Millions of people deal with constipation on a regular basis. It occurs when our waste moves too slowly through our digestive system. It becomes hard and dry, and it becomes difficult to pass through our digestive systems without considerable effort. When constipation becomes chronic, it can cause blockages in the colon or rectum.
Being constipated means bowel movements are not happening frequently enough. Though most people experience constipation at some point in life, it’s usually not serious. However, that doesn’t take away the ill-effects of having an evening out ruined by an inability to release unwanted materials from our bowels.
Normally, the time period between bowel movements has a wide range due to individual differences in diet, weight and health. Many people have two bowel movements per day. Some people experience three bowel movements every day, while quite a few people only have bowel movements once daily, or even less frequently.
There is a problem when the time between bowel movements hits several days. The fecal matter becomes hard and difficult to pass through the intestinal system. The contents become hard to pass through our system, and it can be accompanied by abdominal pain, bloating and general gas.
Part of what’s to blame for our generally constipated bowels is our fast pace of life. Although technology is supposed to be making our lives easier, the truth is that we’re multi-tasking more than ever before. How often are you able to just be fully present with the person that you’re with?
Most people have to be on their phones, tablets, computers or other devices while they are walking around. We’re also texting and surfing the web while eating, which definitely affects our ability to digest our food.
Experts say that we should be in a relaxed state during meals. This doesn’t bode well with the millions of people who sit at their desks during lunch, while trying to get work done while eating. There are few opportunities when we’re not going non-stop between work, family responsibilities, our partners and, if we’re lucky, finding some downtime for ourselves. We’re truly living an epidemic of being constantly in a state of heightened stress levels.
We are not relaxing enough, and our vacations can be more stressful than relaxing. We constantly return more stressed and tired than when we left. At home, families are still attached to their devices. We have a global culture of fast-paced everything, including eating. As we will soon see, these ways of acting are affecting not only our personal relationships, but also our health.
Common Causes of Constipation
The causes of constipation include physical, emotional, dietary and environmental factors. By taking a look to better understand each of these factors, you can create a strategy to be able to improve in each of these areas:
- Antacid medicines
- Dietary changes
- Dairy products
- Eating disorders
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Not being active
- Not enough water or fiber in your diet
- Overuse of laxatives
- Problems with the nerves and muscles in the digestive system
- Delaying bowel movements due to laziness or being too busy
- Underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism)
Lesser Known Causes of Constipation
While still significant, the following causes of constipation are found less often in individuals. As doctors might not even be looking for these factors, it would be a good idea to at least familiarize yourself with some of the following causes of constipation:
- Rectal cancer
- Colon cancer
- Obstruction of the bowels
- Colon narrowing
- Abdominal cancer
- Anal fissure
- Spinal cord injuries
- Parkinson’s disease
- Multiple Sclerosis
Symptoms of Constipation
If you are experiencing constipation, you are probably all too familiar with the symptoms listed below. Of course, every person’s severity will be different. The question to ask yourself is how much do these symptoms affect your day to day life:
- Fewer bowel movements
- Straining to have bowel movements
- Hard stools
- Sensation that all fecal matter was not evacuated
- Abdominal pain and swelling
Furthermore, chronic users of painkillers, particularly opioid drugs, have been known to experience a higher risk of constipation. Vitamins that are high in calcium and iron can also cause problems with constipation. Laxatives that are used as stimulants need to be taken only as directed.
If they are used for a long period of time, they can create a dependence whereby the body will be unable to pass bowel movements without them. As a general rule, taking medication for longer than the prescribed time period should be avoided. Constipation has also known to be affected by antidepressants.
Foods to avoid
The following foods should be avoided to help your body stay cleaner and be better able to digest your meals. Obviously, we are not trying to say that you should avoid these foods altogether. However, by reducing your intake of these foods, you are giving your digestive situation the best opportunity to serve you well for the duration of your life.
- Chocolate: Chocolate can aggravate you in the bathroom, as it contains dairy. Even dark chocolate can cause issues. The reason as we’ll share shortly, is that milk can cause constipation in individuals who are sensitive to its properties. Dark chocolate is better because of the level of antioxidants. It’s always good to go with the higher quality dark chocolates, if you go that route, since the ingredients are also of higher quality.
- Dairy Products: Dairy products are such a huge staple in our diet that it deserves its own category. Eating large amounts of dairy can be a cause of constipation. How do you know if dairy is a problem? If you eliminate it from your diet for a few weeks to a month, you should see whether or not there is an impact on your health and if your constipation problems improve. Dairy products are mucous forming and tend to clog up our body’s ability to pass through food. Below we will break down some great alternatives.
- Beef: Red meats, and beef in particular, can slow down your digestive system. Especially if you skip salads and other vegetables, you might not be getting enough fiber to help with digestion of your meals. As meats are dense and tough for your body to digest, without having adequate aids to digestion, constipation might be the unfortunate outcome.
Having said that, eliminating meats from your diet isn’t necessary. However, it’s a good idea to reduce your intake of red meats, particularly if you’re the kind of person for which a meal isn’t really a meal unless meat is on the plate.
- Cheese: Cheese has long been identified as a food that can plug you up, it’s the combination of low fiber content and high fat content that makes cheese such a concern for those that experience frequent constipation. If you absolutely love cheese and don’t want to avoid eating it completely, try to consume half a cup or less each day. Again, eating more vegetables and high fiber foods can help you digest it more easily.
- Rice: Brown rice is not the problem when it comes to rice. White rice, however, should be your main concern to prevent issues with constipation. The reason being is that with white rice they take away the husk, germ, and bran of the rice, and then put it through a process that makes it nice and white.
This removal of those key elements of the rice are actually good for the human body and aid it in digestion of this food staple in many parts of the world. Brown rice, however, actually helps with constipation. It has whole grains and contains the fiber necessary to flush out your system. In other words, opt for brown rice instead of white rice whenever possible.
- Ice Cream: This certainly won’t be a popular food to avoid as the world loves their ice cream. However, the cream which ice cream is made of is the main culprit here. Especially if you are lactose intolerant, you will want to avoid ice cream as much as possible.
Alternatively, today we have great food options that taste a lot like ice cream. You can choose products made from almond, soy or even coconut to give you that creamy deliciousness you are searching for, without the constipation problems that ice cream delivers.
- Unripe Bananas: This is one that might surprise a lot of people: bananas. Now, it’s not the ripe kind. However, eating unripe bananas can definitely cause you problems with going to the bathroom efficiently and regularly. They are simply too starchy to digest, and so will cause you to spend extra time in the bathroom trying to get them through you. It’s a great idea to wait a few extra days for the banana to ripen.
Not only will it pass through you more easily, but it’s packed with even more nutritional value as it becomes browner. The key is to wait for some brown spots to appear before chomping down on this favorite morning snack. At this point, they are no longer a constipation problem, as their fiber will help with moving them through your digestive system.
- Yogurt: Yogurt is also on the list because it contains dairy. For people who eat yogurt every morning for breakfast, which happens all over the world, this may be a hard adjustment. While yogurt has some great qualities, including a high good bacteria count that helps your digestive system to stay in great shape, it remains a dairy product and therefore has the same effects on the body as does cheese and ice cream.
You might want to try almond milk as a substitute, or even soy cheese. The results are individually based, so it is best to take all dairy out of your diet for a period of time and slowly introduce different items to determine which dairy foods are the main culprits in passing food more easily.
- Processed Foods: Processed foods contain chemicals and other unnatural ingredients that you don’t find in fresh foods. While there are some brands that are organic and contain all natural ingredients, most of the products out there contain corn syrup, dairy, whey, a lot of sugar and white flour. Too much processed foods will dehydrate you, as well as lead to constipation. Try your best to limit your dependence on these sources for your diet.
- Nuts: While nuts are a great source of protein, they are also dense and hard for your body to break down. Not only that, but they are dry, causing your body to expend a lot of water. It is recommended that you only eat a handful of nuts a day. If you are going to go hiking and tend to gravitate towards trail mix as a snack, make sure to drink extra amounts of water to counteract the effects of nuts and the ability of your body to digest them.
Foods and Other Ideas to Get Unstuck
We’ve already gone through what foods to enjoy. It’s a good idea to also include the foods and activities that can help you with constipation. Find your body’s ideal intake for maximum enjoyment and reduction of symptoms.
Fruits and Vegetables: Especially in this fast food culture, it’s easy to eat everything out of a box. While you can certainly get these foods frozen, and that works as well, one of the best sources of fiber for your diet remains fresh fruits and vegetables. Many experts say to get at least four servings a day of fruits and vegetables to help keep you regular.
Prunes: This wrinkly fruit is a great source of fiber, and it has been used for centuries to help people with their constipation. Prunes also contain a compound called dihydroxyphenyl isatin, which kicks helps the colon get into action.
Bran Cereals: A great morning food to get your diet in better shape and to pass food through your body more quickly are bran cereals. It would be best if you would use a milk alternative with your cereal, as we already went through some problems with dairy leading to constipation.
Drink More Water: The easiest and yet least followed advice is to drink more water. It’s especially important to begin your day with a large glass of water. Throughout the night, your body goes in cleansing mode, so when you wake up, you need to go to the bathroom to remove all of the toxins that have been accumulated. It’s really important to replace those liquids as early in your day as possible.
As your doctor may have a specific recommendation, consult with your medical professional about how much water is the right amount for you. Besides plain water, a cup of herbal or decaffeinated tea in the morning, or a simple cup of hot water with lemon juice, is a great way to get things moving.
Exercise: Regular exercise is important to stimulate your organs and to keep things flowing regularly. At least 30 minutes of exercise, three times a week, will help keep your regular. It also has the benefit of keeping your overall health in check, as well.
When your situation is dire and the above list isn’t enough, there are more powerful remedies to get you back on track. You can get an over-the-counter stool softener or laxative that can help you pass your food in a hurry. However, be sure not to take laxatives for more than two weeks without consulting your doctor first.
Coffee is a great way to keep your body regular. The caffeine in coffee beans is an effective way that many people to promote their body’s ability to pass foods through the body. If you drink too much, however, it can become a diuretic.
An effective method is by taking psyllium seeds. Be close to a bathroom if you choose this route. Go to your natural health food store and look for any constipation product with psyllium seeds or husks. Be forewarned. Taking too much can have an extreme and opposite effect; you may never be able to leave the bathroom because of diarrhea.
Acupressure has also been known to help with constipation. It can help stimulate your digestive system. You can do it by yourself, applying pressure above your wrist on the back of the forearm. Doing this just two minutes a day can be effective.
Another herb-based solution is to use cascara sagrada, which is one of the key ingredients in over-the-counter laxatives. You can find it in teas, tinctures and tablets. Just be sure to follow the directions on the package carefully. Do not use it for more than two weeks as you can lose too many fluids in the process.
Steeping one teaspoon of dried dandelion root in one cup of boiling water is also a great laxative. Drink one cup three times per day for maximum benefit. Castor oil has been used for a long time to stimulate the small and large intestines. Ingest one to two teaspoons on an empty stomach and give it eight hours to work for you. Its taste leaves much to be desired, but the relief might be worth it.
Remember, the best thing you can do is prevent constipation in the first place by avoiding the food products that we named, as well as taking some preventative care of your body through drinking enough water and by regular exercise. If those don’t work to your satisfaction, you can also go the more traditional route, using laxatives or seeing your doctor for something stronger.
We recommend that you never force a bowel movement. This can lead to hemorrhoids or anal fissures that can eventually cause constipation. Also, it’s wise to go to the bathroom when your body tells you it’s time, instead of delaying for several hours, which allows the stool to become hard, dry and difficult to pass.
Stress is also something that can cause the body to shut down, including your digestive system. Try meditation, a weekend getaway, relaxing music at night or an evening walk daily to calm your body and put yourself at ease. If possible, while at work, try taking a 10 to 15 minute break each hour. Go outside, take at least three deep breaths and take a few laps around your office building. Even better, find a different co-worker to do this with each week.
Not only will you both get great exercise and reduce stress, but you’ll also get to know someone better each week. As our social networks help to reduce our stress, we’ll be ready to go back to work and be more productive, happier and healthier.