WHAT IS CONSTIPATION?
There’s honestly nothing more satisfying than a good poop. On a flip side a bad poop can ruin your day. Too hard, too soft, too sudden, not soon enough? If this isn’t ringing any bells, congratulations on being a perfect pooper. For the rest of us we have to work on it.
Constipation, a symptom rather than a disease is generally defined as when bowel movements occur less than 3 times a week, and are difficult to pass. Almost everyone experiences constipation at some point in their life. The good news is, we have science on our side. There are a bunch of things to do to smooth out the kinks in our digestive system and some of them are very literal.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF CONSTIPATION?
Constipation is a condition in which you may have
- fewer than three bowel movements a week
- stools that are hard, dry, or lumpy
- stools that are difficult or painful to pass
- a feeling that not all stool has passed
However, people can have different bowel movement patterns, and only you know what’s normal for you.
The severity of the condition may vary between individual sufferers. Normal bowel habits vary from person to person. While some adults normally go to the toilet more than once a day, while others may go on alternate days or once every three or four days. But sometimes, have you ever experienced when your poop is rock-hard one week and soupy the next? And what that might tell you about your gut health? And only …
If bowel movements could talk
You can use the Bristol Stool Chart to check what your stools are telling you. The Bristol Stool Chart shows seven categories of stool. Every person will have different bowel habits, but the important thing is that your stools are soft and easy to pass – like types 3 and 4 below.
Type 1-2 indicate constipation,
Type 3-4 are ideal stools as they are easier to pass, and
Type 5-7 may indicate diarrhoea and urgency.
What causes constipation?
Constipation most commonly occurs when waste or stool moves too slowly through the digestive tract or cannot be eliminated effectively from the rectum, which may cause the stool to become hard and dry. Common causes of constipation are:
- Poor intake of fibre in the diet- such as fruits, vegetables, and cereals
- Lack of physical activity and sedentary lifestyle
- Low fluid intake
- Hormonal imbalance in pregnancy, hyperthyroidism (when your body makes too much thyroid hormone), and hypothyroidism (when your body makes too little thyroid hormone)
- Often ignoring the urge to defecate
- Specific diseases or conditions, such as stroke (most common)
- Problems with the colon and rectum
- Stress, anxiety, or depression
So, what to do when your bowel is acting too cool for stool? Diet and lifestyle changes are usually recommended as the first treatment for constipation.
Water is the lifeline that all people, constipated or not desperately need. That is because it keeps the system in your body running. When a person is dehydrated, the intestines are forced to extract water from stool in colon in order to function properly. This results in hard and dry stool which can lead to constipation. So, drinking plenty of aqua will help bring that balance back to normal.
Next is caffeine, putting it this way, caffeine is your classic double edge sword. Caffeine influences your digestive system in multiple ways. It is a diuretic that causes you to urinate, and dehydrate in an instant which can lead to constipation. At the same time, caffeine is a stimulant that can make a person have more bowel stools or in excess, diarrhoea.
However, on the bright side, if you do consume caffeine, you can compensate for its diuretic effects and still prevent dehydration which causes constipation. When adequately hydrated, caffeine will only serve as a digestive aid and stimulant, without causing constipation.
Fibre is helpful no matter which end of the stool scale you are on. There are many types of dietary fibres, but in general, there are 2 categories of fibres: Insoluble fibre and soluble fibre.
Soluble fibres absorb water and form a gel-like paste, which softens the stools and improves its consistency. Often present in oat bran, barley, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, and peas, as well as some fruits and vegetables.
Insoluble fibres add bulk to stools and may help them pass more quickly and easily through the digestive system and is usually present in wheat bran, vegetables, and whole grains.
Probiotics are live, beneficial bacteria that naturally occur in the gut. These ‘good bacteria’ help to take care of the gut and keep the microflora balance in our intestines in perfect balance and harmony. They include Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus. People can increase their levels by eating probiotic foods. They are found in tempeh, kimchi, yogurt, miso, and cultured milk drinks such like Yakult. Good gut bacteria not only stimulate better digestion, it also helps boost immunity by suppressing the growth of harmful bacteria. Consuming more probiotic foods help improve the imbalance of bacteria in our gut, stimulating better digestion preventing constipation.
As probiotic properties are strain-specific, Lacticaseibacillus paracasei Shirota strain is Yakult’s exclusive probiotic strain that works mainly in the digestive system. Here is a quick explanation on how L. paracasei Shirota strain stimulates better digestion. L. paracasei Shirota strain relieves constipation by increasing short-chain fatty acid production, reducing the pH of the colon and increasing bile salt metabolism, all of which help promote the motility of the colon, thus, reduce constipation occurrence.
Medication like laxatives works by quickening bowel movements or to soften stool. Although they can be purchased over-the-counter at most pharmacies, but use it wisely as it can be harmful when it is taken excessively. Do consult your doctor to find out what is right for you.
Exercise to Ease Constipation
Regular exercise helps constipation by lowering the time it takes food to move through the large intestine as it limits the amount of water your body absorbs from the stool. Hard, dry stools are harder to pass. Plus, sports like aerobic exercises (ex: swimming, jogging, cycling, running, football, etc.) helps to stimulate the natural squeezing of muscles in your intestines.
Immediately consult your doctor if:
- You are unintentionally losing weight
- You have blood in the stool
- You have severe pain during bowel movement
- You constipate more than three weeks
Pooping is something we all should be doing. Constipation may be a temporary situation, a long-term problem or a sign of a more serious condition. When you start making simple, proactive changes to your diet and lifestyle now, it improves your overall health, well-being and happiness on a whole. See your doctor, especially if you’ve noticed a change in your bowel pattern. Do not wait until it is too late!