Do you or your child put off going to the loo, because s/he is busy doing more important things? Or, is your child avoiding the bathroom for fear of a painful bowel movement?
Either way, you and your child are showing signs of constipation.
Constipation is passage of small amounts of hard, dry faeces, with bowel movements — usually restricted to fewer than three times a week.
People who are constipated may find it difficult and painful to have a bowel movement.
Symptoms of constipation include a bloated feeling, discomfort, and lethargy. Headache, nausea, loss of appetite and irritability can also manifest.
Obstipation refers to severe constipation. This can, in the long run, lead to anal fissure, piles [haemorrhoids], bowel impaction, and digestive disturbances too.
Constipation affects about 10 per cent of the adult population in general; also, nearly 20 per cent of the elderly suffer from chronic constipation.
The chief causes of constipation
- Inadequate food intake [e.g., a teenager who is weight-conscious]
- Low fibre diet, junk food, dehydration, and fluid loss caused on account of an illness
- Weakness or inactivity [during convalescence or hospitalisation]
- Confusion, depression, mental ailments and unfamiliar toilet arrangement [e.g., during travelling]
- Certain medications may lead to constipation
- Certain malignancies and other conditions can also lead to constipation. Examples include: intestinal obstruction due to tumour in the bowel wall, or external compression by abdominal or pelvic tumours, damage to lumbosacral spinal cord, diabetes, thyroid problems, hernia, intestinal diseases, rectal affections, anal fissures, or stenosis, piles and colitis
- Constipation caused due to the intake of any new medication should be discussed with your doctor before changing, or stopping, the medication.
Constipation, or any change in bowel habits at an advanced age, coupled with loss of appetite and weight, should be a major reason for concern. You need to consult a doctor quickly.
Also, don’t neglect chronic digestive problems, or constipation, for they may be our body’s signal of an underlying serious disease.
Treating the cause
There are effective treatments available for constipation; the best approach relies on a clear understanding of the underlying cause. If you get constipated without reason, first see your doctor to rule out serious problems. Once a grim problem is ruled out, there are simple measures that can help you get rid of the problem.
Fibre and anti-oxidants present in many vegetables, fruits and grains, help form soft, bulky stool. Make sure to increase your fibre intake a little at a time, so your body gets used to it, gradually.
Limit foods like ice-cream, jam, bread, cookies, jellies, pickles, papads, fried stuff, cheese, meat, snacks like chips and pizza, and processed foods such as instant mashed potatoes, or already-prepared frozen dinner, or fast-food, that have little, or no fibre.
Also, drinking sufficient quantity of water, and other liquids, is necessary, as they help keep the stools soft and easy to expel.
Fresh, filtered, boiled water is highly recommended.
Try not to drink liquids with caffeine, or alcohol in them. Caffeine and alcohol tend to dry out your system.
Food is your medicine
- Unprocessed wheat bran, whole wheat, unpolished rice, ragi, maize etc., are good to ease constipatory problems
- Unrefined breakfast cereals, dried and fresh fruits, such as raisins, dates, apricots, figs, pomegranates, papayas, prunes, apples, banana and melons are just as good
- Vegetables like beans, radish, carrot, cauliflower, beet, green leafy vegetables like spinach, horseradish, asparagus, brussel sprouts, and cabbage are good when taken daily. They are best cooked with spices like cumin, pepper, turmeric, coriander, and asafoetida
- Sprouted grains, either raw or cooked, with garlic, onion, ginger, and curry leaves are helpful
- Make sure to drink fresh fruit juices, lassi, water or fresh vegetable juices and delete aerated drinks, or preserved fruit juices, from your diet plan
- Fresh grape juice, cucumber or gourd juice, buttermilk, milk, and herbal teas are also well favoured.
Lifestyle changes to prevent and relieve constipation
A sedentary lifestyle reduces circulation and stimulation of the excretory organs and increases constipation. Irregularity in food habits, and sleeping patterns, eating or drinking at midnight, snacking frequently, being awake late in the night, and sleeping during the day, can cause constipation. Also, don’t get habituated to tobacco-chewing, smoking, alcohol, caffeinated drinks to induce stools. It can worsen the condition.
A 20-30 minute walk every day will ease constipatory problems. Sometimes, we feel so hurried that we don’t pay attention to our bodies’ needs. This is bad.
Doctors are not sure why, but regular exercise helps your system stay active and healthy. There is, of course, no need for you to become a great athlete, but moderate physical exercise is very much advocated to cleanse the system. Jogging, or simple stretching, early in the morning, swimming, and yoga are best ways to bid your constipation a quick goodbye.
Laxatives are medicines that will help a person pass stool. Many people take them and get addicted. The fact is that mildly constipated people don’t need to take them at all.
Most important: don’t resist the urge to have a bowel movement. Also —
- Give yourself the essential luxury of frequent oil massages
- If you are constantly under stress, undergo shirodhara [a very pleasant and special ayurveda therapy]. Stress can either cause constipation or loose stools
- Herbs in diet, and natural therapies, are very helpful for constipation problems
- Panchakarma also helps immensely
- Ayurvedic herbal and herbo-mineral tonics are also just as effective in preventing bowel irregularities.
More tips to ease constipation
- Include more fruits in your daily diet plan: grapes, lemon, apples, prunes, banana, oranges etc.,
- Chew each morsel of food well before swallowing
- ncrease green leafy vegetables in your diet
- prouted grains – raw or cooked are good for you
- Dry fig soaked overnight and eaten in the morning is equally good
- Eating papaya fruit before or after your meals daily is helpful; it also helps you look young
- Lemon juice squeezed in a cup of hot water with a pinch of salt and taken early morning on a daily basis is good
- Drink 1-2 cups of warm water in the morning. This helps clear your bowels
- Add 1-2 teaspoon of castor oil to milk and drink it daily at bedtime, if need be
- Avoid eating too many spices, fried food, freezed food and food-drinks with preservatives and don’t control your natural bowel urge. Most important: don’t skip breakfast
- Eating raw potato with peel helps relieve constipation
- Incorporate cucumber, beet, carrots, onion — either cooked or raw — in your daily diet.