While constipation may not be a topic that's openly discussed, it's surprisingly common. In fact, it's thought around 1 in 7 adults in the UK suffer from it.
Unfortunately, it's more common in women, and can get worse as we get older. That means if you're a midlife woman like me, it can be an uncomfortable and often frustrating thing to deal with.
But ‘common' doesn't mean it's ‘normal'. While occasional bouts (for me especially when I travel!) are nothing to worry about, chronic constipation is a different beast. It not only affects your day to day life, but can increase the risk of more serious gastrointestinal complications. So, tackling it head-on is essential for maintaining your overall health and wellbeing.
Watch the video below or listen to the podcast (episode 141).
What is Constipation?
What's ‘normal' in the realms of a healthy bowel? While everyone is different, if you're not pooing every day, if your stools are hard, dry, or rabbit like, or you are having to push too hard, you've got varying degrees of constipation. Going to the toilet can be painful and you may have bloating or cramping.
We need to eliminate toxins and waste every day (ideally twice a day) to stay healthy. So if your digestive system isn't functioning at its best, you can be holding on to these toxins and waste, resulting in uncomfortable symptoms and also risking them being reabsorbed into your body.
What's causing the blockage?
Constipation can be caused by various factors, including hormonal changes during menstruation, pregnancy, or menopause, as well as lifestyle and dietary habits. Low thyroid, nutrient deficiencies, stress and certain medical conditions can also contribute to a sluggish bowel.
The good news is that it can be fixed through addressing some of these underlying factors and trying some natural solutions.
Natural solutions for constipation relief
- Fibre fibre fibre! – fibre adds bulk to your stool and helps it move through the digestive tract more easily. Fibre comes from plant foods, so make sure you're including lots of diverse fruit, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds. Try adding 1-2 tbsp of ground flax and chia seeds to your meals to pack an extra fibre punch.
- Hydration – drinking enough water is crucial for maintaining regular bowel movements. Dehydration can lead to harder stools and slower transit time in the colon. Aim for 2L of water (or other hydrating liquids) per day.
- Avoid gluten and/or dairy – if you're sensitive to gluten or dairy, it can cause a back up of waste. Eliminate both for just 3 weeks to see if it has an effect. Then re-introduce one at a time to notice any reactions.
- Eat healthy fats – fat such as those found in avocados, nuts, seeds, and olive oil, can help lubricate the intestines and promote a smoother passage. MCT oil from coconuts can help (I like to put a bit in my morning coffee). Or a teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil taken in the morning on an empty stomach can stimulate bowel movements.
- Probiotics – probiotics are beneficial bacteria that support gut health. They can help regulate bowel movements and promote a balanced gut microbiome. Consider adding probiotic rich foods like natural yogurt, kefir, kombucha and sauerkraut to your diet.
- Coffee – caffeine has a natural laxative effect (sometimes instant!) by increasing intestinal contractions to move the stool along.
- Herbal teas – certain herbal teas, such as peppermint, ginger, senna, aloe vera and dandelion, have natural laxative properties and can help soothe the digestive system
- Exercise – regular physical activity and movement can stimulate your bowel and prevent constipation.
- Kiwi fruit & prunes – kiwi's and prunes are well-known as natural laxatives. They contain soluble and insoluble fiber, as well as enzymes that can help improve digestion and bowel regularity.
- Supplements – certain nutrients can help, including Magnesium Citrate & Vitamin C – gradually increase the doses until you get the desired result. Psyllium husk can also be effective – it works by absorbing water in the intestines, forming a gel-like substance that adds bulk to the stool and makes it easier to pass.
- Get your Thyroid tested – a sluggish bowel is a common symptom of an underactive or borderline thyroid, especially for women, so make sure to get properly tested to rule this out.
- Try a Squatty Potty! – this is something I invested in years ago and it's made a huge difference. Humans are designed to squat not sit when pooing! By placing your feet on the stool as you sit, you will create exactly the right angle to ‘go' perfectly every time. It can help with constipation and also a fuller evacuation. You can get one here.
Constipation is a common issue for many women, but it doesn't have to be a constant source of discomfort. It's important to remember that everyone's digestive system is unique, so it may be helpful to experiment with these tips to determine which ones work best for you.
Remember that it's essential to consult with a healthcare provider if constipation becomes chronic or severe to rule out any underlying medical conditions.