The National Institutes of Health (NIH) says constipation is the most common digestive problem in the country, prompting two million doctor visits and $725 million in laxative purchases each year. Much of the suffering from constipation is unnecessary and could be relieved and prevented with simple lifestyle remedies that do not involve drugs.
To effectively deal with constipation, it helps to understand the possible causes. Then you can determine the appropriate treatments or changes to make your bowel habits more regular.
Eating a Low-fiber, High-fat diet
This is the leading cause of constipation. Both types of fiber — soluble and insoluble — are important parts of a healthy diet and healthy elimination system. Americans are advised to eat 20 to 35 grams of fiber each day, but the government says we get only about 5 to 20 grams.
Fruits (including dried fruits, such as raisins and prunes), vegetables, beans, dried peas, whole grains and bran are all good sources of fiber. When we talk about whole grains, we mean foods like brown rice, millet, barley, oats and wheat, prepared in a way that keeps the entire grain intact. Look for whole grain cereals, breads and pastas that are made with whole wheat flour. When the ingredients say “enriched wheat flour,” that usually means refined white flour, which is very low in fiber.
It is a good idea to increase your fiber intake gradually to avoid gas and bloating.
Too Little Water
We all know the old rule of thumb — eight glasses a day. While it does not apply to everyone, most of us drink far less than we need. If you have a constipation problem, try drinking three or four extra glasses of water daily. Do not count coffee, tea or caffeinated soft drinks.
For some reason, exercise is great for treating and preventing constipation. If you do not have the time or inclination for vigorous aerobic activities, just take a brisk half-hour walk each day.
A large number of commonly used drugs can cause constipation, including pain medications, iron supplements and some antacids. Habitual use of laxatives can ultimately contribute to constipation, too.
Diseases and Conditions
Underactive thyroid, diabetes, digestive diseases, obstructions, pregnancy, menopause, surgery, PMS and many other things can cause constipation.
Resisting the Urge
Sometimes adults and children ignore the urge to move their bowels and constipation can develop as a result.