treat Parkinson’s disease.
•Certain medicines used to treat depression.
Overuse or misuse of laxatives can also be a reason for constipation.
4.3) Underlying Health Issues:-
Certain health issues can also cause constipation like:
• Problems with the colon or rectum, like a diverticular disease.
• Conditions that affect the brain or spinal cord, like Parkinson’s disease and stroke.
• Hormonal imbalance like hyperthyroidism.
4.4) Effects of Stress and Other Psychological Issues:-
High-stress levels hurt our body’s immune system causing several health complications and worsening gastrointestinal symptoms, such as stomach pain and constipation. When you’re under stress, your body releases stress hormones like epinephrine that trigger the fight-or-flight response. There is an increased blood flow in vital organs like the heart, lungs, and brain while the blood flow in the intestine decreases. This hinders digestion and smooth bowel movement. Stress can also cause inflammation in your gut and throw off the healthy bacteria balance in the gut, worsening the symptoms of constipation.
Psychological issues like physical abuse, sexual abuse, death, and separation may also trigger constipation.
5) When to see a Doctor?
Constipation is a short-term digestive problem. We can alleviate constipation through some lifestyle changes. However, if constipation persists even after home remedies, it is advisable to seek a doctor.
If you see any of the following symptoms:
• Rectal bleeding
• Severe and constant abdominal pain.
• Unintended weight loss
It’s better not to waste any more time and seek professional medical advice to rule out the possibility of having underlying health complications like irritable bowel syndrome or colon cancer.
6) How to Diagnose Constipation?
Doctors may diagnose constipation after considering your medical history, family medical history, bowel movements, diet, etc.
Doctors may also perform a physical examination (Digital rectal examination) to find problems in the colon that might cause constipation.
Other tests to diagnose constipation include:-
• Lab tests include blood and urine test to determine if diabetes and hyperthyroidism are present. A stool sample check is also done at times.
• Imaging tests like computed tomography (CT scan), Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), and abdominal x-ray can also be done to identify the cause of constipation.
• Colonoscopy can also be performed to check the chances of colon cancer or polyps in the colon.
• Colorectal transit study is performed to see how well food moves through the colon.
7) How to Relieve Constipation?
Constipation can sometimes be annoying and even painful, forcing you to cancel plans to go out and stay at home all day. However, there are some home remedies for constipation that you can try.
10 Best Home Remedies for Constipation:-
Here are some home remedies to cure constipation:-
7.1) Drinking Water:-
Dehydration is a leading cause of constipation. As with constipation, the colon absorbs too much water, hence the dry and hard stool. Drinking water is also important for daily bowel movements. Doctors recommend drinking 3-4 liters of water every day.
According to studies, it has been found that sparkling water is more effective in relieving constipation than normal tap water. It also helps in relieving other health implications like indigestion and chronic idiopathic constipation.
7.2) Including High-fiber Foods and Fiber Supplements in the Diet:-
To treat chronic constipation, doctors often recommend increasing dietary fiber intake. So what is dietary fiber? These are part of plant food that is not digested. Fibers can be soluble or insoluble. Soluble fibers soften stools and help in their movement through the digestive tract.
Foods high in soluble fiber are citrus food, apples, oats, citrus fruits, grapes, brussels sprouts, avocados, dried beans, lentils, etc. Insoluble fiber, on the other hand, adds bulk to the stool to relieve constipation. Foods with high insoluble fiber are whole grains, cereal, wheat bran, vegetables like sweet potato, broccoli, fruits with skin, etc. Wheat bran can also be used as a natural laxative.
Some foods are rich in both soluble and insoluble fibers. These include prunes, dried plums, beans, and sprouted grains. Drinking prune juice is highly effective in treating constipation as it contains “sorbitol,” a natural laxative.
It is advised to have 20-30 gms of dietary fiber daily.
Even though it’s best to take fiber from vegetables and fruits, you can add a fiber supplement to your diet if you cannot do that. These include psyllium husk, methylcellulose, etc. Psyllium is available in powder form as well as a supplement form. It helps to improve stool consistency and increase stool frequency. It has been found that psyllium is more effective than other fiber supplements in treating constipation.
Important note:- Allow your body to take time to adjust to a fiber supplement. Also, drink lots of water since too much fiber in the diet can cause bloating.
It is also advised to avoid eating foods that can make constipation worse, such as:
• low fiber snacks
• processed food
• fast food etc.
7.3) Use of Stool Softeners:-
You can use stool softeners if other home remedies are not useful. They are also known as emollient laxatives. Stool softener softens stool by drawing moisture into the digestive system. Thus the bowel moves easily through the digestive system. One to three days of ingestion of this medicine is needed for its action to be effective. Some examples are Colace, Surfak, Dulcolax, Docusate, etc.
7.4) Use of Laxative Stimulant:-
Stimulant laxatives are mainly used for severe constipation under the guidance of a doctor. It forces bowel movement by triggering the intestinal walls to contract and push the stool. Some laxative stimulant options are bisacodyl and senna sennosides.
Important note– It’s better not to use too many laxatives to prevent being dependent on them. Laxative habits can aggravate constipation and the need for more laxatives, thus forming a vicious cycle.
7.5) Use of Lubricant Laxative:-
Lubricant laxatives are often used for constipation relief and are generally taken through the mouth. They consist of mineral oils and mineral oil emulsions. These laxatives form a thin, waterproof layer in the intestinal wall and on the stool. As a result, the stools become slippery and do not dry out. Lubricant laxative also decreases water absorption by the intestine keeping the stool moist. This medication might take 7-8 hours to induce bowel movement.
Important note:- It’s best to use lubricant laxative for short-term purposes.
Lubricant laxatives can also have side effects like anal leakage, abdominal pain, perianal discomfort, vomiting, etc., so they should be taken in small doses.
7.6) Use of Osmotic Laxative:-
Another one of the best home remedies for constipation includes osmotic laxatives. Osmotic laxatives soften the stool by drawing moisture from the surrounding tissue into the digestive system. The stool becomes easier to pass through the gastrointestinal system and can help ease constipation. Generally, osmotic laxatives take 2 to 3 days to work.
Osmotic laxatives should be taken in moderation as their overuse can cause dehydration. Sometimes, osmotic laxatives are used for a bowel movement and removing stool from the colon before a colonoscopy.
Osmotic laxatives include:
•polyethylene glycol (PEG)- Miralax and Glycolax
•lactulose- Cephulac, Duphalac
• sorbitol- Arlex
Another class of laxatives called saline osmotic includes magnesium-based laxatives like magnesium citrate and magnesium hydroxide. Magnesium hydroxide (Milk of magnesia) can also be used as an antacid.
Important note:- It is advised to drink lots of water as laxatives increase the possibility of gas and cramps.
7.7) Avoid Dairy Products:-
Constipation has also been linked to dairy products like milk and cheese consumption. Many people are very sensitive to proteins found in cow’s milk, making them prone to constipation and irregular bowel movement. Hence, if you are experiencing constipation and think dairy products are a trigger, it’s better to reduce dairy intake and avoid them as much as possible.
Important note:- People who are lactose intolerant are more likely to have diarrhea and upset stomach rather than constipation after consuming dairy products.
7.8) Drinking Decaffeinated Coffee:-
Drinking coffee has many health benefits, like lowering the risk of type 2 diabetes, improving sleep, lowering anxiety levels, lower the risk of many cardiovascular diseases. But did you know coffee also helps in treating constipation? Due to their laxative effect, both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee help improve bowel movement and the colon’s ability to contract. However, caffeine is highly dehydrating. Hence it’s better to keep caffeinated coffee consumption within the limit or choose decaffeinated coffee. It is safe to consume 3-4 cups of coffee daily.
7.9) Consumption of Prebiotic and Probiotic Foods:-
Among other home remedies for constipation is the consumption of prebiotics and probiotics. Prebiotics are a type of indigestible plant fiber. These include oligosaccharides and inulin. Prebiotics generally act as food for the probiotics and other healthy gut bacteria, thus promoting growth. They also improve digestive health and increases the frequency of bowel movement. Prebiotic foods include whole grains, bananas, garlic, chicory, leaks, chickpeas, etc.
Probiotics, however, are live and beneficial microorganisms, mostly bacteria. Probiotics help maintain gut health by promoting the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut and improving digestion. Some research suggests using probiotics for pregnancy constipation as they are safer options. Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium are the best probiotic strains of bacteria to relieve symptoms of constipation.
Thus both probiotics and prebiotics are important for balancing the gut microbiota, improving digestion, and maintaining regular bowel movement and are effective in alleviating functional constipation.
7.10) Exercising Regularly:-
Scientific research suggests that exercise therapy is effective in curing constipation. When we are constipated, we feel like lying and doing nothing. But did you know even 10-15 minutes of walking can help to relieve symptoms of constipation?
Any physical activity increases blood flow in the intestine and helps to regulate bowel movement and digestion.
Any form of cardio, whether walking, cycling, jogging, swimming, or dancing, is useful for relieving constipation. Cardio increases the heart rate and blood flow in the intestine and helps maintain regular bowel movements.
Yoga is highly beneficial for keeping the digestive tract healthy. Certain yoga poses work by massaging the digestive system and getting the bowels to move through the intestine.
Some yoga poses that are highly beneficial in treating constipation are:
• Half spinal twist
• Cobra pose
• legs up the wall pose
• wind relieving pose
• supine twist
• Deep Breathing Exercise:-
Deep breathing helps calm our nervous system, triggering the secretion of different hormones that aid digestion. Not only that, but it also helps alleviate stress, which can trigger constipation symptoms.
Abdominal massages are also effective in relieving constipation. All you need to do is lay on your back and press the abdomen clockwise for 10-15 minutes.
• Getting in a Squat Position while Pooping:-
Western toilets are a leading cause of constipation. Western toilets put the body in a position that makes bowel movement difficult. Sitting in a position where the knees are higher than the hips – a squatting position instead of a seating position to help you with constipation problems. You can keep your feet on a stool before the toilet to achieve that squatting position while defecating.
What is the right time to exercise?
The best time to exercise so that you don’t face constipation is 1-1.5 hours after a heavy meal. Exercising increases the secretion of many digestive enzymes and hormones that helps in the digestion of food.
These are a few of the most effective home remedies for constipation.
Most of the time, constipation is acute, lasts only a few days, and can be relieved by dietary changes and exercising over-the-counter laxatives. However, if chronic constipation lasts for more than three months, causes disruption in one’s personal or work life, and cannot be relieved through dietary changes or exercising, it’s better to take a doctor’s help.