How to Prevent Constipation

By Dr. Ritu Krishnatreye, B.H.M.S.

How to prevent constipation

Most of us have suffered from constipation at one time or another and are familiar with the signs of constipation - abdominal bloating, straining, and lumpy hard stools.

Fortunately, by incorporating a few simple changes in lifestyle, it may be possible to prevent this frustrating and painful condition. 

Here are some simple ways to prevent constipation naturally while avoiding drugs and their harmful side effects. 

We Need Fiber

Where did the fiber go?

These days, the Western diet consists of a lot of pre-packaged, highly processed foods. In fact, these foods make up around 90% of the products in most grocery stores. 

Although all grains contain fiber, when foods are processed, most of the fiber is removed in an effort to create better texture, coloration and taste. 

That’s right, it is all about making their pre-packaged foods appeal to our senses so that we will buy them. The lack of fiber in pre-packaged foods is behind many of our constipation problems.

Stools without fiber are just too small

Feces that doesn’t contain fiber is mostly digested by the time it reaches the colon, leaving behind very little residue to bulk up the stool. 

Without sufficient bulk, stool has a hard time stimulating peristalsis, the wave-like contractions of the colon that move stool along.

How fiber adds bulk to stool

Our colons were designed with a need for fiber and consuming such can help prevent constipation.

Fiber is plant material that is largely undigested as it travels through the digestive system, adding the necessary bulk to stool to stimulate peristalsis.

Fiber also acts like a sponge to hold moisture in the stool. This helps to make stool soft and slippery, which makes it easier to eliminate.

Eat more foods that contain fiber

Vegetables, fruit, oats, whole grain products, bran, nuts and seeds are all good sources of fiber. We need a minimum of 25g of fiber a day. 

Getting 35g a day is even better. However, increasing daily intake of fiber too quickly can result in gas, bloating and diarrhea.

Stay Active to Prevent Constipation

Modern technology helps to make our lives easier. 

However, for many of us technology means that we are much less physically active throughout the day.

Yes, technology saves time and effort, but it can also create a sedentary lifestyle.

A lack of physical activity is one of the contributing factors to constipation.

So find ways to get a little exercise in your daily routine.

  • Take walks.

  • When shopping, park farther out.

  • Become involved in an enjoyable sport that requires physical activity.

Exercise improves bowel motility, and will help in relieving constipation.

Stay Hydrated to Prevent Constipation

When we become dehydrated, the body will pull extra water from the colon because it is needed more urgently elsewhere. 

Dehydration is a major cause of constipation, which is why adding fluids has proven to be a great route for preventing constipation altogether.

To get more fluids

  • Drink 6 to 8 glasses of water a day, and more if you sweat a lot

  • Eat fruits and vegetables with high water content

  • Avoid excessive caffeine and alcohol, which are both diuretics which tend to flush needed water from the body

When our body is sufficiently hydrated, stool tends to stay more moist, soft and slippery

Shorten Stool Transit Time to Prevent Constipation

Dehydration isn't the only thing that causes dry, hard stool. It also happens when stool stays too long in the colon. 

Our digestive systems were designed to move food through in less than a day. When stool stays longer than that, it tends to get too dry.

Why longer transit time causes constipation

A natural function of the colon is to take a watery mush, extract moisture, and turn it into formed stool. 

But when stool stays in the colon for more than a day, the bowels tend to extract too much moisture. The bowels just weren’t designed for stool to stay for more than a day in the colon. 

The longer stool stays in the colon, the more water the colon will try to extract, and the dryer, harder and more compacted that stool becomes.

Keys to Shortening Stool Transit Times

Why avoid heavy meals?

Heavy meals tend to overload the digestive system, making digestion less efficient. This results in our digestive system getting backed up. The result is that stool transit time is increased.

To avoid overloading the digestive system, eat smaller meals spaced evenly throughout the day.

Why meat is hard to digest

Eating too much meat during a meal can increase stool transit time. 

Our bodies just aren’t as efficient at digesting meat, so it is held a longer time in the digestive tract to try and digest it properly. 

Meat contains almost no fiber. Balance it out with foods high in fiber, or take a fiber supplement.

Foods high in fat or salt are also hard to digest. Cooked ham, salted pork and Vienna sausage contain all kinds of chemicals that are harmful to the digestive tract.

Why avoid sugary and processed foods?

Processed and sugary foods are devoid of fiber and moisture, and lead to constipation. These foods slow the progression of waste material through your digestive tract.

  • Processing creates a large amount of starch that becomes glued to intestinal walls, preventing proper movement of stool.
  • Continual consumption of processed foods tends to limit one’s dietary fiber intake. 

To remedy the situation, make fresh meals at home using seasonal or fresh grown ingredients.

These fresh ingredients don’t just help in relieving constipation, but they are rich in vitamins and minerals that are essential for health. Now another tip on how to prevent constipation.

Magnesium helps with regularity

Studies have shown that a magnesium deficient diet leads to chronic constipation.

Magnesium helps in muscle control and function, which helps promote proper peristalsis and can prove to be wonderful in preventing constipation.

Unfortunately, 80% of Americans don’t get enough magnesium in their diet, potentially resulting in numerous health problems

Magnesium can be derived from natural food sources such as whole grain products, nuts, seeds and vegetables. 

However, modern farming practices have dramatically decreased the amount of magnesium in the foods we eat, making it difficult to get the proper amount of magnesium.

Could a Magnesium Supplement

End Constipation?

Numerous doctors now recommend a daily magnesium supplement. Not only does taking 200 to 400 mg. of magnesium a day help to provide our nutritional needs, it can also help to relieve constipation.

  • Magnesium functions as an osmotic laxative, which draws water into the colon
  • This extra water helps to moisten stool, making it soft and slippery
  • Magnesium is a muscle relaxant, which helps to balance out the muscle tightening effect of calcium for better peristalsis and elimination

Note: Talk with your doctor before starting a magnesium supplement. Supplemental magnesium may interfere with certain prescription medications. Those with kidney disease should not take a magnesium supplement unless instructed to do so by their doctor.

Conclusion - How to Prevent Constipation

There are many ways to treat constipation naturally, and these measures are safe and effective. Unlike laxatives that can cause dependency if taken for too long, the above measures are generally without side effects. Better yet, they can help to improve our overall health.

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