According to surveys 1-20% of Western world's population suffer from constipation.
The percentage varies based on demographics, age, gender, etc.
But what is constipation? Constipation is a condition wherein body isn’t able to eliminate solid wastes from it.
Constipation is characterized by severe bloating, strained bowel movements, hard stools and incomplete evacuation for more than 25% of time.
Constipation is a common condition and yet only a minority of patients seeks medical care.
Inspite of having problem, people tend to shy away from the condition in turn aggravating the ailment. As such, constipation is not life threatening, but unnecessary negligence can lead to discomfort and miserable condition.
What are the causes of constipation?
Some key factors are:
Lack of fiber (roughage) content in diet: Fiber is a coarse, indigestible plant food which is low in nutrients. It remains in the gut and adds bulk to the faeces. This helps in intestinal peristalsis i.e. muscle contractions of alimentary tract which helps to move food along.
Metabolic and endocrine problems: Hypercalcemia, hypothyroidism, diabetes, underactive thyroid, irritable bowel syndrome and cystic fibrosis can cause constipation.
Functional abnormalities: Spinal cord lesions, colon cancer, Parkinson’s disease and pelvic floor dysfunction can lead to constipation.
Side effect of medicines: Constipation can be a major side effect of many medicines. Painkillers like codeine, morphine, antacids, antidepressants, antispasmodics, anticonvulsants and iron tablets can lead to constipation.
Hence it is necessary to check the side effects of the prescribed medications and then consume them.
Other factors like aging, depression, inactivity, low calorie intake and pregnancy can cause constipation.
Less fluid intake: Although research shows that increased water intake has no significant effect on constipation, increased fluid intake is a popular advice among physicians for patients suffering from constipation.
The main cause of constipation lies in the changed lifestyle of modern times. People living in urban areas are more susceptible to suffer from constipation because their diet involves highly refined food material. Food products like burgers, pizzas, wraps are made from maida which is refined wheat flour.
Besides, highly refined oil is used for cooking. Refining involves removal of fiber which inturn removes the essential roughage required in the diet. As a result, constipation is a prevalent condition in metropolitan cities.
Constipation is a chronic condition which requires a regular care. Severe constipation can lead to anal fissures, hemorrhoids, rectal prolapse and fecal impaction.
15 Foods for Constipation Relief
Fortunately, nature has provided various foods which can help. Following are the 15 foods that can help prevent and cure constipation.
1. Whole Grains and Grain Products
It is recommended that one should eat six ounces of grain products per day. Products like cereals, oats, rice bran, wheat bran and starchy vegetables such as corn and potatoes contain good amount of fiber. Whenever it is possible, white rice, bread and pasta should be replaced by brown rice and whole grain products.
Fibers are edible parts of plants that cannot be digested. They have cell walls that resist digestion and retain water within their cellular structure. It is essential to get 30-35 grams of fiber daily according to American Dietetic Association.
Research shows that dietary fiber can obviously increase the stool frequency in patients with constipation. Dietary fiber has no significant effect on stool consistency and painful defecation.
What it means? Whole grains and their products are the most important food materials to be consumed in case of constipation because they contain a vital constituent called fiber. Fiber aids in bowel movements and is necessary for proper stools.
2. Aloe Vera
Aloe Vera contains anthraquinones and anthrone that produce a laxative effect by increasing colonic peristalsis and intestinal water content.
This is achieved by opening up of chloride channels to cause less absorption of fluids by colon. This helps in making the stools soft, increasing bowel movements and thus relieving constipation.
Excessive usage of aloe vera should be avoided as prolonged usage leads to diarrhea and colon cancer. Hence, aloe should be used carefully.
What it means? The anthraquinones and anthrone in aloe make it a strong laxative agent. Aloe, if used in recommended quantities, can be an effective measure to treat constipation.
Prunes, also known as dried plums, are small fruits that have earned a great reputation as a natural remedy to treat constipation. Prunes are full of fiber which add bulk to the stools and make an easy passage of faeces.
Besides, prunes have a natural laxative called dihydrophenylisatin which helps in the cleaning up of bowels. Also, prunes contain a naturally occurring sugar called sorbitol that draws water into colon and makes the stools soft. This really helps in painful defecation.
Prunes also have good potassium content. Potassium helps to draw water into the colon and stimulates muscle contractions of the intestine. 50 grams of prunes are advised to be taken twice daily. Prune juice can also be consumed if one doesn’t want to eat solid prunes.
Research shows that complete spontaneous bowel movements per week and stool consistency improved significantly with prunes. It is advised not to consume prunes excessively since they contain calcium oxalate crystals which can lead to kidney problems.
What it means? Adequate fiber content, laxative constituents like dihydrophenylisatin and sorbitol make prunes an ideal food material for the treatment of constipation. Consume 50 grams of prunes twice daily and rest be assured that constipation is surely relieved.
4. Psyllium or Isapghula husk
Committee on Herbal Medicinal Products of European Union confirmed that Isapghula husk can be used to treat habitual constipation (not caused by any organ change) and in conditions where painful defecation is to be avoided. It is also useful in anal fissures and haemorrhoids.
Dietary fiber in Isapghula acts as a mild laxative by forming a gel like substance with water. Hydrocolloidal polysaccharide (mucilage) is the dietary fibre which helps to retain water, absorb irritating products of gut and assist in easy cleaning up of bowels.
Isapghula lubricates the intestine which improves the transit of stools. The University of Michigan Health system report advises to use 5-10g of Isapghula husk daily during constipation.
What it means? The mucilage present in Isapghula husk acts as a mild laxative and promotes easy passage of stools. When used in adequate quantities, Isapghula husk can be a good laxative agent.
Honey is a mild laxative. Taking 1 table spoon of honey thrice a day can be helpful as a preventive measure against constipation. Besides, honey can be taken in through syrups and other food materials if direct consumption is not preferred.
Research shows that honey may have a laxative effect because of the incomplete absorption of fructose. However, honey is rich in calories so excessive consumption should be avoided.
What it means? Mild laxative properties of honey make it an ideal preventive measure against constipation. Be careful to avoid excessive consumption of honey since it contains a lot of calories.
6. Beans and Legumes
Dried beans like red beans, black beans, navy beans and legumes are an excellent source of fiber. Flatulence is a problem associated with beans hence people do not prefer beans.
However, cooking the beans properly can solve this problem.
Besides, beans and legumes are a rich source of proteins too. Hence, it is good to include beans in the diet.
What it means? Beans and legumes are a rich source of proteins and fibers. This makes them medically useful in treating constipation and should be included in the diet.
7. Fruits and Dried fruits
Fruit contains soluble fibers. These are the fibers which dissolve in water. High soluble fiber content food makes you feel full and it also cures the problem of constipation by speeding up the time it takes for fasces to pass through the body as soluble fiber soaks water like sponge.
Fruits and fruit juices taken in regular diet can add up to 0.8 g (for a 20g fiber diet) of fiber content in the body.
Combination of fibers and sugar which are hard for the body to digest make fruits good to clear bouts of constipation.
Dried fruits for example Apricots, golden raisins, dried peaches, dates, etc. have high content of fibers compared to regular fruits.
Majority of original water content is removed naturally from fruits and then they are dried. This is how dried fruits are made.
What it means? Both fruits and dried fruits are rich in fibers. This eases the processes of excretion and hence cures constipation.
A well known phrase “an apple a day keeps doctor away”. Apple is a natural remedy to cure constipation as well. The high fiber content in apple cures this gastrointestinal condition.
It allows regular and an easy bowel movement.
Whole apples contain about 2-3 grams of fiber per 3.5 ounces. There is soluble fiber content called pectin which amount a total of less than 50% of the total fiber content in apples.
Apple has significantly alter the amount of bacteria namely, Clostridiales and Bacteriodes. As a result metabolism in large intestine changes and this helps in health benefits. It helps improvise the digestive tract. Apple is a fruit which is magically beneficial for not only curing constipation but also various other problems.
What it means? An apple a day can keep constipation at bay. Apple is rich in fiber content and this helps to cure constipation by getting out the dirt from our body easily.
Berries are of different kind like blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries etc. Blueberries, raspberries and strawberries are rich in many nutrients especially fibers.
This can help alleviate and prevent constipation over time.
They contain vitamins and soluble fibers and also help in curing sluggish bowels.
What it means? Berries are a commonly found in every household and its high fiber content helps to soften the stool. This helps to cure constipation.
10. Leafy vegetables
Green leafy vegetables have high nutrient content in them and are the best cure for many health problems. Vegetables are naturally rich in fibers.
They consist of both of soluble and insoluble fibers. Soluble fibers in vegetables soften the fasces. While, insoluble fiber adds bulk to the stool, helping it to move more quickly through the bowel.
Both types of fibers help relieve different constipation elements.
Vegetables that are rich in fibers are broccoli, Brussels sprouts, onions and sweet potatoes. Vegetables are often taken in a cooked form which softens the fibers in them.
What it means? Green leafy vegetables are excellent remedy for constipation as they consist of both soluble and insoluble fibers. This added benefit eases the excretion process.
Artichokes are one of the world’s oldest medicinal plants. It was used by Greeks and Romans as a digestive aid.
Artichoke leaves contain large amount of active ingredients like cynarin, 1,3 dicaffeoylquinic acid, 3-caffeoylquinic acid and scolymoside.
In a preliminary study conducted on people with irritable bowel syndrome, it was seen that those who consumed artichoke leaf extract daily for 2 months, showed tremendous improvement.
What it means? Artichoke leaf extract cures constipation as it contains many beneficial active ingredients. Also, this food item shows no side effects.
12. Dandelion Tea
Tea for constipation is old, effective and a traditional home remedy. Dandelion is a source of sodium, potassium, iron and calcium.
Besides, these constituents also act as effective detoxifier.
Take 1-2 spoons of dandelion leaves, add a cup of water, boil for 6-7 minutes and consume it thrice a day.
What it means? The bitter phytoconstituents in dandelions are mild laxatives that aid in constipation. So, next time instead of drinking cola go for a dandelion tea.
Yogurt which is free from additives and is natural, made by using culture of friendly bacteria- or probiotics should be consumed to cure constipation. Bacteria like Lactobacillis or Bifidobacterium are beneficial.
Studies show that yogurt helps prevent many gastrointestinal problems including constipation. An added advantage of yogurt is that it can be consumed by people intolerant to lactose.
Probiotics in general have shown positive effect on intestinal tract and help alleviate constipation.
What it means? Yogurt has a positive effect on curing constipation. Natural ones without additives should always be preferred as they show significant effect on intestinal tract.
Okra is a plant also known as ‘lady’s finger’ native to West Africa and it is well known for maintaining a healthy gut. Okra helps cure constipation as they contain soluble fibers.
Okra fibers absorb water and add bulk to the stool and hence it helps them to move through the intestinal tract faster. Okra mucilage helps in lubrification of intestinal tract and smoothens it.
Okra also contains many vitamins and minerals which are medicinally helpful for various other health issues.
What it means? Okra or lady’s finger is a very common vegetable which is rich in fiber. It maintains the intestinal tract and helps to ease out the waste material without pain.
Rhubarb is a plant which is a root and underground stem. It keeps our body hydrated. To cure constipation, amount of water content in the body should be adequate.
It is used to strain less during bowel movement; this reduces pain from hemorrhoids or tears in the skin lining of anal canal.
Precisely, a mixture of rhubarb and Glauber’s salt improves constipation.
What it means? Rhubarb has hydrating property and sufficient fiber content. This helps them become a medicinal natural remedy to cure constipation.
Constipation is a problem, though it’s not an illness. Even if constipation is not life threatening, it can lead to severe discomfort and pain. Depending on the severity, it may respond to some home remedies or it may require medical intervention.
Few dietary changes can really help in preventing constipation. Adequate usage of whole grains, leafy vegetables, nuts, unrefined oil and sufficient fluid intake can help to keep constipation at a bay.
Instead of conforming to medicines, some natural food materials.
Instead of shying away from the problem, few active measures are just the need of the hour. Finally, eat organic, drink plenty of water, do exercise and lead a happy life!