Constipation relief can be achieved easier than you think with some simple changes to your diet and lifestyle. Read on to learn what to do to relieve constipation.
Although it may not always be the most pleasant subject to discuss, constipation is a condition that negatively affects the lifestyle of individuals worldwide. In Australia alone, studies suggest that one in five adults over the age of 30 have experienced constipation, with around two-thirds of surveyed women reporting periodical constipation. So what to do to achieve constipation relief?
You have probably heard that dietary and lifestyle changes are beneficial for constipation relief, but what exactly does that mean?
What are the dos and don’ts? That’s what we’re here to discuss today.
However, before we begin, we should look at what constitutes constipation.
What is Considered Constipation?
Before you begin attempting to alleviate constipation symptoms, it’s important to understand what constitutes irregular bowel movements.
Whilst there may not be an agreed ideal for how frequently a person should pass stools, with anywhere between three times a day to three times a week being considered normal, there are other factors that are considered when defining constipation.
These factors are generally associated with changes in the routine of the specific individual, such as:
- Passing stools less regularly
- Stools becoming lumpy or hard
- Additional straining when having bowel movements
- Experiencing the sensation of a blockage that is preventing bowel movements
If you have experienced these symptoms for more than three months, it is referred to as chronic constipation.
What Can Be Done for Constipation Relief?
As constipation can be caused by a wide array of conditions and lifestyle factors, different methods of relieving symptoms will be more effective for different people. Below are some of the more common lifestyle and dietary changes associated with constipation relief.
How much fibre should an adult consume?
The recommended daily dietary fibre intake for adults is 25g for women and 30g for men.
If you suspect you may not be getting enough fibre, it’s probably a good idea to eat more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and other plant foods, whilst also increasing your intake of water. It’s important to make these changes gradually, as increasing your fibre intake too quickly can sometimes cause wind and stomach pain.
How to achieve that every day?
To get enough fibre every day, the Gastroenterological Society of Australia (GESA) recommends that an individual eat at least 30g of fibre a day through fibre-rich foods, such as vegetables, fruit, cereals and whole grains.
As the benefits of fibre may be from the combination of nutrients working together, it is recommended that whole foods be consumed, rather than a dietary fibre supplement. Additionally, fibre supplements can sometimes aggravate constipation, especially if you do not increase the amount of water you drink daily.
Table 1. Average fibre content of different foods
Table 2. An example of a diet with more than 30g fibre per day
|2 wholewheat cereal biscuits||3.2|
|4 slices wholegrain bread||5.7|
|1 tablespoon peanut butter||2.7|
|2 pieces of fruit (apple & pear)||4.9|
|1 cup frozen mixed vegetables||8.6|
|1 small boiled potato with skin, 100 g||2.8|
|1 cup white cooked spaghetti||2.5|
|2 wholemeal dry biscuits||1.5|
|1 cup whole fruit juice||0.5|
What about children?
Children between the ages of 4 and 8 should consume 18g of fibre each day. Girls aged 9 to 13, and 14 to 18 years, need 20g and 22g per day respectively. Boys aged 9 to 13, and 14 to 18 years, need 24g and 28g per day respectively.
Whole food, rather than a dietary fibre supplement, is recommended.
If simple measures for relieving constipation do not work, the initial treatment recommended for children is often osmotic laxatives rather than a fibre supplement.
Did you know water makes up about three-quarters of the faecal content? Or that constipation can occur with a high-fibre diet if not enough water is consumed? To sum up, adequate water intake is important to keep bowel contents soft and easy to pass.
Recommended daily fluid intake
Approximate adequate daily intakes of fluids (including plain water, milk, and other drinks) for women are 2.1 litres (about 8 cups) per day and for men is 2.6 litres (about 10 cups) per day.
What about children?
Below is a general guide for how much fluid a child needs per day:
- Children 4–8 years – 1.2 litres (about 5 cups)
- Girls 9–13 years – 1.4 litres (about 5-6 cups)
- Boys 9–13 years – 1.6 litres (about 6 cups)
- Girls 14–18 years – 1.6 litres (about 6 cups)
- Boys 14–18 years – 1.9 litres (about 7-8 cups)
These adequate intake amounts include all fluids. However, it is preferable that the majority of intake is from plain water (except for infants where fluid intake is met by breast milk or infant formula).
Some drinks can make you lose fluids
Drinks that contain caffeine (such as tea, coffee, energy/ sports drinks) and alcohol are diuretic drinks. They make the body excrete and lose water. It is important to limit intake of these drinks if you are constipated.
Living a sedentary lifestyle can cause constipation, so get those muscles moving! Ideally, an individual should exercise every day for about 30 minutes. If you are limited by your capacity, just try your best to be as active as possible each day, as every little bit of effort counts.
Some tips to get started with exercise
- Make time and schedule it in
- Set short-term and long-term goals
- Build up gradually
- Choose activities that are right for you
- Plan physical activities with others. Invite your family, friends or colleagues; or join a group
- Do not give up before you start to see the benefits
- Have fun!
When Dietary and Lifestyle Changes are Insufficient for Constipation Relief
There are circumstances where lifestyle and dietary changes are insufficient to achieve constipation relief, such as if constipation is caused by taking a medication.
This is when the use of a laxative may be considered. Just remember to always read the label, use only as directed and see your doctor or healthcare professional if symptoms persist.
While different methods of constipation relief may have varying levels of effectiveness from person to person, it’s important to understand and acknowledge the link between lifestyle and gastrointestinal health.
It may not be the most pleasant of subjects, but in the end, your quality of life is always going to benefit from a healthy gut.
. Functional Constipation. In: eTG complete [Internet]. Melbourne: Therapeutic Guidelines Limited; Mar 2017. Accessed on 14 July 2017.
. Functional Bloating. In: eTG complete [Internet]. Melbourne: Therapeutic Guidelines Limited; Mar 2017. Accessed on 14 July 2017.