Constipation

Constipation

Everyone's bowel functions differently, and opinions about what constitutes 'normal' toilet habits vary widely. However, one certainty is that regular bowel movements are essential for healthy digestion and general health and wellbeing, so if you go to the toilet infrequently or irregularly, or need to strain to pass a bowel motion, it's important to take steps to improve the situation.

Symptoms

  • Difficulty passing a bowel motion
  • Stools tend to be hard and dry
  • Infrequent or irregular bowel motions
  • Rectal discomfort or abdominal pain
  • Abdominal fullness (even after passing a stool)
  • Nausea and headaches may indicate that toxic wastes from the stored faeces are re-entering the blood circulation

Causes

  • Inadequate consumption of fibre (or, occasionally, consumption of excessive quantities of fibre)
  • Not drinking enough water
  • Lack of exercise
  • Anxiety or Stress
  • Sluggish liver function
  • Certain medications (e.g. some antidepressants, analgesics and iron supplements) may slow down the movement of faeces through the bowels
  • Constipation also becomes more common during pregnancy and with increasing age
  • Ongoing constipation may be a symptom of underlying health problems, including Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Underactive Thyroid function and diverticulitis, so it's important to seek professional advice
  • An impacted stool may prevent any bowel motions from being passed. This is most likely to occur in children and seniors
  • Delaying going to the toilet in response to the urge to defecate, whether through being busy, or because defecating is painful or traumatic for some reason
  • Regular use of laxatives may further impair bowel function, making constipation problems worse

Nutritional & Herbal Solutions

  • Taking probiotic supplements such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus plantarum and Bifidobacterium longum helps restore the balance of the intestinal bacteria and normalise bowel habits. Oligofructose (sometimes called fructo-oligosaccharides) can be taken at the same time as probiotics to encourage and support re-colonisation by the friendly bacteria
  • Slippery elm bark contains mucilage, which forms a gel-like substance during the digestive process, soothing the mucous membranes of the digestive tract and easing the passage of the faeces
  • Liver-cleansing herbs such as milk thistle, globe artichoke and schisandra improve Sluggish Liver function by increasing bile output, which in turn stimulates peristalsis and helps relieve constipation
  • Stress tightens the muscles of the digestive tract and can cause or worsen constipation; take extra magnesium, which supports the body's ability to cope with Stress and has a relaxing effect on tense or contracted muscles

Diet & Lifestyle advice

  • Ongoing constipation, painful bowel motions, the presence of blood or mucus in the stool or sudden changes in bowel habits, (e.g. alternating bouts of constipation and Diarrhoea) may be indicative of underlying disease, and require medical investigation
  • Eat several serves of high fibre foods every day, such as fresh and dried fruit, raw green leafy vegetables, whole grains and legumes. Ideally, include both soluble and insoluble fibre in your diet. Soluble fibre absorbs lots of water, which softens the stools, making them easier to pass. Good sources include adzuki beans, barley, dried beans, oats, apples, apricots, bananas, blackberries, blueberries, cranberries, figs, grapes, peaches and prunes. Insoluble fibre passes through the intestine largely unchanged and adds bulk to stools, helping to stimulate bowel contractions (peristalsis). Foods rich in insoluble fibre include whole grains, cereals, seeds, wheat bran, and the skins of many fruits and vegetables
  • Avoid dairy products, soft drinks, meat, white flour, processed foods, salt, coffee, alcohol and sugar. These foods are difficult to digest and have little or no fibre
  • Drink at least two litres of water every day
  • Avoid large, heavy meals, and instead eat smaller portions more frequently, aiming for 5-6 small meals each day
  • Physical activity reduces the amount of time it takes for the faeces to be excreted. Even a brisk 30-minute walk has health benefits, and can help improve bowel function and relieve Stress
  • Retraining the bowel to move regularly takes time. Try to go to the toilet at the same time each day, even if the urge does not exist

If symptoms persist consult your healthcare professional. Information provided is of a general nature and should not replace that of your healthcare professional.

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