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The Poop on Constipation: Why it Happens and What You Can Do About It

We have all been there…experiencing bloating, abdominal pain, gas, and difficulty having a bowel movement. Yes, I’m talking about constipation. Constipation is an uncomfortable and sometimes painful problem that affects as many as 1 in 6 individuals. Constipation occurs when your digestive system doesn’t move stools through your intestines as quickly as it should. A lack of fiber in your diet,

not drinking enough fluids, and certain medical conditions can all contribute to constipation. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to help treat it. Keep reading to learn why constipation happens and what treatment options are available.

What is constipation?

Constipation is a common digestive issue that occurs when a person has difficulty passing stools or experiences a delay in passing stools. Infrequent bowel movements, occurring less than 3 times per week is a red flag for constipation (but let’s be honest, a healthy GI system should be promoting daily bowel movements). Constipation is often described as firm, dry, lumpy stools that are difficult to pass. Other symptoms of constipation include bloating, abdominal pain, feeling of incomplete evacuation, and

a sense of pressure or fullness in the abdomen. You may also notice your urine is darker in color and you feel less energetic due to dehydration caused by reduced water intake. Even more surprising is that constipation can cause nausea and vomiting. 

So what causes constipation?

Constipation is caused by several factors, including a lack of dietary fiber, inadequate hydration, and low levels of magnesium. Other common causes include a sedentary lifestyle, stress, depression, pregnancy, certain medications (such as narcotic painkillers), and aging. Dehydration can be a major contributor to constipation, since dehydration reduces the amount of water available to make stool softer and easier to pass. Decreased activity can also lead to constipation, as regular physical activity helps to stimulate the muscles in your digestive system. Fiber helps to add bulk to stool and encourages regular bowel movements, so not getting enough is another cause of constipation. Low levels of magnesium can contribute to constipation, as it helps to draw more water into the intestines and facilitate healthy digestion. Certain laxatives may also cause constipation if used for extensive periods of time. These include stimulant laxatives like bisacodyl and senna, which can irritate the lining of the intestines and weaken the natural process of defecation.

Natural remedies for constipation

When it comes to constipation, there are several natural remedies you can try to help improve your symptoms. Prunes are a great natural remedy as they contain high levels of fiber and sorbitol, a natural laxative. Just eating one or two prunes per day can provide relief from constipation. Other dietary changes you can include increasing your fiber intake (25-35 grams/day) and drinking plenty of fluids. Exercise can have a positive impact on constipation. Regular physical activity helps stimulate the bowels

and can help alleviate constipation. For those who experience occasional constipation, a simple walk may be enough to relieve the discomfort. 

Magnesium can be beneficial in relieving constipation by drawing water into the intestines, softening the stool, thereby making it easier to pass. It can also help relax the intestinal muscles, establishing a smoother movement, which also helps the stool pass easier through the bowels. There are several forms of magnesium and not all are created equal. Magnesium glycinate is typically a gentle, well absorbed form. Magnesium Citrate should be used more sparingly, as it is used to promote diarrhea. Magnesium oxide is usually poorly absorbed and is more prone to causing diarrhea. 

To increase fluid intake and help to alleviate constipation, another suggestion is drinking herbal tea. The best herbal tea for constipation include peppermint, due to the soothing effect of menthol on the digestive system, ginger, calms the digestive tract, and dandelion, which can act as a diuretic and stimulate the liver to produce bile (a fluid produced to carry away waste and help breakdown fats).

Finally, probiotics can be helpful in treating constipation. These beneficial bacteria help improve digestive health and reduce symptoms of constipation. You can find probiotics in supplement form or in food sources like yogurt and kefir. Trying a combination of these natural remedies should bring some improvement to your constipation symptoms. If your symptoms do not improve or become worse, be sure to consult with your healthcare provider for further evaluation and recommendations.

FAQs

  1. How many prunes should I eat for constipation relief?

It only takes 1-3 prunes to help alleviate constipation. When taken daily, with adequate amounts of water, prunes are a great natural remedy to get your bowels on a healthy track.

  1. What is a natural remedy for constipation?

Although there are many remedies that may work, you should only try 1-2 at a time. Some great natural foods for constipation are mangoes (they are high in fiber, polyphenolics and also contain sorbitol), apples, chia seeds, and flaxseed. Many people turn to the B.R.A.T. (banana, rice, applesauce, toast) diet, which can help with a range of digestive issues.

  1. Do iron supplements cause constipation?

Unfortunately, constipation is a common side effect of iron supplements. In order to ease constipation, try changing to a liquid iron or take the supplement with foods that include whole grains or vegetables such as carrots or cucumber. Also increasing physical activity will help.

  1. How does magnesium help with constipation?

Magnesium plays an important role in keeping the body functioning properly, especially when it comes to muscle function. When it comes to muscle function, magnesium relaxes the muscles of the intestines, creating a smoother flow as stool passes through the bowels. Magnesium is also a stool softener that draws water into the intestines and stimulates bowel motion. It then softens and increases the size of the stool. Great sources of magnesium include pumpkin seeds, black beans, spinach, kale, and dark chocolate!

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