Helpful Tips for Dealing with Constipation
While the exact percentage is not exactly known, about 30 percent of Americans may suffer from constipation. Women and the elderly are particularly affected by this condition.
The National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse defines constipation as having fewer than three bowel movements per week. You heard right, less than THREE bowel movements a week defines constipation.
Constipation is a medical condition that can have very serious consequences, so it’s important to work with your healthcare provider to specify the best plan of action for you. For example, medicines (codeine, paroxetine, verapamil etc.), colon problems (irritable bowel, colon cancer, diverticulitis), low thyroid, calcium abnormalities and diet can contribute to constipation.
Explore these issues with your healthcare provider before following the dietary and medicinal recommendations as seen below.
As researchers continue to unlock the whodunits of our bowels, here are eight foods that can help you move things along.
Eight Foods that Help with Constipation
Rye Bread: Relief from constipation might be as close as your local deli. One study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that rye bread was more effective than wheat bread or even laxatives at improving constipation. The rye bread eaters also had more frequent weekly bowel movements compared to the wheat bread eaters.
Since some rye bread may include refined wheat flour, opt for a rye bread that lists a whole grain at the top of the ingredient listing for the best nutrition. The rye bread being utilized in the study was 100 percent whole-grain rye bread and contained 12.3 grams of fiber per 100 grams (or about 4 grams of fiber per slice of bread).
Flax Seeds: This food is now a staple part in breakfast cereals and granola bars. Flaxseeds have earned their reputation as a nutrient-dense food–but did you know it is also able to help with impaired bowel movements? A study that looked at mice fed partly defatted flaxseed found that an increase in stool output was seen in both normal and constipated mice. The constipated mice also had more frequents BMs. In addition to providing fiber and omega 3 fatty acids, flax seeds are high in magnesium, a mineral with laxative results because it draws water into the stools, thus making the stool softer.
Probiotics: Yogurts and other fermented products have received lots of attention regarding their abilities to improve bowel health, and research recommends that probiotics might also be helpful for people who have constipation. A review of 11 clinical studies that looked at probiotics found that there was a statistically significant improvement in intestinal transit for subjects who were identified as being constipated. Top foods with probiotics include yogurt and other milk products with probiotics, sauerkraut, miso soup, kefir, sourdough bread, and sour pickles. Probiotics can also be purchased over the counter. Examples include Florastor, Align (both over the counter) and our brand at www.Advancedvitaminsandnutritionals.com.
Water: When trying to solve a problem like constipation, most people turn to foods–particularly those high in fiber. The truth is that food is only half of the narrative, and adequate intake of liquids is essential to have regular bowel movements.
An analysis of virtually 11,000 Americans found that low intake of fluids was a predictor of constipation. While the general recommendation is to drink eight 8-ounce glass of liquid a day, your specific fluid needs will depend on a variety of factors, such as your age, the climate and altitude where you live, and how much you exercise.
Ripe Bananas: Many people reach for a banana when they have a leg cramps or a potassium problem, but this fruit might be helpful in fighting constipation as well. While green or unripened bananas can cause constipation, due to their heavy starch content, the pectin (type of fiber that changes the texture of bananas when they become softer) in ripe bananas can help ease slow-moving bowels.
A study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food found that feeding mice bananas lead to more frequent BMs.
Kiwi: This sweet and tart tropical fruit may also reduce constipation. One study found that constipated people who ate two kiwis per day reported a decline in laxative use. One medium kiwi has a total 2 grams of fiber, composed of both the insoluble and soluble fiber types. Adding kiwi to your diet, along with adding other fruits, such as vegetables, beans and whole grains, can help ensure that you get the recommended 25 -35 grams of fiber a day to both relieve and prevent constipation.
Prunes: Eating prunes to help with constipation is well known, but it is also one that’s been endorsed by scientific studies. A review of studies about prunes and decreased bowel movements found that people who ate prunes increased their number of weekly stools by 25 percent compared to those who ate a psyllium fiber supplement. Not only do prunes provide fiber, they also provide fructans, sorbitol and fermentable carbohydrates which have a laxative effect.
Wheat Bran: This fiber ingredient is associated with regularity. Wheat bran is the outside layer or shell of a whole grain–basically where all the good stuff is. Simply a one-quarter cup of wheat bran contains 6.2 grams of fiber and has only 31 calories. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people who supplemented with 12 grams of what bran fiber increased the frequency of their bowel movements. It’s best to gradually increase your intake of wheat bran, starting with one tablespoon and increasing as tolerable. Try adding some to your morning cereal or mix it into an afternoon smoothie.
Dr’s. Rx: It is important to first establish the cause of constipation as indicated above. Once that is done, appropriate dietary measures, plenty of fluids and exercise routines can be instituted. If that fails, OTC remedies that may help include Miralax, milk of magnesia and benefiber (or other fiber supplements). Prescription drugs such as Amitiza and Linzess may help in refractory cases by causing the influx of water into the colon. Movantik works well for codeine induced constipation. Perineal massage (massaging between the anus and the genitals) can also be helpful according to a recent study. Finally, the appropriate squatting position maintained by a Squatty Potty may be useful for constipation.
About the Author:
By Evan L. Lipkis MD