There are seven common problems associated with digestion: constipation, diarrhea, a mix of constipation and diarrhea, gas, cramps, bloat and acid reflux.

Today I want to share with you what I know about constipation, an issue that plagues many women in later life, and how to achieve improved regularity.

In the U.S., the National Institute of Health suggests that anywhere from 3 to 21 bowel movements per week is normal, but ideally, we should have at least one each day.

In my opinion, three movements a week are far too few to maintain active musculature in the digestive system.

What Are the Symptoms of Constipation?

Symptoms of constipation can include overall sluggishness, fatigue and headache. Taking laxatives may lead one to have a bowel movement, but they interfere with the natural muscular function of the colon.

If you have been taking laxatives on an ongoing basis, you may need support in the form of a skilled pelvic floor physical therapist who can help you restore your muscular function. If your overall diet and lifestyle is healthy but you still are having problems, you may need to see a physician for a workup.

Transit time – that is, the time it takes from when you eat to when you have your next bowel movement – should be between 12 and 18 hours.

Constipation may cause food to sit in the intestines for four or more days, increasing the risk for toxic buildup in the colon. Having a fiber rich diet can help you attain a more desirable transit time.

What Are the Causes of Constipation?

Causes of constipation vary. It can be a magnesium or vitamin C deficiency, side effects from medications, food sensitivities or simply not giving yourself enough time to move your bowels.

If you have taken antibiotics for a bacterial infection, you will need to support regrowth of digestive flora through fermented foods like sauerkraut and kombucha – or take a probiotic. (Contact me for a recommended probiotic.)

Sensitivity to dairy products can cause both constipation and diarrhea. If you eat a lot of cheese, milk or yogurt, eliminate these foods for a week and see if your constipation subsides.

Tips for Avoiding Constipation

As with most conditions, it is your overall lifestyle that is the greatest predictor of well-being or illness. Read down the list below and see which areas in your lifestyle need to be addressed to prevent constipation from setting in:

  • Drink adequate amounts of water every day. Take your body weight, divide it in half and drink that many ounces of non-caffeinated liquids daily.
  • Movement is important. Develop a regular exercise program that includes daily movement – walk, dance, run, play a sport – do something you enjoy.
  • Avoid laxatives. Instead, rely on fibrous food, water and movement to move your bowels.
  • Eat 5 fruits and vegetables every day. This is important for all aspects of your health.
  • Eat fiber rich beans and legumes daily.
  • Have bran or whole grain cereal for breakfast. If you prefer protein-based foods for breakfast, add fruit or vegetables to your plate.
  • Eat whole grains like whole oats, millet, brown rice and quinoa.
  • Limit your meat intake – there is no digestive fiber in meat to help in transit.
  • Avoid processed foods. There are binders in these foods designed to hold them together that may cause constipation.
  • Biologically, morning is the ideal time to move your bowels. See if you can work your schedule so it allows for enough time to go in the morning.
  • Acupressure (shiatsu) treatments along the large intestine meridian can get the bowels moving. To self-treat, apply thumb pressure on the soft tissue between the outside of your thumb and your forefinger. Press and hold several times. (Note: do not use this technique on anyone who is pregnant.)

These recommendations are based upon common practices for a healthy lifestyle and are not to be a replacement for medical care. Contact your health care practitioner should you have any concerns.

It’s not uncommon today to be unfamiliar with planning and healthy meal prep. These skills are vitally important to your bowel health and with a series of simple steps can become a part of your everyday routine.

Contact me for support, and we’ll start with a lifestyle history and figure out how to make positive changes that work for you in your busy life.

Have you had issues with constipation? Have you tried any remedies at home? If so, please share those that work for you.

Peg DoylePeg Doyle is a healthy eating and lifelong wellness expert, recording artist, motivational speaker and author. She is passionate about the impact of quality food and a balanced lifestyle on women’s health. Her mission is to make healthy eating easy and appealing, using nourishment as a powerful tool for preventing the so-called diseases of aging. You can visit her website here.

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