Chronic constipation can cause a lot of discomfort. An even greater concern is the elevated risk of colon cancer.
A number of conditions contribute to constipation, including irritable bowel syndrome and certain medications. You’re constipated if you have hard stools, infrequent bowel movements or consistent difficulty in fully evacuating your bowels. Speaking technically, fewer than three bowel movements each week, is constipation.
Up to 30 per cent of people struggle with the condition. Constipation is more common if you’re older, female or depressed. The most frequent culprit, however, is what you eat and your lifestyle. And this is yours to control.
What you can do
Fibre. Fibre comes only in unrefined plant foods. The idea is to keep food travelling through your intestines at a normal rate and that’s exactly what fibre does.
Fluid. Fibre can’t do its job unless it has plenty of water, which softens stools. So drink plenty.
Exercise. Simply walking will stimulate your bowels, helping to keep things in motion. (Have you ever noticed how your bowels are sluggish when you're bedbound?)
Regular toilet habits. Don’t postpone going when nature calls. And keep in mind that bowel movements tend to be maximal after a meal.
Foods to keep you moving
Legumes. Whether in dahl or a bean burrito, cooked dried beans are loaded with fibre, which will get you “going.” Wholegrain breads. Eat these daily. A Finnish study showed rye bread (think pumpernickel) was even better than laxatives for the relief of constipation.
Linseeds. Small and powerful, use a spoonful daily on cereal or mixed in yoghurt. You can also try chia seeds.
Prunes and prune juice. This is a traditional remedy. Medicated prunes have been prescribed since the 1800s. Their high fibre content and other natural active ingredients work wonders.
Psyllium husks. Mix them into smoothies, use them to thicken sauces or simply add them to a glass of water and drink immediately.