What is Constipation?

Constipation is a gastro-intestinal problem in which bowel movement is strained, painful and less frequent. A person in constipation experiences abnormal bowel movement characterized by dry, hard, and small size pellets of feces, gas passage, feeling of incomplete stool emptying, and in some cases, back pain and bleeding. Also, a person may be constipated and have a diarrhea.

There is no association between color or odor of feces (bowel movement) and constipation. Whether the feces (stool) is green, dark black, or yellow is a function of the kind of food ingested. What is normal bowel movement may vary from person to person. For some people, It is normal to have a bowel movement three times a day, while for others normal bowel movement could be three times a week. No bowel movement for several days or irregular bowel movement -a change in frequency- may be a sign of contipation. Generally, when feces excretion is less often than three times a week, it is considered abnormal bowel movement --constipation.

Constipation affects newborns, toddlers, elderly, and women during pregnancy, after childbirth and menopause. Constipation prevalence increases with age in seniors, which is attributed partly to the change in lifestyle and diet. Constipation is also common in animals such as dogs (canine) and cats.

In most cases, constipation is not a chronic symptom.

Causes of Constipation

Whether in infants or elderly, primary causes of constipation are diet low fiber, high fat, insufficient liquid intake and lack of physical exercise. Constipation could be also a symptom of medical complications (eg. insufficient production of thyroid hormone), side effect of some medicines (eg. calcium channel blockers), large intake of alcohol, and anxiety.

Foods that cause constipation, if consumed in large quantity, are high protein and high fat foods such as milk and milk prodicts (eg. cheese), egg, meat and foods rich in refined sugar such as candy and ice cream. Fruits low in fiber such as banana could also be a cause of constipation. Read here for detailed constipation causes.

Natural Cure for Constipation

Generally, in healthy individuals, constipation is mainly a symptom of eating low fiber food and high protein and high fat food. Therefore, a natural cure for constipation is to make your diet high in fiber. High fiber diet helps relieve constipation because it is poorly digested and thus passes the intestine with less pain, yielding bulky and soft feces with less muscle contraction and pain. Besides, dietary fiber helps relieve constipation becuase it holds water-soluble nutrients in a gel matrix which delays gastric emptying and slows digestion and absorption. The effect of fiber on the feces bulkiness and frequency has to do with its physicochemical properties and water-holidng capacity.

The natural sources of fiber are plants (vegetables, fruits, whole grain cereals etc.). Hence, making fruits, vegetables and whole grain foods part of ones normal diet will prevetn or cure constipation. The USDA dietary guidelines has minimum fiber intake needed to lead healthy life, including prevention or relieving constipation. Additionally, drinking sufficient amounts of liquids whether it is water or juices aids relieve constipation. Non-concentrate juices such as orange juice with the pulp have fiber. Physical execise is also recommended to help get rid of constipation.

Fiber supplements useful for constipation relief are abundant in the market. Herbal remedy for constipation includes psyllium, flaxseed and fenugreek.

As constipation could possibly be caused by non-food factors, medical complications, medical attention is advisable.