What Does Constipation Say About Your Health?
Constipation may be an unsexy health topic, but it’s an important one.
It’s defined as “an abnormally delayed or infrequent passage of usually dry, hardened stool.” For many people, it’s a minor problem that occurs occasionally, usually brought on by lifestyle factors such as being dehydrated, travel, medication, or eating the wrong food.
However, for 20% of Americans, it’s a serious, ongoing health issue.
This is alarming when you consider that regular, healthy bowel movements are an indicator of good digestive health – and conversely, infrequent, strained, and hard bowel movements can cause problems and/or indicate there’s a greater health issue.
On a more positive note, constipation can be remedied with several simple lifestyle actions. Here’s how to identify if you have a constipation problem, and what you can do about it!
To know if your bowel movements are in a healthy range, many health experts go by the “rule of three.” This means a healthy number of bowel movements can range from as many as three a day or as few as three bowel movements a week.
If you’re having less than three bowel movements a week, you’re considered constipated.
The shape and consistency of your stool factors in as well. There’s something called The Bristol Stool Form Scale which has been shown to be valid and reliable in research. It illustrates that a healthy stool is shaped like a sausage or a snake and is smooth and soft.
Stools that are hard, separated lumps (like nuts) or very lumpy and sausage-shaped are indicators of a slow transit through your digestive tract.
Symptoms of constipation may also include abdominal bloating, cramps or pain, decreased appetite, and lethargy.
What Constipation May Mean
A temporary bout of constipation isn’t a major concern or worry, but if it becomes habitual or long-term, that’s another story.
Serious constipation can be an indicator of a more concerning issue such as any number of digestive tract health conditions, a neurological issue, or an endocrine problem, to name a few.
It’s also unhealthy to be in a constant state of constipation.
When waste sits in the colon for too long, toxins that would normally be excreted in the stool can be reabsorbed in the body, which can cause problems.
Waste backed up in the colon can cause an imbalance of the microflora in your gut – potentially reducing the beneficial bacteria and increasing growth of the unwanted kind and/or pathogens.
Hard stools can cause structural damage and straining can cause hemorrhoids and other issues.
Numerous studies have shown that constipation can be associated with fatigue, weight gain, immune health issues, and poor skin, nail, and hair health. It’s even associated with low mood, feelings of anxiousness, and a poorer quality of life.
6 Simple Steps to Help Relieve the Symptoms of Constipation
Here are 6 tips for good digestive health that can help you have regular bowel movements.
- Increase Your Fiber
Constipation is commonly linked to a low-fiber diet, and a whopping 95% of Americans don’t get enough dietary fiber!
So, increase your fiber intake. It bulks your stool, helping it to move smoothly and efficiently through your colon. The National Institutes of Health recommends 22 to 34 grams of fiber a day, depending on one’s age and gender.
The following are excellent sources of fiber:
- Whole grains (whole wheat bread, oatmeal, and cereals)
- Legumes (lentils, black beans, kidney beans, soybeans, and chickpeas)
- Fruits (berries, apples with the skin on, oranges, and pears)
- Vegetables (carrots, broccoli, green peas, and collard greens)
- Nuts (almonds and pecans)
Also, soluble prebiotic fiber (found in apples, garlic, leeks, onion, etc.) is particularly good for constipation. It helps to feed the good bacteria in your gut. Research shows that prebiotics can help stool consistency and bowel movement regularity in constipated people.
Make sure you add fiber to your diet a little at a time so your body gets used to the change, and drink water and other liquids to help the fiber work better!
- Stay Hydrated
Dehydration is one of the most common causes of constipation. That’s because when you’re dehydrated, your colon soaks up the water in your food waste, and your stool gets harder and more difficult to pass.
Also, if you’re actively increasing your fiber intake, remaining well hydrated will help increase bowel movements even more, according to research. Experts suggest that adults should drink 2 liters of liquids a day.
- Move Your Body
Increase your activity to help relieve constipation. A 2018 study examining the effects of exercise on constipation concluded that it may be a feasible and effective treatment option for those with constipation.
Any form of cardio can help with constipation, as well as yoga. Don’t worry if you’re a more sedentary person. Simply adding a short, 15-minute walk into your morning and evening routine can make a difference.
- Check for Lactose Intolerance/Gluten Sensitivity
Constipation can be related to both lactose intolerance and gluten sensitivity. In fact, in 30% of lactose intolerance cases, constipation is a symptom!
If you suspect you might suffer from either of these conditions, be sure to consult your doctor for a proper diagnosis. Removing dairy milk or gluten from your diet may help to resolve a constipation problem.
- Increase Probiotic Consumption
Consuming more probiotic foods or taking a quality probiotic supplement may support a better balance of microflora in your gut and help to resolve a constipation issue. Research has found that taking probiotics can help constipation by increasing stool consistency and frequency.
Fermented foods rich in probiotics include yogurt, kefir, kimchi, tempeh, sauerkraut, miso, kombucha, and some cheeses. You also can take a quality probiotic supplement.
- Get A Toilet Stool
Your body positioning may help to alleviate constipation. The body is designed to be in a squatting position during a bowel movement yet sitting on a toilet creates a bend in the rectum, which makes it harder to eliminate.
A toilet stool readjusts the position of your body, allowing you to make a movement at an angle. A 4-week study found that 71% of participants using a toilet stool reported experiencing faster bowel movements, and 90% reported less straining.
While these tips may be helpful, remember that constipation can be an urgent matter. If you think you have a serious case of constipation, be sure to consult a medical professional.
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