What can often be an uncomfortable topic is affecting many of us on the daily. In fact, one in seven people report symptoms of constipation.
Constipation describes an inability to completely empty one’s bowels on a regular basis. It’s important to note that what’s ‘regular’ differs depending on the person. Some people can go three times a day, whereas others can go three times a week. Signs of constipation may include stools that are hard, dry, and smell pellet-shaped, as well as stomach discomfort, fatigue, and nausea.
Soluble fibre acts like a sponge. It will help form the stool by pulling water into the bowel. Insoluble fibre is like a big broom. It helps to push the stool through the bowel and out of the body. Both fibres (particularly soluble fibre) need a lot of water to prevent the stool from drying and getting stuck in the bowel.
Factors mentioned above are not the sole causes of constipation. Certain medications and supplements, specifically calcium and iron, can make it challenging to keep the bowel moving. Conditions also have a part to play; an underactive thyroid, having high blood sugars, depression and eating disorders may all contribute to difficulty with passing stools.
Laxatives, like Coloxyl and senna, can help to contract your bowel muscles and push the stool through the body. However, these laxatives shouldn’t be taken long-term, as the bowel can become dependant on them. This means passing stool may become more strained and painful.
Instead, it’s best to opt for more natural sources, like Metamucil or psyllium husk. These food products mimic the fibre found in vegetables. There’s also no long-term damage to the bowel. Bulk is being added to the stool, and there is water being pulled into the intestine.
When possible, it’s best not to “hold it in”, as it can send mixed messages to your bowel. Sending mixed messages leaves your colon stressed out and confused. So in response, it stops working as it should and may contribute to long-term constipation.
All in all, we want to make sure we have a diet rich in fluid and fibre. Females should aim for 28g each day, and males should aim for 30g. For advice regarding what fibre targets mean in food terms, make a booking with our friendly dietitians at CQ Nutrition. It’s also a great idea to exercise regularly, to stimulate the bowel and keep our body happy.
Written by Annabel Johnston, BAppSc&MDietPrac