Diet for Constipation

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Nutrition Guidelines & Diets for Constipation  

| Dietary & Behavioral Tips for Constipation | Alternative Therapy for Constipation  | Herbal/Natural Products for Constipation | Alternative Dietary Recommendations for Constipation | Nutritional Supplements For Constipation |

Almost every adult has experienced constipation at one time or another.

Constipation refers to infrequent bowel movements that are hard in consistency and often painful to eliminate.

A number of factors can contribute to constipation, such as prolonged immobilization (bed rest), inadequate exercise, inadequate intake of fiber and fluids, irregular eating habits, and stress.

Other common contributors include the ingestion of certain medications (aluminum hydroxide antacids and antihypertensive agents, for example), narcotics (codeine and morphine), and iron supplements.

In addition, several conditions are associated with constipation, such as colon cancer, diabetes, hypothyroidism, hemorrhoids, and anal fissures.  

If you currently or frequently experience constipation, the sections below -- which provide general suggestions for preventing and treating constipation as well as information about alternative therapies-- may be helpful.

Dietary & Behavioral Tips for Constipation 

The following dietary and behavioral tips may help in the prevention and treatment of constipation:

  • Drink plenty of fluids (8 to 10 glasses a day for adults).  Inadequate fluid intake is a common cause of constipation. Water and other liquids add bulk to stools, making bowel movements easier.

Note: Although coffee and tea can be effective laxatives, if they are caffeinated the caffeine may contribute to constipation in some people. 

  • Increase your intake of high-fiber foods.  Fiber helps to keep your bowels regular. Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, cooked whole-grain cereals with added bran, and other foods containing whole grains such as amaranth, oat bran, quinoa, and rye.  Also try applesauce, barley, bran muffins, legumes, and cooked prunes and prune juice.

Note: When increasing your intake of fiber from whole grains, be sure to increase your intake of water as well -- to at least eight glasses a day. Fiber from whole grains absorbs water from the stomach and the intestines as it passes through undigested. 

  • Try several cups of hot or warm tea or water in the morning in order to distend the stomach and stimulate the bowels.  

  • Exercise daily. Lack of exercise or lengthy bed rest can cause constipation. Try a half-hour walk after meals. If you are confined to your bed and suffer from chronic constipation, medications may offer the best solution; consult your doctor. 

  • Try to establish a regular pattern of eating. Irregular eating habits may contribute to constipation. 

Alternative Therapy for Constipation

Complementary and alternative therapy comprise a wide variety of practices and treatments, including the use of herbal preparations and of vitamin and mineral supplements. Whether you are a patient or a caregiver, and whether you are interested in alternative therapies to prevent or treat a specific disease or to improve your general health, you should be aware that many treatments have not been thoroughly researched and scrutinized for safety and efficacy.

Although some complementary therapies (acupuncture for nausea, for example) have been shown to be safe and efficacious, others (the use of some individual herbs and supplements, high dose vitamin and mineral regimens, and radical diets) have brought about toxic side effects. 

If you prefer alternative therapies, or if you believe that you have exhausted the available therapies of conventional medicine, the information that follows may be helpful to you. The therapies presented here, however, are by no means intended to replace standard, appropriate medical attention and treatment.      

Herbal/Natural Products for Constipation 

The table below provides information about herbal/natural products that may be helpful if you are experiencing constipation.

Note: You should use alternative therapies to treat a specific health condition only after you have received an accurate diagnosis from a qualified doctor or other medical professional. Be cautious of anyone called an "herbalist," an "herb doctor," or a "health counselor"; these job titles are not regulated. Remember that good health depends on proper medical care.

Caution: In some cases herbal/natural products may interact negatively with other medications. Such interactions can be dangerous. Herbal/natural remedies are not regulated and their quality is not controlled.

Moreover, although an abundant supply of information about alternative treatments and remedies is currently circulating, little of it has been scientifically validated.

Consult your doctor before using any herbal/natural remedy, and remember always to make your doctor and pharmacist aware of any therapeutic products you are using. Your doctor and pharmacist can assist you in determining which herbal/natural products are safe to use with the drugs you are taking.

Table 1. Herbal/natural products commonly used in the treatment of constipation.

Herbal/Natural Products

Comments & Cautions

Alfalfa

Alfalfa leaves are rich in nutrients, including chlorophyll, an effective detoxicant.

Barberry

Cleanses the colon.

Butternut Root Bark

Very safe and effective as a laxative.

Cascara Sagrada

Effective as a laxative. 

Caution: Do not take if you have irritable-bowel syndrome or ulcers, and do not exceed the recommended dose. May cause intestinal distress if taken in large doses.

Dandelion

Used as a home remedy for mild constipation and stomachaches.

Flaxseed Oil

Helps to soften stools. Freshly ground flaxseeds are also effective and commonly used.

Ginger Root

Effective as a laxative.

Irish Moss

Effective as a laxative.

Licorice

Effective as a laxative.

Caution: Do not use on a daily basis for longer than one week at a time, and avoid completely if you have high blood pressure, kidney failure, heart disease, or you are using digitalis preparations. Glycyrrhizin, the major active ingredient in licorice, may cause sodium and water retention, high blood pressure, and/or low potassium levels (hypokalemia).

Psyllium

Effective as a laxative.

Rhubarb Root

Effective in small doses as a laxative. Gentle enough for infant use.

Caution: Large doses may cause constipation.

Senna Leaves

Effective as a laxative.

Caution: The speed of intestinal emptying caused by use of this product may result in decreased absorption of vitamin K and/or anticoagulants. In addition, the absorbent quality of senna leaves may inhibit absorption of lincomycin and digitalis.

Slippery Elm

Effective as a laxative and for soothing the stomach and intestines.

Alternative Dietary Recommendations for Constipation 

The first steps to preventing and treating constipation through diet are to increase the intake of fiber and to drink plenty of fluids.

Adults should try to raise their fiber intake to 35-40 grams daily, and their fluid intake to 8 to 10 glasses daily.

Foods that are high in soluble and insoluble fiber are recommended. Soluble fiber, which may help to lower blood cholesterol and control blood sugar, is found in apples, barley, dried beans, carrots, oats (such as oat bran and oatmeal), oranges, and rye.

Insoluble fiber (or roughage), which helps to keep bowels regular, is found in whole-grain breads and cereals, dried beans, fruits and vegetables with skins, pasta, seeds, and wheat bran.  

Because each of these types of fiber has distinct beneficial functions for improving your general health, you should be sure to provide your body with both by eating a variety of fiber-rich foods -- even when you are not experiencing or trying to prevent constipation.

Note: In order to increase your tolerance to an elevated intake of fiber, be sure to add fiber-rich foods to your diet gradually. 

The list below provides additional dietary recommendations for preventing and treating constipation:  

  • Decrease your intake of refined simple sugars, as found in bakery goods, candies, and sodas. Diets including high levels of refined simple sugars, which provide only trace amounts of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other nutrients, may contribute to constipation. Replace foods that are high in simple sugars with foods rich in whole grains.  

  • Limit your intake of milk and other calcium-rich products, which may contribute to constipation.  

  • Limit your intake of iron, whether by adjusting your diet or stopping supplementation. Iron is a common contributor to constipation.  

  • Include garlic in your diet. Garlic destroys harmful bacteria in the colon. 

Nutritional Supplements For Constipation 

The table below lists nutritional supplements recommended for people experiencing constipation. 

Note: Units for nutritional supplements may be given by weight -- generally in milligrams (mg) or micrograms (mcg) -- or by biological activity, which is measured in international units (IU).  Use care when comparing products to ensure that the units are identical. 

Table 2.  Supplements commonly used during periods of constipation. 

Recommended Supplements

Daily Dose & Dosage Information

Comments & Cautions

Acidophilus  

1 tsp twice daily.

Take on an empty stomach.

Helps to fight harmful bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract.

Miller's Bran

(wheat bran) 

Try 1/4 cup on applesauce, cooked cereals, or meat loaf.

Very effective in small doses for preventing and relieving constipation.  

Caution: Do not add miller's bran (wheat bran) or rice bran, ( each a very potent source of fiber), to a child's diet.

Instead, feed a constipated child fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain breads and cereals, and have the child drink plenty of fluids.

If constipation persists, see a pediatrician.


The above opinionated views and information serves to educated and informed consumer. The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. It should not replaced professional advise and consultation. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions

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