Understanding Constipation and Natural Treatment Options
All backed up and don’t know what to do? If you are leaving the toilet feeling like you still have to go, you are probably constipated. Individuals who are constipated may be able to pass a small amount of stool, but may not empty their bowels completely, leaving a sense of incomplete emptying, which is frustrating and uncomfortable.
Passing stools infrequently, typically fewer than three bowel movements in a week or going longer than three days in between passing stools, is a red flag for constipation. Stool should be soft and sausage-shaped and pass comfortably with relatively little effort. It should not be hard or lumpy and difficult to move.
In severe cases of stool backing up in the body, abdominal pain may even occur from gas trapped in the colon behind hardened feces. Constipation with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS-C) is often accompanied by pain, yet only affects 5% of people suffering from constipation. Constipation is a very common condition affecting about 14% of adults in the US and about 1 in 5 people globally. It accounts for about 3.2 million medical visits per year in the US. In fact, Americans spend nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars each year trying to relieve the uncomfortable symptoms of constipation.2 Who is likely to get constipation? Well, if you are female or elderly, you are out of luck. Females are three times more likely to have constipation than men,3 even more so if you are a postpartum female.4 In addition, elderly individuals are more likely to get constipation.3
Diet and Constipation Is what you’re eating, or not eating, to blame? A lack of fiber in the diet is the most common reason for constipation. Only 3% of Americans eat enough dietary fiber in their diets.1 Constipation can also be related to other factors such as poor abdominal muscle function/tone, inactivity or immobility, and prolonged use of opioid medications.
Natural Treatment Options for Constipation Although common, constipation can be a debilitating condition, unless you take action. While over-the- counter laxatives are always an option, many people prefer a more natural remedy to ease the strain. Most commonly, fiber supplements with psyllium or flax (in combination with drinking plenty of water) is used to soften the stool and move things forward. For a more potent effect, stimulant-type laxatives like senna, cascara-sagrada or cape aloe can also do the trick. Probiotics are even shown to improve gut transit time, stool frequency, and stool consistency.5 MiraLAX is not a stimulant type laxative and can be used long term. This is most often my top recommendation for treatment of constipation after ensuring adequate water and fiber intake.
Tweaks to your diet and lifestyle can also certainly help. As you may have figured, consuming adequate amounts of dietary fiber is the most important and can be found in common foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. Besides consuming adequate amounts of fiber, intake of sodium and alcohol should be low, and opioid medications should be avoided at all costs. Walking or exercise can help relieve constipation as well. A daily diary can be used to track bowel movements and consumption of important foods in the diet.
Take the Next Step There are several common factors related to constipation, and it can be a complex issue. I have seen all types of cases in my clinic, and I would be happy to talk to you more about constipation or your gut health in general. Together, we can investigate underlying causes while working to improve your diet and explore treatment approaches to restore your regularity. If you're ready to take control of your health, let our team at Medical Specialty Clinic help you address constipation and implement natural treatment options to improve your wellbeing.
References 1. Quagliani D, Felt-Gunderson P. Closing America's Fiber Intake Gap: Communication Strategies From a Food and Fiber Summit. Am J Lifestyle Med. 2016;11(1):80-85. Publis
hed 2016 Jul 7. doi:10.1177/1559827615588079 2. Albu A, Farcas A, David L, Dumitrascu DL. The economic burden of constipation therapy.Med Pharm Rep. 2019;92(3):261-264. doi:10.15386/mpr-1222 3. McCrea GL, Miaskowski C, Stotts NA, Macera L, Paul SM, Varma MG. Gender differences in self- reported constipation characteristics, symptoms, and bowel and dietary habits among patients attending a specialty clinic for constipation. Gend Med. 2009 Apr;6(1):259-71. doi: 10.1016/j.genm.2009.04.007. PMID: 19467522. 4. Turawa EB, MusekiwaA, Rohwer AC. Interventions for preventing postpartum constipation. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2020 Aug 5;8(8):CD011625. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD011625.pub3. PMID: 32761813; PMCID: PMC8094226.
5. Eirini Dimidi, Stephanos Christodoulides, Konstantinos C Fragkos, S Mark Scott, Kevin Whelan, The effect of probiotics on functional constipation in adults: a systematic review
and meta alysis of randomized controlled trials, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 100, Issue 4, October 2014, Pages 1075–1084