Constipation describes a condition where it is difficult to pass bowel motions.

Constipation describes a condition where it is difficult to pass bowel motions. The faeces may be small, passed infrequently and the bowel may not be completely emptied. Not to be confused with diarrhoea where the faeces are watery and passed frequently, constipation means you want to, but "can't go".

There is huge variation between individuals as to frequency and consistency of stools (faeces) but in general, at least once or more per day can be considered normal. Some people don''t pass a stool every day and this can be normal as long as a bowel movement occurs regularly.

Part of the digestive process involves food being propelled from the small intestine to the large intestine (colon) where most of the water is reabsorbed along with vitamins and minerals. Water and bulky fibre play an important part in forming healthy bowel habits.

CAUSES

There are many causes of constipation, including serious disease. In general, poor diet and lack of exercise are the main causes, along with laxative abuse. Stress, dehydration and pregnancy may also cause constipation, as do many medications e.g. Antidepressants, antihypertensives, anticonvulsants, iron, morphine and others.

Keeping the bowels moving regularly is important for your health. The bowel eliminates toxins from the body. Waste material is excreted via faeces and if a stool is not passed regularly your body can start to become poisoned by its own toxins.

TREATMENT

The first step in relieving constipation is to manipulate your diet. It is essential to have enough fluid in the body to form easily passed stools, so increase fluid intake by drinking eight glasses of water per day. The longer faeces stay in the colon the more dehydrated they become. This makes them harder for the body to expel. If stools are bulky they are more easily expelled. This is where dietary fibre plays its part. Increase fibre by eating more grains e.g. Wholegrain bread, bran and fruit and vegetables. Avoid bran if you have Irritable Bowel Syndrome. The indigestible cellulose fibre in green vegetables entraps toxins and carries them out of the body (think celery, seeds, corn, beans). Dry fibrous foods like bran, rolled oats, and barley absorb water in the bowel and bulk out the stools giving them size and shape. Small, poorly formed stools are much harder to pass. You might be bored with people telling you to "get more fibre in your diet", but it truly is the key to treating constipation and avoiding bowel disease.

Taking regular exercise will reduce constipation. A gentle walk after dinner can be useful to stimulate a sluggish bowel. Exercise stimulates peristalsis which is the movement of food along the intestines. You can imagine how a sedentary lifestyle would mean food sits, unmoving, in your bowels.

Long term use of laxatives also contributes to constipation because the bowel can stop responding to their action. A few days treatment with a stimulant laxative can be useful but if you think you need them longer than that it is likely you have a sluggish bowel and would benefit a lot more by using a fibre product like Mucilax, Metamucil, Isogel or Granacol. People who use laxatives to lose weight are doing themselves more harm than good as they are not allowing the colon enough time to reabsorb vitamins and minerals. Plus their colon will decrease its response to stimulants with long term use.
If you regularly suffer constipation or associated bad breath, foul wind or irregularity a three to four week course with Liver Tonic liquid will also help. The liver is closely related to digestion and bowel habits.

SUMMARY

The lack of regular bowel movements can cause pain and gradual poisoning of the body. It is essential to clear waste material out of the body regularly. There are a lot of causes of constipation but our recommendations for treatment follow a similar pattern, regardless of the cause. Drink at least eight glasses of water per day, increase dietary fibre (veges, fruit, grains) and cut down of processed foods (white flour, white sugar, junk food). Take gentle exercise after large meals. If you've tried all of the above for two weeks without any improvement try a fibre supplement, or a stimulant laxative as a last resort. Don't forget to inform your doctor if you are having long term trouble with constipation. Everyone has different bowel habits so don't be embarrassed to talk to us if you think you have a problem. We''re here to help.