Let’s face it. Constipation is not a conversation you’re likely to have with your friends, and you may be loath to even mention it to your doctor. Although most people have a difficult time eliminating stool once in a while, chronic constipation is another animal altogether.
But there are good reasons to address the issue head on. Aside from the sheer discomfort and sometimes downright pain, there are connections between chronic constipation and your overall health.
What Is Constipation?
Before getting into the nitty-gritty of why chronic constipation is important and how to change your bowel habits, let’s talk about what it is and isn’t.
Constipation is not the number of bowel movements you have in a day or a week. That number is determined by the amount of food you eat, how much exercise you get and your hydration. What is normal for you may not be the same normal for me. Many people may have a bowel movement once a day, but “normal” can range from three times each day to three times a week.
What defines constipation is the consistency of the stool, how difficult it is to pass and other symptoms, like feeling full or bloated. A literature survey by the American Gastroenterological Association found the number of people with chronic constipation is rising. Nearly 16% of all adults have chronic constipation. However, that number rose to 33.5% in men and women over age 60 and the prevalence was even higher in women.
Why It Is Important
Chronic constipation can have a significant impact on your health and on quality of life, including an increase in the potential of several uncomfortable and sometimes painful conditions:
Large hemorrhoids: These are painful, aggravating and can make it difficult to sit or have a bowel movement.
Anal fissure: This is a tear in the anus that forms when stool causes trauma to the inner lining of the anus.
Rectal prolapse: The rectum is the last part of the intestines, just before the anus. A buildup of stool in the rectum damages the normal attachments to the body. This can lead to the rectum sliding through the anus, called rectal prolapse. Women over 50 have six times the risk of men.
Chronic constipation can raise your risk of cardiovascular and kidney disease. Science has also found an association between people who have chronic constipation and Parkinson’s disease. This is likely related to the relationship between the gut and brain, called the gut-brain axis.
How to Banish Constipation
Since constipation is related to the amount and type of food you eat, how much exercise you get and how hydrated you are, it makes sense that by altering these factors you’ll also make a significant difference in your experience. The changes are simple and often don’t need to be drastic in order to relieve your symptoms.
Water: You may have heard you are hydrated when you drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water each day. However, the amount of water you need depends on the type of foods you eat. So, the better measurement is the color of your urine. It should be a light straw color throughout the day, which says your body has enough water to support your kidneys and bowels to eliminate waste.
Exercise: The human body has between 300 and 400 joints, depending on how you define a joint. In other words, your body was made to move. A report by the National Health Interview Survey found only 23% of adults are getting enough aerobic and strength training exercise each week. Your goal isn’t the Olympics or Mr. Universe contest! But your body does need 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week and movement throughout the day to stay healthy.
Food: To relieve your symptoms you don’t need to completely change your diet, but you do need to add more fiber. There are two types of fiber, and your body needs both. Foods high in fiber are also delicious, so it’s not too difficult to add them to your meal plans. Consider:
- Apples, pears, strawberries, avocados, raspberries and bananas
- Carrots, beets, broccoli and Brussel sprouts
- Lentils, kidney beans, split peas and chickpeas
- Quinoa, oats and almonds
If you find it difficult to eat enough food with fiber to improve your symptoms, after improving your hydration and exercise, consider an organic, non-GMO psyllium husk supplement that can help boost your fiber intake and feed the good bacteria in your gut, improving your overall gut health.
Although some would like to grab a drug to ease the symptoms, constipation is a symptom of dysfunction in your body caused by lifestyle choices. In other words, it’s your body telling you that something is wrong. When only the symptoms go away, some of the other negative health effects related to a diet low in fiber, dehydration or lack of exercise may begin to appear. But, armed with information you’ll find it easy to make small changes over time that have a significant impact on your constipation and your overall health.
This guest post was graciously provided by Farlyn Lucas