What you need to know:
- A high fibre diet helps add bulk and weight to stool, soften them, and stimulate bowel movements.
Constipation is when you have less than three bowel movements per week or difficulty passing stool because it is hard and dry.
According to Dr Deo Lukyamuzi Kizza, a gastroenterologist at Case Hospital in Kampala, digestive disorders are on the rise due to our lifestyle and the types of food we eat. Many of these are junk foods that contain high amounts of oil, salt and sugar, but less fibre.
Constipation may be caused by dehydration, some medications, sudden change in food habits, changes in sleep patterns, travelling or not chewing food properly. It makes the body toxic since waste is stuck inside and if this goes on for some time, one has to receive treatment.
Sometimes, constipation can be caused by an underlying problem such as an underactive thyroid gland which slows the body’s metabolic processes, bowel diseases, and structural abnormalities that causes a slow movement of food along the food canal. Laxative abuse, hormonal imbalances and sometimes nerve damage, diabetes and kidney failure can also cause slow bowel movements.
“In some cases, constipation can have causes that are not due to underlying disease. These may include pregnancy, old age, dehydration, lack of dietary fibre such as fruit, vegetables and cereals in one's diet, physical inactivity, putting off bowel movements for a more convenient time, medication side effects or a change in one's routine and lifestyle, such as a change in one's eating habits,” he says.
If you are struggling with constipation, avoid red meat because it is high in iron, which can contribute to constipation. Calcium-containing foods such as milk and cheese can also cause constipation for some. Also, avoiding fried foods, proteins and fats stimulates the release of gut hormones that slow down the gastrointestinal movement.
According to Ivan Philip Baguma, a nutritionist at Nella Organics, one should opt for less oily food and healthier meals with more fibre as well as plenty of water.
● Passing fewer than three stools a week.
● Having lumpy or hard stools.
● Straining to have bowel movements.
● Feeling as though there is a blockage in your rectum that prevents bowel movements.
● Feeling as though you cannot completely empty the stool from your rectum.
● Needing help to empty your rectum, such as using your hands to press on your abdomen and using a finger to remove stool from your rectum.
Constipation may be considered chronic if you have experienced two or more of these symptoms for the last three months.
Foods that ease constipation include those that contain soluble fibre because it is good for forming stool and making it bulky enough to be passed out easily. Such foods include fresh fruits, raw vegetables such as cabbage, whole grains, oatmeal, brown rice and beans. Chia and flax seeds are also good sources of fibre.
“Drinking water does not only help you hydrate and flash out toxins but can also help in softening the stool so that it is easy to pass out. Basically, drinking warm water in the morning on an empty stomach will relieve constipation as it enables breaking down of food easily,” Baguma says.
Lemon water is, however, recommended because the citric acid in lemon juice acts as a stimulant to the digestive system and can help flush toxins from your body. The natural laxative can be made with a cup of hot water with little lemon juice to help stimulate your colon.
Ginger, the warming herb, causes the inside of the body to generate more heat, which speeds up digestion.
Exercise daily for about 15 minutes to help jumpstart the digestive process. If you feel sleepy after a meal, try to walk instead of lying down.
Probiotics, smoothies (blended fruits and vegetables with water) are another way to ease constipation according to Baguma. He adds that one should try to manage stress, and avoid ignoring the urge to pass stool.
If possible, one should create a regular schedule for bowel movements, especially after a meal.
Why you should see a doctor
If you get constipated more often or get severe pain or bleeding, consult a doctor because these symptoms can be a sign of a more serious digestive disorder.