1 in 7 people are constipated. The condition affects more women than men and is common amongst those over 65.
Constipation is defined as difficulty or strain when opening the bowels and passing pellet-like stools. Constipation can also cause stools to be unusually hard, lumpy, large or small. Bowel movement can be painful, and sufferers often experience bloating and the sensation of a full bowel.
Constipation is a known risk factor for developing colon cancer and diverticular disease.
The clinical definition of constipation is having 2 of the following symptoms for at least 12 weeks of a year:
- Straining during bowel movements
- Lumpy or hard stool
- Sensation of incomplete evacuation
- Sensation of anorectal blockage/obstruction
- Fewer than three bowel movements per week
Other symptoms that can occur as a result of constipation include:
- Abdominal pain
- Coated tongue
- Bad breath
- Difficulty concentrating
- Mood changes
- Skin outbreaks
Constipation itself is not a disease but a symptom of an underlying condition.
Poor diet: excessive consumption of sugary and refined foods, a lack of fibre and not drinking enough water can all contribute to constipation.
A Smart Nutrition Consultation gives you practical suggestions and meals ideas to make key changes in your diet which will help to alleviate constipation and improve your overall health – please click the link at the bottom of the page.
Stress: being busy can make us wait to go to the bathroom. Delaying a bowel movement is one of the most common causes of constipation. A stressful schedule can also lead to irregular eating patterns, eating on the run and making less healthy food choices, all of which contribute to constipation.
Stress also impacts the nervous system. Normal bowel movements are a result of complicated nervous system signals. Too much stress can interrupt these signals, disrupting bowel function.
A stressful lifestyle can be a major factor in constipation. An Adrenal Stress Test can pinpoint critical imbalances in stress hormones, and a qualified nutritional therapist can then work with you to resolve these.
Gut flora imbalances and poor digestive health: digestive function and gut bacteria levels can impact your transit time – the time it takes food to travel through the body. Friendly bacteria in the gut perform many functions including manufacturing vitamins, digesting food and improve elimination. A good supply of friendly intestinal bacteria contributes to bowel movement regularity. Stress, antibiotics and other medications – and a poor diet – can all lead to gut flora imbalances, which may predispose us to constipation.
Changes in friendly bacteria levels and other important digestive functions can be tested by a Comprehensive Stool Test. Smart Nutrition can use the results to help optimise your digestion and restore regular bowel habits.
Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO): this condition is due to more bacteria being present in the small intestines than there should be. It can cause bloating and if the bacteria present are producing the gas methane, this is known to slow down the transit time which can cause constipation.
Low thyroid function: because an underactive thyroid slows down many of the body’s systems including digestion and elimination, constipation is can be particularly troublesome for people with hypothyroidism – an underactive thyroid.
Other symptoms of a low thyroid include tiredness, cold hands and feet, weight gain and depression.
If you think hypothyroidism may be a factor in your constipation, a Thyroid Test can measure your thyroid levels. Smart Nutrition can design a personalised diet and supplement plan to boost thyroid functioning and eliminate constipation.
Food intolerances: food intolerances are one of the most common causes of constipation. Defined as a negative reaction to a food, food intolerance can be caused by the absence of specific chemicals or the enzymes needed to digest a food substance, or by the body’s responses to certain food constituents (chemicals). The immune system response in food intolerance is much slower than in an allergy so it can be difficult to identify the offending foods.
A Food Intolerance Test provides an excellent solution to this problem, readily identifying trigger foods.
Poor toilet habits: because modern life is so busy, many people just don’t take the time to go to the toilet properly. Constantly ignoring the need to pass a bowel movement can cause too much water to be absorbed from the stool, making it dry and impacted and leading to constipation.
Restoring a healthy bowel habit requires a combination of dietary and lifestyle changes, both of which Smart Nutrition can help you with.
Medication: certain medications such as painkillers, antacids, iron sulphate, anticonvulsants and antidepressants can cause constipation as a side effect.
Dietary advice from a nutritional therapist can minimise these effects. Smart Nutrition may also be able to address the underlying problem, minimise the need for these drugs in the first place.