Constipation is one of the most common digestive conditions where everyone has experienced it at least once in their lives and, depending on the definition, occurs in about 5 – 25% of the population at a given time.
WHAT IS CONSTIPATION?
The definition of constipation varies greatly and tends to be rather subjective but normally includes hard stools, persistent difficulty, incomplete or infrequent bowel movements (once every 3 to 4 days or less). You are not necessarily constipated if you have fewer bowel movements, as long as they are soft, pain-free and follow your usual pattern. It is however not life-threatening and can quite successfully be managed and treated through diet and lifestyle changes and in some cases medication.
WHAT IS NORMAL?
It is quite difficult to say what is ‘normal’ because every individual is different. Research has however found that what is ‘healthy’ in adults is a stool weight of about 100- 200g and frequency may range from one movement every three days to three times per day. The normal transit time of food through the gastrointestinal system (GIT) ranges from approximately 18 to 48 hours. Children are normally more frequent with an average of 2 – 3 movements per day for the first few months of life and then at age 3 an average of one and a half movements daily. The key therefore is to individualise and see what is normal for your body, if there are changes in your bowel habits or you’re having fewer than usual movements then you may be constipated.
It is important to remember that as every individual is different. There are so many different causes of constipation and there may be additional factors you may need to consider, so these are general guidelines and may not be applicable to every single person. For example, people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may not tolerate bran products very well at all and they may suffer with tummy cramps and bloating. So the key is to take steps slowly and see what works for you as an individual.
STEPS TO MANAGE AND PREVENT CONSTIPATION
Eat more fibre-rich food
Dried prunes and prune juice
|Prunes are famous for being nature’s remedy for constipation and rightfully so, because they are a great source of fibre as well as sorbitol which has a natural laxative effect on the body. 1 cup of prunes contains 12g of dietary fibre in a combination of both soluble and insoluble fibre and they’re also an excellent source of antioxidants too. Children may be more likely to enjoy prune juice or ice lollies made from prune juice.|
Drink more water
|As your fibre intake increases, so your water intake should also increase to at least 2 litres per day or 8 x 250ml glasses. If you increase your dietary fibre intake but not your fluid you will worsen constipation and it may lead to what’s called ‘fecal impaction’.|
|It is a well-known and researched fact that a lack of physical activity can contribute to constipation. Increasing physical activity, especially aerobic exercise such as running, stimulates contraction of your intestinal walls and helps to speed up the movement of food through your system. Wait at least an hour after eating a big meal to give your body time to properly digest food otherwise you may suffer from heart burn or side-effects of poor digestion such as cramping and gassiness. Then try to exercise, even walking or stretching for 10 – 15 minutes will help.|
A cup of coffee could do the trick
|Caffeine in coffee acts like a laxative by stimulating muscle activity in the digestive tract which results in bowel movement. Some people find this very helpful in the morning for constipation-relief. It is however important to note that coffee is also a diuretic and draws liquid out of the stools and may actually worsen constipation. It is therefore suggested to either avoid caffeinated drinks or to do so cautiously and according to your tolerance.|
Stress related constipation
|Stress, depression, travelling or being out of routine may contribute to or worsen constipation. Aim to reduce stress through relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, aromatherapy, music, progressive muscle relaxation, deep-breathing exercises and mental imaging. According to the 2004 issue of Psychosomatic Medicine, life stressors such as relocation, starting a new job, uncomfortable social situations and travel may trigger or worsen symptoms and override therapeutic efforts of IBS. Being out of routine may also influence your bowel habits, such as when travelling. When in these situations avoid dehydration by drinking enough liquids, especially when you’re flying, be physically active and move around when you can, limit alcohol intake which is also a diuretic and aim to still eat fruits and vegetables.|
Can I use laxatives?
|The use of laxatives to treat constipation should not be used long-term because overuse can damage the muscles, nerves and tissues of the intestinal tract which affects the body’s ability to absorb nutrients and it may lead to long-term damage. It should also only be used after lifestyle and diet changes have been made with no improvement and with a medical practitioner’s guidance, especially if pregnant.|
WHERE DOES FUTURELIFE® FIT IN?
If you’re struggling to meet your fibre requirements we have just the right product for you. FUTURELIFE® Bran Flakes and Barley with Probiotic Capsulesis the world’s first 2in1 breakfast to combine fibre and live beneficial cultures which are packed separately to retain their nutritional properties.
FUTURELIFE® Bran Flakes and Barley with Probiotic Capsulesalso boasts the following features:
- Improved crunch and texture
- High in Fibre: Provides 9.9g of fibre (39% of the recommended daily fibre intake) per serving
- Source of 12 vitamins (Vit A, B1, B2, Niacin, Pantothenic acid, B6, Folic Acid, B12, C, D, E, Biotin)
- Low in Saturated Fat: 0.2g per serving with 0.9g of total fat per serving
For more information on this product as well as all the other products in the FUTURELIFE® range, visit www.futurelife.co.za.
- LK Mahan, S Escott-Stump. Krauses’s Food and nutrition therapy. 12th Saunders, 2008.
- Practice evidence based nutrition (PEN). Constipated? How to prevent and manage symptoms. Handout
- The Monash university Low FODMAPS Diet App. Available here: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/monash-university-low-fodmap/id586149216?mt=8