Although occasional constipation can affect anyone, some people especially women and people over the age of 65 are plagued by chronic constipation. Constipation can make you feel bloated and uncomfortable, and you may find yourself straining during bowel movements. The normal frequency of bowel movements varies widely from person to person, from once or more a day to three times per week. However, you are likely constipated if you pass a hard, dry stool less than three times per week.
Water is the first key; assure at least 40 to 60 ounces a day. Fiber-rich foods especially fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are the best defense against constipation. Fiber is the part of plant that we cannot digest and there are two types that can benefit your bowels: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber, found in apples, beans and legumes, flaxseed, oats, oranges, and pears absorbs water and binds with fatty acids, forming a gel-like substance that keeps stools soft. Adding more insoluble fiber to your diet will add bulk to your stool and make it easier to pass. Foods that are high in insoluble fiber include cruciferous vegetables, prunes, raisins, and whole grains, especially wheat bran, brown rice or whole grain bread. Replacing refined and processed food that contains little, if any, dietary fiber with these healthful foods can help to ease constipation. The goal is to consume 25 to 30 grams of fiber every day. Yet most Americans get only about 15 grams from the foods they eat.
Along with eating a low fiber diet, many Americans live a sedentary lifestyle that does not support healthy elimination. However, moving your body will help you move your bowels by speeding up the time it takes food to move through your digestive tract. This limits the amount of water that is absorbed from the stool into your body. Simply taking a 15 minute walk after eating can help alleviate constipation. Also, bowel movement rituals are important: use a small foot stool to keep your body in squatting position and take some non-hurried time, preferably in the morning.
Probiotics: have been found in some studies to help ease chronic constipation. One placebo-controlled study of people with constipation discovered that a probiotic drink containing a strain of beneficial bacteria called Lactobacillus casei Shirota resulted in a significant improvement in stool consistency and the severity of symptoms. Another trial of 636 people with constipation-variety irritable bowel syndrome found that a probiotic supplement containing Bifidobacterium longum eased constipation, as well as bloating and abdominal pain. Look for a probiotic supplement that contains a variety of live Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus bacteria, along with FOS. FOS stands for fructo-oligosaccharides, a carbohydrate that provides the food bacteria need to thrive. Typical dosage: the minimum dose is one billion live organisms a day. While that might sound like a lot, it’s actually about the same amount you’ll find in a cup of yogurt.
Psyllium: is a natural fiber supplement that forms a gel when combined with water. This adds bulk to the stool and softens it so that it’s easier to pass. In one study of 170 people with constipation that appeared in the journal Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics, researchers compared the effects of a psyllium supplement to an over-the-counter stool softener. After two weeks, they found that the psyllium outperformed the stool softener as a laxative. If you opt for a psyllium supplement, make sure you take it with plenty of water otherwise this fiber can have the opposite effect and be constipating. Typical dosage: 10 to 30 grams per day as needed, taken in divided doses.