If you are constipated or have experienced it recently, maybe you can find small consolation in the fact that millions of Americans suffer from constipation. The shared misery of constipation includes dealing with typical symptoms such as straining while having a bowel movement, hard stools (accompanied by back or abdominal pain and bloating), a feeling of obstruction (or incomplete evacuation) and fewer than three bowel movements per week, per webmd.com. In layman's terms, you are plugged up. Generally, constipation sufferers contend with an overall feeling of discomfort and even anxiety, wondering when and how it will all end. It's not a fun topic for discussion, and it can put a serious damper on your lifestyle and even work habits from the standpoint of being an ongoing distraction – one capable of turning a vacation or a day-at-the-office into drudgery.
Causes of ConstipationCases of constipation rarely involve random acts of the body. Per medicine.net.com, here are some of the common causes of constipation:
- Fiber-deficient diets.
- Side effects from medications, such as narcotics, antidepressants, and some high blood pressure prescriptions.
- Certain types of antacids.
- Previous surgeries.
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or some other colon disease.
- Hormonal disturbances.
- Neurologic conditions.
- Some foods or drinks, to include bananas, caffeine, white rice, red meat, white bread, alcohol, chocolate, chips, processed foods, frozen dinners, and fast foods.
Laxatives to the RescueLaxatives, most of which are available over the counter, work by enhancing the frequency and ease of passing stools. They ordinarily come in the forms of liquids, capsules, enemas, pills, and suppositories, per webmd.com. The most commonly recommended types of laxatives are bulk-forming and developed from natural sources such as agar, psyllium, kelp, and plant gum. They work by dissolving or swelling in the intestines, where they lubricate and soften the stool, making them easier to pass – and with increased frequency, per medicinenet.com. Other types of laxatives include stimulant agents, saline and osmotic products, surfactants, and hyperosmolar laxatives, which, like osmotic laxatives, work as hydrating agents that bring fluids into the intestines, per draxe.com. Another type of laxative is the enema, which is inserted into the rectum to deposit saline fluid.
Exercise Caution with LaxativesOveruse or inappropriate use of laxatives bring with them caution flags. For one thing, laxatives should not be used for purging by people looking to lose or at least control their weight. In this respect, laxatives should not be considered a weight-loss shortcut or quick fix. There also is the danger of laxatives interacting with medications you are already taking, such as antibiotics or heart or bone medicine, per mayoclinic.org. Always discuss laxative use with your physician before using. Improper use of laxatives – usually associated with laxative usage in excess of prescribed amounts and frequency – can lead to many health problems, including the following:
- Electrolyte imbalances.
- Colon damage.
- Inadequate production of digestive enzymes.
- Cardiovascular problems.
- Fluctuating constipation and diarrhea.
- Various gastrointestinal issues.
- Water retention (edema).
Healthy Eating Wards off ConstipationWhile over-the-counter laxatives, used properly and in the correct dosages, can help relieve a case of constipation, a healthy diet that consistently includes the following foods – especially fiber-rich foods – can provide a healthy preventative as well. Among the foods recommended to stave off constipation:
- Wheat bran.
- Fresh fruits (such as berries, figs, apples, prunes, and pears) and vegetables (especially leafy greens).
- Seeds such as flax, chia, and pumpkin.
- Whole beans.
- Coconut water.
- Aloe vera.
- Foods containing probiotics, such as kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi and some yogurts.