CONSTIPATION IS ONE OF THE MOST COMMON DIGESTIVE COMPLAINTS IN MODERN TIMES – IT AFFECTS UP TO 15% OF THE POPULATION AT ANY GIVEN TIME.
BUT WHAT IS IT AND HOW CAN WE PREVENT IT?
Bowel movements are based on numerous influences, ranging from diet to the fiber content in our foods, how much water we consume and the metabolism of different individuals. This means that you may not have a bowel movement every day. As long as you are not going for days on end without a bowel movement, you should feel quite happy to march to the tune of your own body.
Frenetic lifestyles lead to too little time for small pleasures as well as bodily needs, and we tend to get anxious about passing a motion. The more anxious we get, the worse the problem becomes. Being rushed and stressed will play havoc on your digestive system, causing tension in the whole arrangement – especially on the bowels – and with that tension comes discontent, discomfort, bloating and flatulence.
Our intestines contain billions of healthy bacteria and when an imbalance occurs, known as dysbiosis, one of the results can be constipation. Probiotics can play a key role in relieving the problem.
Some Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus species enhance bowel regularity and mucous secretion by converting bound bile salts into free bile salts, which cause more water to be pulled into the colon, softening the stool and aiding elimination. The following strains have shown their health benefits for constipation in clinical trials: Bifidobacterium lactis, Lactobacillus casei rhamnosus, Bifidobacterium animalis, Bifidobacterium longum and Lactobacillus plantarum.
Probiotics for constipation in babies, infants and children which are also useful in adults are: Bifidobacterium infantis and Lactobacillus casei shirota. Lifestyle changes, starting with diet, should be the first step in the right direction to alleviating constipation:
Here are some tips!
- Drink adequate water to remain well hydrated.
- Increase your daily fiber intake. Bulking agents such as wheat bran, flax seed and muesli can be included in your daily intake. Increasing your daily intake of fiber rich raw salad as well as fruit and vegetables will also ensure that stools are a lot softer and much easier to pass.
- Take a daily probiotic.
- Reduce your intake of refined carbohydrates, sugars and processed foods.
- Up your exercise regime – walking, swimming and running.
- Avoid stressful situations and choose a private time of the day to go. Try to stick to a routine.
- If you think constipation is being caused by certain chronic medication and/or supplements, ask your pharmacist or doctor for advice.
Chronic constipation is a result of slow stool time or functional defection disorder (dyssenergic defectation) or a combination of both. With slow-transit constipation there is a delay in the transit of stools through the colon, whereas dyssenergic or outlet obstruction (also referred to as pelvic floor dyssenergy) is the inability or difficulty in expelling stools. In pelvic floor dysfunction the muscles in the lower pelvis do not work properly. A third kind of constipation may rear its ugly head in the form of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), where constipation will alternate with diarrhea.
Short-term effects of constipation include bloating and abdominal pain.
Long-term chronic constipation may result in internal or external hemorrhoids:
- Anal fissures (cracks in the skin around the anus as a result of hard stools stretching the anal sphincter too far).
- Rectal prolapsed (the rectum becomes over stretched due to the accumulation of large amounts of stool and it then loses its ability to contract to its former size when the stool is eliminated).
- Diverticulitis (the pressure of accumulated stool causing pouches to form in weak spots along the colon).
If you suffer from chronic constipation, ask your pharmacist or medical practitioner to recommend a suitable solution for you, which may include a laxative. Keep in mind that laxatives taken long term may have an effect on other chronic medications being taken.
- These laxatives swell in the intestines and soften the stool which makes it easier to pass – they generally work within a 12-hour time frame.
- Bulk-forming laxatives are made from fiber and are perfectly safe to use long-term and often include psyllium, methylcellulose and polycarbophil.
- These increase the water content within the intestines which makes the stool soft and easy to pass.
- They are fast-acting and can cause loss of fluids and electrolytes.
- They should not be taken long-term.
- These laxatives cause the muscles of the intestine to contract moving the stool along for short-term use as they can cause dehydration and imbalance of the electrolytes in the body.
- These laxatives include castor oil, Senna, Senokot, Dulcolax, Correctol and Ex-Lax.
- These laxatives work by coating the stool and assisting movements.
- Perhaps the most common ingredient of Lubricant Laxatives are mineral oils.
- Stool softeners are laxatives that are commonly prescribed by medical practitioners after surgery.
- They are often used in conjunction with stimulant laxatives.
Suppositories and enemas are also used when an immediate response is necessary. Enemas should not be used for children unless specifically prescribed by a medical practitioner.