Here’s the poop. While constipation is a common condition, there are steps you can take to lessen your discomfort when it happens to you, or even avoid it altogether.
To keep constipation under control, it helps to understand a bit about how your body produces and eliminates solid waste. As with many of the body’s processes, the gut—your gastrointestinal tract (digestive system)—is a central player. As the food you eat makes its way through the gut, the small intestine absorbs nutrients, and the waste (partially digested food) moves on to the colon, which absorbs some of the water and produces stool, which is expelled via the anus.
If the waste moves too slowly, the colon has more time to draw off its water, resulting in stools that are hard, dry, and difficult to push out. Bowel movements can be painful, and you may feel an uncomfortable pressure in your gut when you cannot fully empty your bowels. A stomachache, cramping, bloating, or nausea can also develop. In addition, straining to complete a BM can cause rectal hemorrhoids or tears (fissures) in the anus. In more extreme cases, an infection called diverticulitis develops in the colon, or the feces become impacted in the rectum and anus.
It’s also important to understand what a normal bowel movement (BM) pattern is for you. While having fewer than three bowel movements a week is the technical definition of constipation, regular BM patterns vary widely. Having two or three BMs per week can be healthy for one person, while going more than a day without a BM may be a red flag for someone else.
Who Gets Constipated and Why?
The causes of constipation include the following:
- Medications – Be sure to review the possible side effects of any medication you are taking to see if constipation is listed among them. Examples of medications that commonly cause constipation include codeine, anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen and naproxen, psychiatric medications, antinausea medications, antacids, and antidepressants like fluoxetine
- Medical Conditions – Obvious culprits include gut disorders like irritable bowel syndrome, diverticulitis, intestinal obstruction, and colorectal cancer, and structural defects like fistula or imperforate anus. Hypothyroidism, diabetes, uremia, and other endocrine disorders can also cause constipation, as can multiple organ diseases such as lupus and scleroderma.
- Behaviors and Practices – Consuming too little fiber and water or too much dairy can cause constipation. Getting too little exercise also increases your risk of constipation. Even abrupt changes in your routine can throw off your BM pattern, which is why so many people experience it when they travel.
Although anyone, at any age, can become constipated, the condition is more common among older people and women during and shortly after pregnancy.
Avoiding and Resolving Constipation
Fortunately, there are several easy practices that will help keep you regular:
- Fiber up your diet – Get the bulk of your nutrition from whole grains, vegetables, and fruits. Limit the amount of processed and high-fat foods you consume. All-stars that help with constipation include berries, pears, prunes, flaxseed, yogurt, and popcorn.
- Water for the win – To be well-hydrated, you need to drink water. Alcohol and caffeinated beverages cause dehydration.
- Supplement your efforts – Over-the-counter stool softeners or laxatives can help, but you should not use them for more than two weeks at a time; overuse can make constipation worse. A supplement like Jetson’s Digest is safe to take regularly to keep your waste elimination system on track. Ingredients like the probiotic bacillus coagulans SNZ1969 can help keep you regular, while lactospore bacillus coagulans MTCC5856 can alleviate constipation.
- Move it! – Get regular exercise for regular BMs. At a minimum, go for a brisk walk several times a week.
So, there you have it. Armed with an understanding of how the waste system works and an arsenal of healthy habits, you should be able to reduce constipation to a rare, mild inconvenience. Here’s to happy, healthy pooping!