What is the definition of constipation?
Constipation is a common problem where people find it difficult to have bowel movements. Constipation medically is defined as less than three bowel movements per week. If a person has less than one bowel movement per week, they are considered to have severe constipation. Symptoms of bloating, gas, or pain passing bowel movements may accompany constipation.
What foods cause constipation?
Just as there are many foods you can eat to help prevent or relieve your constipation, there are foods that can have a binding effect that can make your constipation worse. These are 16 foods to avoid when you are constipated.
Bananas are a conundrum when it comes to constipation foods to avoid. It’s a matter of timing: Unripe bananas can cause constipation; ripe bananas can help relieve constipation.
- Unripe or under-ripe green bananas cause constipation because they still have a lot of starch, which can be hard for the body to digest.
- Bananas also contain dietary fiber (pectin), which draws water from the intestines toward the stool.
If someone is already dehydrated, this can make constipation worse.
Babies can also get constipated if they eat too many bananas. Moderation and a variety of fruits and veggies for your little one is the key.
It is not true that if you swallow a piece of gum it takes seven years to digest. However, it is true that if you swallow many pieces of gum in a short time, or if you swallow several pieces of gum with other indigestible foods such as seeds, this can create a mass that in rare cases, blocks the digestive tract. This digestive blockage can cause constipation.
Children under age 5 should not chew gum at all, and if you do chew gum, stick to just one or two pieces a day — and throw it out when you’re done chewing.
Like bananas, caffeine can go either way.
- Caffeine is a stimulant that can make a person have more bowel stools or in excess, diarrhea.
- If a person is dehydrated, the caffeine in coffee, black tea, colas, and chocolate can make the constipation worse.
- Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley.
- Gluten doesn’t cause constipation in everyone but it can be problematic for some people who have sensitivity or allergies to it, or who have an autoimmune disorder called celiac disease.
- Those with celiac disease must avoid all gluten-containing products.
- If you think you have non-celiac gluten sensitivity and it may be causing your constipation, talk to your doctor.
- There are many gluten-free foods available to enjoy that can replace the breads and pastas that typically contain gluten.
White rice can cause constipation. There is a big difference between white rice and brown rice.
- White rice can lead to constipation because the husk, bran, and germ have been removed. That’s where all the fiber and nutrients are!
- Brown rice can help relieve constipation because the husk, bran, and germ have not been removed.
- Brown rice is a good source of whole grains and contains about 3.5 g fiber and 5 grams of protein in 1 cup.
- Persimmon is a fruit popular in Asia, though not as commonly known in the U.S.
- Sweet persimmons are usually OK, but more astringent persimmons contain high amounts of tannins, which can slow the movement of food through the intestines, and aggravate constipation.
- If you do eat persimmons, stick to the sweet variety.
There are plenty of reasons to avoid red meat. Red meat can make a person constipated, and it can cause constipation for several reasons. Red meat:
- Is high in fat, so it takes longer for the digestive tract to process it
- Has tough protein fibers that can be difficult for the stomach to digest
- Is rich in iron, which can be constipating
Limit intake of red meat to avoid constipation.
While whole grain breads may help relieve constipation, white breads can cause or worsen it. This also applies to other products with a lot of white flour such as bagels, crackers, and pretzels. Unlike whole grains, white flour has no fiber. These foods are heavy on starch, and can back you up. Remember to choose whole grains.
Similar to caffeine, alcohol also can contribute to constipation. For example, alcohol
- is dehydrating, and
- it can slow digestion and irritate the bowel, which can worsen constipation symptoms.
Limit alcohol intake, and alternate one alcoholic beverage with a glass of water or even a sports drink (such as Gatorade or Powerade) in between each alcoholic drink.
Chocolate is a no-no, especially for people who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
- It is thought that the large amount of fat in chocolate can slow the digestion process.
- It is believed this happens by slowing down muscle contractions (peristalsis) and thus slowing foods moving through the bowel.
- In one study, researchers in Germany asked people who had constipation to name the foods they thought caused it. Chocolate was mentioned most frequently.
Many people take iron and calcium supplements because they are trying to stay healthy, but the same supplements could be the cause of constipation. Ideally, a healthy, balanced diet should provide all of the nutrients a person needs. If your health care provider recommends you take these supplements (for example, people with anemia need iron, and women who are at risk for osteoporosis may need calcium) remember to add foods with additional fiber to your diet to help with constipation.
In large quantities, dairy products, such as milk, cheese, yogurt, and ice cream, can cause many people to become constipated. It could be due to the dairy itself or a combination of things. However, the lactose in dairy can cause increased gas and bloating that can make a person feel even worse if things aren’t moving through properly.
One study of Iranian children, ages 1 to 13, found that dairy products could be the cause of their constipation. Almost all the children (80%) who eliminated cow’s milk and milk products from their diet had more regular bowel movements.
All those burgers and fries are low-fiber and high in fat. Fried foods contribute to constipation. Not to mention fast foods often don’t have much nutritional value on top of it.
Instead of a fast food burger and fries try these:
- Make burgers at home from lean ground turkey, or even better, try a veggie patty and put it on a whole grain wheat bun.
- Sweet potatoes are rich in soluble fiber, with plenty of nutrients, and help relieve and prevent constipation. So swap traditional French fries for baked sweet potato fries. Leave the skin on because it has the best fiber benefits!
Processed foods and frozen dinners
Along with fast foods, processed foods contain little nutrition and usually a lot of fat. Many contain a lot of salt as well. Examples of foods to avoid include
- white bread,
- frozen meals,
- chips, and
- hot dogs.
All of these foods can cause constipation by slowing down the digestive system. Try snacking on fruits and veggies and foods in their whole natural form, and make sure to drink enough water to help keep the digestive system working normally.
- Potato chips are tasty, but they are high in fat (foods high fat can slow digestion), low in fiber, and lack just about every other nutrient.
- Often people mindlessly snack on chips making themselves full.
- Instead, try snacking on raw veggies for a satisfying crunch that’s from fiber-rich foods.
Constipation Means You Are Full of Toxins
It is a myth that people who are constipated are full of toxins. There is no evidence that stool is full of toxins. There is no evidence that fads and treatments like laxatives, colon cleansing, and enemas prevent diseases and cancer. If you happen to be constipated or have fewer bowel movements than others, that does not mean that you are absorbing poisonous substances from stool.
Fiber Is an Easy Fix for Constipation
It is not true that fiber fixes all cases of constipation. Although it is true that most people do not get enough fiber in their daily diets, extra fiber may make some types of constipation, like slow-transit constipation, worse. Slow-transit constipation refers to slow passage of stool through the large intestine due to reduced motility. Good sources of dietary fiber include whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and other plant foods. Try adding these fiber-rich foods to your diet. They will help bulk up stools and should help many cases of constipation. If they do not, see your doctor.
Can Gum Get Stuck in Your Stomach?
It is a myth that if you swallow gum it will stay in your stomach for 7 years. Gum is made of sugar or artificial sweetener, preservatives, flavorings, and gum resin. Your digestive tract will absorb the sugar if you swallow gum, but the remaining gum resin will pass through and out of the body. A blockage may result if someone swallows a large quantity of gum or swallows gum along with things that are indigestible, such as coins or sunflower seeds. Very young children may be at greatest risk for swallowing gum because they may not understand that it should be chewed, not swallowed. As a general rule, do not offer gum to children under the age of 5.
Travel Is a Trigger
It is true that lifestyle changes and changes to your daily routine can trigger constipation. Changes to your diet, sleep time, and adjusting to new time zones may all lead to constipation. While traveling, especially flying, drink lots of water. Stick to bottled water if the tap water at your destination is not safe to drink. Try to stay active as well. Stretch your legs, get up and move, and walk around the airport while you are waiting for your flight. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables. Stick to cooked produce if is unsafe to eat raw fruits and veggies at your destination.
Your Mood Affects Constipation
It is true that depression and mood disorders may trigger constipation or make it worse. Take measures to reduce stress in your life to keep your bowels moving regularly. Yoga, meditation, biofeedback, and relaxation training techniques are proven ways to combat stress. Acupressure and shiatsu massage may work, too. Another trick you can try is massaging your abdomen. Massaging your abdomen in a circular, clockwise fashion may help keep things moving. Many people appreciate that these interventions are all-natural.
Holding It Is Bad
This is not a myth. It is true that holding in a bowel movement may not only be uncomfortable, but it can actually trigger or worsen constipation. When you feel an urge to have a bowel movement and heed the call, the normal nerve reflex that helps you pass stool is reinforced. If you repeatedly ignore the urge to have a bowel movement when you need to, it may lead to constipation. If you have a busy schedule, make sure to allow for time for bathroom breaks after breakfast or another meal throughout the day. That is when the urge to have a bowel movement is the strongest.
Check Your Medicine Cabinet
It is true that medications prescribed for conditions like high blood pressure, Parkinson’s disease, depression, acid reflux, seizures, and pain may trigger or exacerbate constipation. Iron supplements and calcium supplements may also have an effect on your bowel function. Do not stop taking a medication or change the dose of a medication without consulting with your doctor. If you believe one or more of your medications is causing constipation problems, talk to your doctor. He or she may adjust the dose or switch you to a new medication that does not cause constipation side effects.
Fiber Is Fiber
It is not true that all fiber is the same. There are different types of fiber that do different things in your body. There are two kinds of fiber in food. Insoluble fiber and soluble fiber. It is also the bulk-forming fiber that helps stools pass more quickly through the intestines. Whole-grain breads, cereal, and pasta are good sources of insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber holds water and is found in beans, peas, and oats. Both types of fiber also help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Tap into the Power of Prunes
Does a glass of prune juice help relieve constipation? This is true. Prunes are dried plums. They are a rich source of insoluble fiber and sorbitol, which serves as a natural laxative. If you do not like the taste of prunes, try drinking a glass of prune juice or mix prune juice with other fruit juices to mask the taste. Other fruits that may help relieve constipation include pears, grapes, and apples. Diets high in fruits and vegetables provide fiber that helps prevent or alleviate constipation.
Water Is Your Friend
Making sure you are adequately hydrated will make stools softer and easier to pass. This eases constipation. Increase your fluid intake by sipping beverages like water and fruit juice. Make sure to avoid beverages that dehydrate you like caffeinated coffee and alcohol. Fruits and vegetables also supply some water. How do you know if you are drinking enough water? Your urine should be a pale-yellow color. Darker urine is a sign of dehydration. If your urine is colorless, you may be drinking too much water.
Just Move More
It is true that exercise will help keep your bowels moving. Being sedentary is a risk factor for constipation. If you do not have a lot of time to work out, even taking several 10- to 15- minute walks a few times a day will help. If you are able to do longer workouts, that is great, too. Exercise is good for your whole body and mind. Just make sure to wait at least 1 hour after eating before you work out. Give yourself a chance to digest before being active.
Coffee Can Fix Constipation
This one is not true. While caffeine can stimulate muscles in the digestive system, facilitating a bowel movement, caffeine is also dehydrating. It is best to avoid caffeinated beverages if you suffer from chronic constipation. If you cannot give up coffee altogether, opt for decaf instead. How do you know if you are dehydrated? Symptoms of dehydration include light-headedness, dizziness, nausea, headache, and fatigue. Monitor the color of your urine throughout the day to check your hydration status. Dark yellow may mean you need more fluids.
Try Colon Cleansing
It is a myth that enemas and colonics can help prevent or cure constipation. The exact opposite may be true. Doctors may prescribe an occasional enema to help you have a bowel movement if other interventions have not worked, but chronic use of these aids may actually increase constipation in older people who do them regularly. Colonics can damage the colon. Do not use over-the-counter stimulant laxatives or stool softeners without consulting with your doctor first. Long-term use of these medications may lead to increased problems with constipation.
Laxatives Are a Quick Fix
This one is not true either. Some types of enemas or suppositories may work within an hour, but laxatives that add bulk to stools, like FiberCon or Citrucel may take several days to work. Stimulant laxatives may work within just a few hours. They should not be used long-term because they can make constipation worse. Most cases of constipation last only a few days. Talk to your doctor if you use laxatives for more than 2 weeks.
Stool Softeners Work, Too
Stool softeners are laxatives that work by promoting the absorption of more water from the colon. It is hard to pass stools when they are hard. Softer stools are easier to pass. Another name for a stool softener is an emollient laxative. They are gentler than other types of laxatives and they are generally less effective. Stool softeners work best for those who have temporary bouts of constipation or those who have milder forms of chronic constipation. Like all laxatives, stool softeners should only be used for short periods of time.
Try Castor Oil
Be careful with this one. Castor oil is a potent laxative and it is an old home remedy for constipation, but it can be associated with side effects. Ask your doctor before using castor oil to treat constipation. It may interfere with the activity of medications you take for other medical conditions and it may inhibit in the absorption of certain nutrients. Habitual use of castor oil may damage the nerves, tissues, and bowel muscles in your gastrointestinal tract, which may lead to more problems with constipation. Some people use mineral oil to ease constipation. This is not recommended. It can deplete your body of fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K.
Constipation Is Normal with Age
This is false. While it is true that many older people are more likely to experience constipation, it is not due to aging. Older adults may eat low-fiber diets, be physically sedentary, and take certain medications that make constipation more likely. Constipation can happen to anyone at any age. It is a very common medical problem. It usually is not a cause for concern. Most of the time, constipation is not serious. Contact your doctor if constipation does not go away after trying proven home remedies like drinking more water, increasing your fiber intake, and getting more exercise. All of these interventions should help your intestines and bowel function better.
Blood in Stool Is Normal
This one is also false. Although you may occasionally have some blood in your stool, you should contact your doctor right away if you notice this. Blood in stool may not always be serious, but you still need to be checked out. Sometimes, constipation and straining may cause bleeding. Pay attention to the color of stool. If it is tarry black, maroon, or if you notice blood clots, it is likely that you have bleeding from somewhere higher up in your digestive system. There are many potential causes of blood in the stool ranging from milder sources like hemorrhoids to more serious conditions like peptic ulcers and cancer.
Flax Seeds Help Constipation
It is true that flax seeds are a proven, natural remedy for constipation. Flax seeds are rich in soluble and insoluble fiber. One tablespoon of whole flax seeds contains 2.8 grams of fiber. Flax seeds are also rich in an anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid. These beneficial fats may help reduce the risk of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), heart disease, arthritis, and other medical conditions. Add ground flax seeds to your morning smoothie or sprinkle them over yogurt to reap the health benefits.
Tap into the Power of Probiotics
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that improve gut health, improve digestion, and affect immune function. There is some evidence that probiotics may improve constipation. Probiotics decrease the amount of time that stool takes to move through the bowel. They also improve the consistency of stool and lead to more frequent bowel movements. Studies suggest the probiotic species, Bifidobacterium lactis, are very beneficial for bowel health. Some strains of Bifidobacterium may be helpful for those who have abdominal pain and bloating due to irritable bowel syndrome, too. Eat yogurt with live active cultures, kefir, or kombucha to get your fill of beneficial bugs to help your belly.
Constipation Causes Colon Cancer
This is false. There is no evidence that constipation increases the risk of colon cancer. Prior studies suggested a link between the two, supposedly because prolonged contact of stool with the bowel was thought to expose the body to carcinogenic substances in stool. A newer study has found that this just is not true. However, you should still see your doctor or gastroenterologist if you frequently suffer from abdominal pain, bloating, gas, chronic constipation, or other symptoms of gastrointestinal distress.
Your Period Causes Constipation
This is true for some women. One study found that approximately 15 percent of women become constipated before their period. About 10 percent of women are constipated during their period. Changing levels of hormones are believed to be responsible for the effect. If you are prone to constipation before or during your period, drink more water, increase your intake of nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables, and add extra activity to your routine. Ask your doctor if it is a good idea to add a bulk-forming laxative to your diet.