Constipation is not a glamorous topic and it is something that we rarely talk about, even with our closest friends and family. But our bowel movements, or lack of, can have a huge impact on our health.
Admitting that you have constipation often seems to be associated with the fact that you must have a bad diet. However, this is not always the case. Whilst what you do or don’t eat has a huge impact on your digestive system, there are other factors that can play a part.
At one time or another the majority of people, even those who would never admit it, have suffered from a bout of constipation. In fact, the NHS estimate that around one in every seven adults and up to one in every three children in the UK has constipation at any one time.1 This doesn’t just mean not being able to have any bowel movements; anything from experiencing irregular bowel movements to having particularly hard stools can be classed as constipation. As does any extreme changes in the size of your stool to very small or large.
What Causes Constipation?
Admitting that you have constipation often seems to be associated with the fact that you must have a bad diet. However, this is not always the case. Whilst what you do or don’t eat has a huge impact on your digestive system, there are other factors that can play a part. Not drinking enough water, anxiety, depression, medications, and ignoring the urge to pass stools can all cause constipation. In terms of dietary causes, it can be brought on due to a lack of fiber or a sudden change in your eating habits.1
There are two types of fiber – soluble and insoluble – and both are needed for a healthy digestive system. Soluble fiber absorbs and binds to toxins so that they can be excreted; it also helps to keep stool soft because soluble fiber absorbs water. The role of insoluble fiber is to add bulk to your stool and helps to move it through and out the intestines.
A good and varied diet that includes lots of fruit and vegetables (which are naturally high in fiber) and plenty of water is your best chance of avoiding constipation. Sound familiar? But whilst following a Paleo/Primal lifestyle should set you up for good digestive health there may still be instances where you find you are suffering.
If you find yourself in this situation and want to get everything back to normal without using laxative medication then try out some of these tips.
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Naturally Remedies For Constipation
If you have some flaxseed (also known as linseed) in your cupboard then you will be pleased to know that this can be used to help relieve constipation. It is high in fiber which helps to keep your bowel movements regular and prevent a build-up from occurring.2
You can include them into your meals in a variety of ways; some people like to add to a smoothie or sprinkle them on salads. My favorite way to use them is as a coating for homemade Paleo scotch eggs. Purchasing it ready-ground is convenient, although the oil in ground flaxseed oxidizes quickly so needs to be stored in the fridge or (preferably) the freezer. If you can, grind flaxseeds to order in small quantities at home using a coffee mill or grinding attachment.
If you already suffer from digestive issues then you need to be careful with flaxseeds as they can cause gas and bloat in some people. Start out by adding just a small amount – a few teaspoons to begin with and then build up from there accordingly.
As you are increasing your intake of soluble fiber it is also important to make sure you are taking in enough water. Failing to do so could end up having the opposite of the desired effect, making your constipation worse.2 This leads us nicely to our next section…
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It is important to keep your intake of fluids up. When you are feeling bloated it is tempting to cut down on the amount of water that you consume but it is more important than ever to keep it going. One of the causes of constipation is dehydration in the colon, therefore when you are properly hydrated there is more water available to help soften the stool and make it easier to pass.
Lemon juice acts as a stimulant for your digestive system so starting the day with hot water and a slice of lemon is perfect for a kick start. You can also have herbal teas, and a couple of cups of coffee early in the day (if you are sensitive to caffeine) may also help as it often has a natural stimulatory effect on the bowel.
Whilst it is probably the last thing you feel like doing when constipated, exercise will help. By moving around, you are helping your body to move food along quicker. If you feel up to facing the gym or your usual routine then go ahead; if not, consider taking a brisk walk a couple of times a day. A light jog is even better as this will put some pressure on your intestines and help move things along.
Feeling in pain and bloated is the perfect combination for keeping us curled up on the sofa with a box set. Try and remember that once you get going you will find that gentle exercise not only helps to solve the issue in the long run but will help to take your mind off it at the time.
One of the first things that people will say is “eat more fiber” and it is true that this will help with constipation. Fiber and water help to give the stool the right consistency to get things moving along. As you are likely not to feel like eating a huge pile of food, the best approach is to eat a small number of foods that are high in fiber.
This is where dried fruits are incredibly useful. These are a staple ingredient in many Paleo cupboards so you probably have a few options to hand. Prunes in particular have a compound called dihydroxy phenyl isatin which stimulates to colon into action. Plus they are a great source of soluble and insoluble fiber which means that they are perfect for helping the body get rid of waste and move everything along.
If you do not want to eat them whole you could add them to a juice or smoothie or snack on energy balls with nuts and dried fruit. One study carried out in 2011 found that constipated subjects who ate prunes improved “significantly” and recommended that they be used as “a first-line therapy”.3
Whilst a short bout of constipation is normal you should always make sure that you go and see your doctor if it lasts longer than a couple of days.
Have you found that any of these tips work for you? Or maybe you have some natural remedies up your sleeve? Why not leave a comment using the comments box below.