Constipation is having fewer than three bowel movements a week, according to Mayo Clinic research. Does that number surprise you? According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), constipation is one of the most common digestive problems in the United States, affecting around 42 million Americans. So, when should you be worried about your constipation symptoms and how can you help prevent them?
What Constitutes Constipation?
While many believe that constipation means you haven’t had a bowel movement in a week or more, actually, by definition, if you are having fewer than three bowel movements in a week, you are, technically, constipated. Some other indicators that your gastrointestinal system needs a little help are if stools don’t easily pass or are accompanied by pain, or if the consistency of the stool is hard, dry or lumpy.
Bowel movement patterns will vary from person to person, but what you want to watch out for are changes to your pattern.
What Causes Constipation?
A commonly asked question is, “what causes constipation?” While constipation is not a disease, it can be a symptom of another medical issue or a result of poor diet choices/dehydration.
Constipation most commonly affects the following groups, according to the NIDDK:
- women, especially during pregnancy or after giving birth
- older adults
- people who eat little to no fiber
- people who take certain medicines or dietary supplements
- people with certain health problems, including functional gastrointestinal disorders
Other factors that can impact bowel movement patterns include anxiety or depression issues or, simply, ignoring the urge to pass a stool. (This last one can be particularly common among young children who are potty-training and harboring a fear of the toilet).
Diet is a common culprit of constipation.
What Are the Risks of Constipation?
While constipation isn’t usually a serious issue, it can lead to serious issues if not handled correctly. Constipation that lasts for a short time usually doesn’t cause complications, but long-lasting constipation can result in hemorrhoids, anal fissures, rectal prolapse and fecal impaction which are more serious issues.
Medical intervention is necessary if: 1) changes you make to treat your constipation aren’t working; 2) you have blood in your stool; 3) you are losing weight even though you aren’t trying to; 4) you have pain with bowel movements; 5) you have been constipated for more than two weeks; 6) your stool consistency, size and shape have changed dramatically. If any of these factors apply to you, don’t delay, seek professional guidance.
How Can You Treat Constipation?
One of the best things you can do to help ensure your gastrointestinal system is working as it should is to have a functional medicine evaluation to assess for weaknesses in your current daily health regimens and lifestyle. Constipation is a sign that something is not right inside and needs correction.
Dr. Alessi and her team can evaluate your current health and what may be causing you gastrointestinal distress, and also help you with diet, exercise and lifestyle habits that support well-balanced living.
Treatments you can try at home that aid in constipation are:
One of the first things that should be done to treat your constipation is to take a look at your diet and lifestyle. Reduce foods that can clog your colon such as: white flour, cow’s milk, high-fat or fried foods, alcohol, chocolate, certain seedy berries, coffee, tea, soft drinks, and corn, according to Health.com.
Foods that aid in digestion include: yogurt, lean meat and fish, and whole grains (whole-wheat bread, oats, and brown rice). These foods are a rich source of fiber which facilitates proper digestion.
The best sources of fiber are fruits and vegetables–these are a much better resource for relieving constipation than laxatives. (We’ll talk about that more later on in the article.)
U.S. News and World Report advises that when it comes to water intake, you should shoot for drinking (in ounces) the equivalent of half your body weight. Since constipation is related to dehydration in the colon, getting enough water is essential. A properly-hydrated body means less water will be withdrawn from the colon helping stool stay soft and easy to pass.
When it comes to relieving constipation, getting your aerobic exercise in can really help balance out your system. Any type of movement will help, but exercises with some impact (like running/jumping etc.) can help put natural forces on the intestines to get them moving.
Be Careful with Laxatives
Many will resort to an over-the-counter, out-of-a-box solution for their constipation issues in the form of a laxative. What makes laxatives work? Irritation. “Laxatives are like little bombs that go off in your colon! Laxatives cause bowel movements by irritating the colon. This causes the muscles in the colon to spasm, artificially ejecting the stool, ” reports US News.
Another drawback of laxatives it that it can result in a lazy colon. The colon adjusts to getting the laxative assistance and can lead to chronic constipation or a dependence on laxatives.
Call for a Functional Medicine Consultation and Constipation Evaluation
Learn how functional medicine can help with constipation and other gastrointestinal issues today by calling 970-631-8286 and discover how healthy you are on a biochemical, molecular level. Learn strategies and tips to balance your body physically, mentally and emotionally so you can have what you need for total body wellness.