While we have no qualms lamenting about a backache or tummy upset, we tend to keep mum when we have ‘potty’ problems. When pooping becomes downright difficult, what natural options are there besides the quick-fix laxatives or enemas available on store shelves?
Fret not, dealing with constipation is nothing to be embarrassed about. In fact, understanding the causes of feeling constipated will help you overcome your difficulty in passing motion. Constipation is defined as having fewer than three bowel movements in a week. This gastrointestinal problem can be caused by inadequate water intake, a dietary change, medication use or emotional stress. When constipated, you’ll find that your stools are hard, dry and small. This often causes uneasiness, pain and a bloated feeling that makes you dread heading to the loo for ‘a long one’.
Here are eight natural ways to make the transit of your stools out of your intestines smoother and less strenuous.
1. Consume adequate fibre
Fibre is indigestible material and acts like a sponge, absorbing water from its surroundings and adding bulk to your stool which in turn, helps it exit your body. Admittedly, most of us consume less fibre in a day that we ought to (25 grams of fibre is recommended daily). Increase your fibre intake by eating more wholegrains, fruits and vegetables. Fibre-rich foods include beans, berries, pears, apples, prunes, broccoli, rolled oats, flaxseed and dried figs. Tropical fruits like papaya, banana and dragon fruit are good sources of fibre, too!
Plus, research has reported that eating adequate fibre increases your satiety, helps you maintain a healthy weight, lowers your risk of developing cardiovascular diseases and certain types of cancer.
The Healthy Eating Plate is a helpful guide to follow to get your meal proportions right – thanks to Harvard Health Publications and nutrition experts at Harvard School of Public Health.
2. Drink up
While having enough fibre is important, be sure to drink at least 2 litres of water daily to be adequately hydrated and prevent constipation. Struggling to chug down plain water? Check out ways to make water nourishing and refreshing and more reasons why drinking up is good for you.
3. Minimise high-sodium foods
Crisps, fast foods, processed meat and cheese are ranked notoriously high on the sodium chart. Salt absorbs water leaving your stools dehydrated and worsening your constipation agony.
4. Get moving
We already know that regular exercise has a host of benefits. Here’s another reason to be active and exercise for at least 150 minutes/week – it helps improve your bowel movements. I for one, can testify to this. Look for ways to increase your step count (taking the stairs instead of the lift is a good start) and find an exercise or sport you enjoy.
5. Relax and de-stress
Stress can make your constipation worse. Release your stress through exercise, slow breathing, meditation, aromatherapy and massaging your abdomen. I’ve personally tried abdominal massages when constipated and that has worked for me!
6. Get into a routine
Make it a practice to heed the urge to go and not hold it in. If the habit of refusing to answer nature’s call grows on you, this may aggravate constipation and weaken the signals over time – something you definitely want to avoid. Listen to your body and when you need to go – go! Regulating the timing you sit on the throne will help your body get into rhythm. Remember to relax and don’t rush yourself.
7. Have some prunes
This dried fruit has earned a reputation for being a classic cure for constipation. These are packed with insoluble fibre and natural laxatives. Eating several prunes a day should do the job.
8. Probiotics to the rescue!
Probiotics are live bacteria that keep your gut healthy and digestive system functioning well. Yoghurt is a commonly known source of probiotics. Enjoy a cup of yoghurt at breakfast or as a snack during the day. We’d recommend Greek yoghurt as opposed to the fruit-flavoured ones to avoid taking in unnecessary sugars. Here’s a quick tip, when shopping for yoghurt. Spend a minute reading the label and look for key words like live, active cultures and strains of good bacteria such as Lactobacillus (or Lb.) bulgaricus, Lb. acidophilus, Streptococcus thermophiles and Bifidobacterium lactis.
If you’re lactose-intolerant, kefir is another highly nutritious option for you to consider. This fermented milk beverage is a potent source of probiotics and contains several major strains of gut-friendly bacteria not usually found in yoghurt. Try kefir in your smoothie or pouring it over your muesli.
Medications and certain supplements can also cause constipation - consult your doctor if you have concerns. Do not ignore chronic constipation problems as it may result in hemorrhoids and tears in the skin down south or may be indicative of serious health problems. Please consult your doctor immediately if you find blood in your stools, have severe pain with bowel movements, been having trouble going or having unexplained weight loss. Finally, check out this chart to see what your stools are telling you. With these handy tips in hand, here’s to a healthier and happier gut!