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Constipation advice

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Question: I think I might be constipated. What do you recommend for constipation?

16 September, 2008 – 16:24

Answer: If you’re taking War and Peace into the bathroom instead of your favourite crossword puzzle, the chances are you are constipated.

Constipation results when food moves too slowly through the gastrointestinal tract.

No exact frequency of bowel movements or amount of symptoms precisely defines constipation – some people have to strain to move their bowels, others feel the urge all too seldom – but the most common cause is usually dietary.

Here are a few tips to help you get things moving again:

A high fibre diet is strongly recommended. A typical Western diet does not usually contain enough of the fibre needed to help the body rid itself of waste products.

Peas, beans, brown rice, wholemeal bread, jacket potatoes, raw vegetables and fresh or dried fruits are good fibre providers.

Secondly, drink plenty of fluids. Fluids expand and soften fibre allowing it to form bulk in the colon, which then triggers the urge to move your bowels.

Ideally, you should drink at least 2 litres of water a day, but not in coffee, tea or alcohol as these are all diuretics and will leave you feeling dehydrated.

Equally, if you are constipated you should try to avoid milk as this contains casein, an insoluble protein that tends to plug up the intestinal tract.

As with any diet, take regular exercise. In particular, aerobic exercise such as walking, running and swimming will help to condition stomach and back muscles. Increased muscular contractions of the intestine should in turn help waste to move through the body.

Herbal remedies can also be effective:

Senna, a plant native to India, Pakistan and China, has been used as a laxative for centuries.

Its active constituents are called sennosides and when converted by the normal bacteria in the colon, they stimulate colon activity and increase fluid secretion. Together, these actions work to get a sluggish colon functional again.

Experts generally agree that 20–60 mg of sennosides per day should do the trick.

However, herbal laxatives should only be used as a short-term solution so if constipation persists, consult your GP.

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