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Let’s talk about constipation – JSHealth


Up to 24% of Australians are predicted to be living with chronic constipation(1), and most of us experience that backed-up feeling from time to time. 

Constipation is  an issue that affects so many people but all too often we don’t talk about it! When you’re living a busy life it can be easy to normalise these feelings of discomfort, however it doesn’t have to be the norm.

The good news is, there are a range of simple, practical things we can do to help keep our bowel routines regular. These tips are are a great for general wellbeing, however if you are experiencing pain or chronic constipation, please consult a health professional for care and advice.

⁠With the gut-brain connection being such an important part of feeling good, it’s clear that happy bowels = happy mind!

Symptoms of constipation

Constipation is medically defined by the passing of infrequent bowel motions (fewer than 3 per week)(2). However, people may also experience the passage of hard or dry stools as constipation.

Environmental (or occasional) constipation is extremely common and may follow a change in routine such as travel, a change in diet, a brief illness or new medications.(3)

Chronic constipation (defined as present for more than a few weeks)(4) is often characterised by: 

  • Abdominal tightness or cramping
  • Feeling full all the time (even without eating for several hours)
  • Gas
  • Inability to pass stools 

The power of fibre 

Fibre is nature’s key to unlocking regularity and maintaining happy, supported bowels. However, not all fibre is created equal! Different types of dietary fibre have different effects on our digestion.

In general, fibre falls into two categories(5):

  1. Insoluble fibre: This is present in wheat bran, vegetables and whole grains. It can add bulk to your stools, allowing them to pass easily and more quickly through the digestive system.
  2. Soluble fibre: This is present in oat bran, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, and peas, as well as some fruits and vegetables. This fibre absorbs water, softening stools. Psyllium husk (a non-fermentable soluble fibre) is one of the best ways to treat constipation(6).

A typical Western diet is very low in high-fibre foods(7). The general rule is to aim for at least 3 sources of fibre every day (1 with each meal). Try these:

  • Pears 
  • Kiwifruit (skin on) 
  • Chia seeds
  • Ground flaxseed
  • Medjool dates
  • Prunes
  • Apples
  • Olive oil 
  • Berries 

For a delicious, high-fibre breakfast option, try our Banana Bread Overnight Oats! They’re easy to prepare and full of fibre-rich chia seeds to keep your gut happy and satiated.

Natural ways to support and ease constipation

Along with diet, our daily habits can have a big impact on the speed and level of effort in which we digest food.

My top tips: 

  • Hydration: Aim for 2 litres per day, at least. Hydration is particularly important when increasing your intake of fibre-rich foods such as those listed above, as they require additional water to be digested!
  • Movement: Gentle exercise can be one of the best ways to kickstart regularity if you’re experiencing occasional constipation. Yoga in particular is a great option, as is pilates, walking and swimming. 
  • Toilet posture (so important!): You’ll wish you knew this hack earlier – place your feet onto a stool and ensure your knees are slightly higher than your hips to assist with opening the bowels. 
  • Finally, don’t ignore the urge to go. Our body’s signals are powerful, tune in and listen. 

Add more probiotics to your diet

Along with diet and lifestyle, try adding a high quality probiotic supplement into your diet. Probiotics have been shown to support healthy digestive system function and maintain bowel regularity(8). I recommend choosing a multi-strain formula with over 30 billion CFU (Colony Forming Units) per capsule. Looks for science-backed strains such as Bifidobacterium lactis, Bifidobacterium longum maintain and Lactobacillus rhamnosus.

You can up your dose of probiotic-rich foods too, by including more fermented foods in your diet such as yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut & kimchi.

With any ongoing health concerns, it’s important to seek support from a trusted health professional. Speak to a practitioner if ongoing constipation is something you are struggling with.

References:

1, 2, 4. Fisher, M.J., Werth, B.L., Pont, L.G., Williams, K.A. (2019). Defining constipation to estimate its prevalence in the community: results from a national survey. BMC Gastroenterol. 2019 May 21;19(1):75. PubMed

3. Better Health Channel (2024), Constipation  <https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/constipation>

5.  Better Health Channel (2024), Dietary Fibre  <https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/fibre-in-food>

6. Chey, W.D., Fahey, G.C., Gibb, R.D., Johnson, W.M. (2020). Laxative effects of wheat bran and psyllium: Resolving enduring misconceptions about fiber in treatment guidelines for chronic idiopathic constipation. Journal of Neurogastroenterology and Motility, 26(1), 68–78. PubMed

7. Aguilera, M., MacSharry, J., Melgar, S., Statovci, D. (2017). The Impact of Western Diet and Nutrients on the Microbiota and Immune Response at Mucosal Interfaces. Frontiers in Immunology, 2, 1-8. PubMed

8.  Bodke, H., Jogdand, S., (2022), Role of Probiotics in Human Health, 9:14 (11) <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9733784/>



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