Constipation affects 20% of Americans, and can even be associated with anxiety and depression.
Constipation is a condition in which food travels through the digestive system slowly, creating dry stools that are hard to pass.
Holidays and travel can bring on constipation, so here are some recommendations for relief, or even avoiding the problem altogether.
For many people, lifestyle changes can solve the problem of occasional constipation.
- Hydration is important. Drink plenty of water. Traveling can lead to consuming less water, and celebrations can cause people to drink more alcohol. Use a checklist to get your eight glasses a day, carry bottled water, and alternate water with alcoholic drinks at parties.
- Fiber in food is one of the top ways to avoid constipation. Most Americans don’t get as much fiber as they should — many of us get less than half the amount our bodies need. Eat more fruit and vegetables and switch to whole grains to solve this problem. Increase fiber gradually to avoid discomfort.
- Regular exercise is another key to good digestion. Holidays may be a time when you hang out on the sofa with loved ones instead of moving around. Try to fit in a walk or an active game when you visit family and friends.
- A regular schedule can help. People who don’t take the time to have regular bowel movements or who are shy about using bathrooms away from home may train their systems to resist the urge. People with regular habits may get off track when they travel or stay in other people’s homes. If that’s a seasonal issue for you or your children, try to get back on your regular schedule as soon as possible.
For most people, these changes will do the trick.
Constipation relief foods
While increasing fiber by eating more fresh produce and whole grains is a good long-term solution to constipation, there are some foods that are known to improve constipation — or make it worse.
- Prunes, or dried plums, are a delicious delivery system for soluble and insoluble fiber, as well as sorbitol, which can have a laxative effect. Research supports their traditional reputation for helping out with constipation.
- Oatmeal brings 5 grams of soluble and insoluble fiber. It soaks up the water you drink and scrubs your insides. Choose less-processed varieties — not instant oatmeal.
- Apples and pears contain pectin, a type of fiber that can improve digestion. Eat the skin, too.
- Highly processed grains like white rice or white bread are very low in fiber (and in nutrients in general) and can contribute to constipation.
- Cheese is a well-known culprit in constipation, possibly because it is low in fiber and high in fat.
- Fast food is also low in fiber and high in fat. It is strongly associated with constipation.
Travel may involve increased fast food, less fresh food, irregular schedules, inactivity, and stress — no wonder it can lead to constipation.
While upsets in your schedule can lead to occasional constipation, chronic constipation can be more serious. Chronic constipation lasts three weeks or more. If you have bowel movements fewer than three times a week, frequently feel that you haven’t been able to evacuate fully, or experience pain or an inability to pass stools, it’s time to discuss your concerns with your doctor.
Your primary care physician may refer you to a gastroenterologist, a doctor who specializes in the digestive system. This specialist may run tests to get more information. He or she may recommend exercises, medications, or surgery.