Bowel habits can vary widely from person to person, but most doctors agree that anyone who passes hard stools and does so less than three times per week is constipated. Regular exercise and a diet including fibre and fluids are vital for a healthy digestive system, and should keep bowel movements regular.
- Infrequent bowel movements
- Hard, dry stools
- Difficulty or pain when defecating
- Swelling of the abdomen
What causes it
In the majority of cases constipation occurs because of a lack of fibre and fluids in the diet. Inadequate liver function is another important cause as bile salts produced in the liver are natural laxatives, and are essential for proper functioning of the digestive system. Other factors include insufficient exercise or prolonged inactivity, severe depression, and medical disorders such as high blood calcium levels, colon cancer, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, muscular spasm or underactive thyroid. Overuse of laxatives or some antacids can impair bowel activity, and certain medications (including drugs for high blood pressure, anti-depressants and ibuprofen) can also cause constipation.
What can you do
- Eat food high in fibre, including raw fruits and vegetables, pulses and wholegrains. Oranges (at least one a day) are particularly helpful as the citric acid they contain is a natural laxative.
- Drink at least 8 glasses of water or juice a day.
- Exercise regularly and, whenever possible, go to the lavatory as soon as the urge strikes.
- Try drinking dandelion root tea – one cup of tea, three times per day. Use 1 tsp of dried powdered root per cup.
- Eat 3 or 4 prunes each morning.
There are several different supplements that may help relieve constipation – speak to a nutritional therapist to get the right supplement for you.