Cramping? Gas? Bloated stomach? Straining to pass stools? Don’t ignore these symptoms if they go on too long.
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Fibre creates soft, mobile stools. There are two types, which can be used to treat and prevent constipation.
Soluble fibre attracts water to your stools, making them softer, larger and easier to pass. You can get this type of fibre from oats, barley, psyllium, oranges, dried beans and lentils.
Insoluble fibre adds bulk to your stools, helping them pass more quickly through the intestines. Good sources include wheat bran, vegetables and whole grains.
While fibre supplements are available, the best way to get more fibre in your diet is through fibre-rich foods. Since these kinds of foods are usually nutritious, you’ll get health benefits as well. But increase your intake gradually. Getting too much fibre too quickly can cause bloating, and may even worsen constipation in some people.
Also keep in mind that fibre absorbs more water in your gut. So if you’re adding more fibre to your diet, be sure to increase your fluid intake as well.
When you’re dehydrated, water is absorbed from your intestines, making your stools harder. To keep stools soft and mobile, drink more water, juices or herbal beverages.
While processed foods may be high on convenience, they’re generally low on fibre. As much as possible, try to cook from scratch. If time is an issue, simply swapping fibre-low foods such as white bread and pasta for whole grain versions can help.
When grocery shopping, get into the habit of reading ingredient labels. Foods with labels that list whole grain or whole wheat at the top are usually good choices.
Caffeine can stimulate muscle contractions in the bowel to make stools easier to pass. But it also has a diuretic effect, making you urinate more often than usual. When that happens, your colon may not absorb enough fluids, making you dehydrated, which can cause constipation or make it worse. The solution? If you consume coffee and black tea, also try to drink plenty of non-caffeinated liquids (preferably water) to compensate for their diuretic effects. That way, you can keep your stools moist and moving.
Your body has its own internal clock and likes to keep to a regular schedule. So try to eat at regular times, because skipping meals can slow down the time that food and waste takes to pass through your system. If you know you’ll be busy, snacking on an apple or fibre-rich granola bar can help.
Constipation is a side effect of many medications, from over-the-counter antacids to prescription painkillers. If you think the drug(s) you’re taking are causing your problem, speak to your pharmacist or doctor. Remember, don’t change the dosage or stop taking your medication without getting medical advice first.
Stress affects our bowels in different ways, and some people find it makes them constipated. Try to identify the causes of your stress and see what you can do to eliminate or reduce them. Exercise is a good stress buster, as is unwinding in a bubble bath or listening to your favourite music. Whatever works to calm you down and makes you feel better. Just try not to worry too much about your stress-induced constipation because that can make it worse!
Getting moving gets your bowel muscles moving as well. You don't have to join a gym. Simply walking for half an hour three times a week is enough for most people.
There’s a reason they call it getting regular your body has an internal clock that is easily disrupted by changes. So try to get into a routine, setting up regular times for a bowel movement. Keep in mind that travel or starting a new job can affect your bowel movements, so don’t stress too much if they’re off for a while. Just try to get back into your regular routine as soon as possible.
The hormonal disruptions of pregnancy can all affect a woman’s bowel function. Being prepared with proven constipation relief strategies such as upping your fluid intake or getting more exercise can help when you’re feeling hormonal.