Constipation – probably the most common digestive complaint

Constipation is a common condition that affects people of all ages. Although the symptoms vary from person to person, most doctors agree that anyone who passes hard stools and does so less than three times a week is constipated.

The severity of constipation varies from person to person. Many people only experience constipation for a short time, for example, during a change of diet when overseas, but for others, constipation can be a chronic (long-term) condition that causes significant pain and discomfort and affects quality of life.

If you frequently have to strain to defecate or it is painful, you may also benefit from dietary changes aimed at relieving constipation.

What causes constipation?

It is sometimes difficult to identify the cause, however, as less than 20% of adults eat the government recommended 5 portions of fruit and vegetable a day, it is probable that one of the main reasons is down to a lack of fibre in most people’s diet. 

Indeed, not eating enough fibre, such as fruit, vegetables and cereals is also listed by the NHS as one of the key factors that increases the risk of constipation.  Other risk factors include:

  • An under-active thyroid.
  • Not drinking enough fluid.
  • A change in your routine or lifestyle, such as a change in your eating habits.
  • Ignoring the urge to pass stools.
  • Side effects of certain medication.
  • Anxiety or depression.

In children, poor diet, fear about using the toilet and poor toilet training can all be responsible.

So, taking the above into account, the following offers practical advice about how to achieve this. 

1.  Increase your fibre intake
Take 1 or 2 dessert spoonfuls of linseeds daily, soaked in water overnight, usually have the desired effect, as they are rich is soluble fibre.

Eating more fruit and vegetables, such as an apple as a snack, carrots with humus and / or a handful of nuts, all of which are good sources of fibre and other nutrients, such as magnesium – see below.

2.  Remain hydrated
Waste in your colon needs water to bulk it up and to keep faeces moving along. If your faeces become impacted and hard because they are not soft enough, then it is difficult for your colon to keep moving the faeces along. This is another good reason to increase your fruit and vegetable intake.

3. Regular exercise
Regular exercise is well known to help relieve constipation.  

4. Take magnesium
Many people are deficient in magnesium according to government data. Magnesium is important to help keep the muscles in the lining of the gut working normally. Magnesium is found in cereals, nuts and green leafy vegetables. Magnesium supplementation of 400mg a day may also help. However, if you are deficient in magnesium, then 400mg per day may not be enough (this can be established through having your magnesium levels tested).

5. Making sure your knees are higher than your thighs when you go to the toilet
Putting your feet up on the bathroom bin or a pedestal may help, as this movement helps open your sphincter making it easier to defecate.

6. Optimise thyroid function
Low thyroid function (hypothyroidism) can cause constipation. Common symptoms of this condition include weight gain, fatigue, sensitivity to cold, dry skin and hair, and low mood. Individuals with some or all of these symptoms should, in the first instance, discuss the possibility of hypothyroidism with their doctor. Testing for hypothyroidism is a useful screening tool.

Please note: As constipation can sometimes be the results of a tumour in the colon, hence a persistent change in bowel habit should be reported to your doctor.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Nutritionist Resource are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London SW15 & W1H
Written by Melody Mackeown, mBANT, CNHC, BSEM | Nutritional Therapist and Health Coach
London SW15 & W1H

My name is Melody and I am a Nutritional Therapist, specialising in nutrition and diet coaching to help improve the symptoms of your gut issues, including: Food allergy and food intolerance, Reflux (GERD), Gastritis, Microbiome imbalances, multiple food reactions, Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrow...

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