Have you ever been on vacation and couldn’t pass stool for the first couple of days? Or do you notice that your bowel movements become less frequent during stressful times?
These situations are very common. Almost everyone has experienced occasional constipation. And it becomes really challenging when constipation persist for several weeks and becomes a constant undesirable part of your life.
Constipation is one of the most common digestive complaints in the U.S., with an estimated 4 Million Americans suffering from irregular bowel movements.
What are the symptoms of constipation?
Although bowel movement pattern is specific to each individual, constipation is formally defined as less than three bowel movements per week. However, many people consider themselves constipated when they don’t pass stool at least once a day. There are two types of constipation:
- Acute constipation. Also defined as short-term or occasional constipation.
- Chronic constipation. This is when constipation lasts three months or more.
People who are constipated have small, dry and hard stool that passes with great difficulty. According to the Bristol Stool Chart – a chart that indicates different types of stool based on consistency and color, and highlights what healthy stool looks like – when constipated, you will have a Type 1 or Type 2 stool consistency and color.
Constipation is often also accompanied by stomach aches, a bloated feeling and nausea. You might also experience constipation as though there’s a blockage in your rectum that prevents bowel movements.
What are potential reasons for constipation?
There are many possible causes for constipation, ranging from not eating enough fiber to certain medications.
Before we go into these potential causes, let’s review the physiology of our intestinal system (the gut) so that we can understand why some of the lifestyle factors we mention can influence our bowel movements.
The long muscle tube that makes up our intestines needs a certain stool volume to get the impulse to further transport our feces out of our bodies in the form of stool. Feces are a collection of the body’s waste products combined with indigestible fibers and water.
Fiber increases the volume of your feces, which helps them travel through the intestines. Unfortunately, many Americans are not eating enough fiber for this to aid in digestion.
Without water, the feces don’t have enough liquid to easily travel through your large intestine down to your colon and out of your body. Dehydration makes the stool hard and difficult to pass, and constipation occurs.
When someone is constipated, the stool lingers in their intestines, and it starts to rot and ferment. This fermentation process is quite harmful to the billions of good bacteria (probiotics) that live in our gut. So, replenishing the helpful probiotic bacteria in the gut via a high-quality probiotic supplement can help ease constipation as well.
Furthermore, research has shown that people suffering from constipation often do not have a thick enough mucous layer in their large intestine, which ideally helps to move the fecal matter along the colon. Probiotics also assist in the restoration and maintenance of the intestinal mucous layer.
Common causes for constipation
- Not enough fiber in your diet – Common sources of fiber include leafy greens, legumes, root vegetables like sweet potatoes, and whole grains including brown rice and oats.
- Dehydration – The intestines need water to move our fecal matter through the intestines and out of our bodies. Not enough water intake can lead to dehydration and constipation.
- Getting little or no physical exercise – Even light exercise such as walking stimulates our intestines and helps regulate bowel movements.
- Changes in your regular routine, such as traveling – Changes to routine often go along with increased stress, new foods and spices, and perhaps also less water intake. All these factors can contribute to changes in your bowel movements.
- Resisting the urge to have a bowel movement – If you repeatedly ignore your body’s signs that it’s time to use the bathroom, this can “teach” your brain that it’s better to not pass stool and you will become constipated.
- Stress – When the body goes into “fight or flight mode,” blood is directed away from your gut and the digestive tract, to your heart, brain and lungs. If this happens over longer periods of time, you develop constipation.
- Hormones – Hormonal changes, such as during pregnancy and postpartum, can impact bowel movements. If you experience ongoing constipation, a hormone test may be a good idea.
- Imbalance in your gut bacteria – Your gut bacteria play a critical role in your digestion and bowel movements. An imbalance can lead to uncomfortable changes in your digestion, including constipation, diarrhea, gas and bloating.
- Certain medications – Certain medications have constipation as a side effect (e.g. strong pain killers, calcium and iron supplements, psychiatric medications).
- Certain medical conditions – Certain medical conditions are associated with recurring or ongoing constipation. These include: hemorrhoids, diverticular disease, diabetes, neurologically underlying diseases, and even mental health conditions such as anorexia and depression.
Helpful ways to address constipation
Reducing acute constipation and managing chronic constipation often goes along with a change in your lifestyle.
Changes in your diet might be a first step. Include plenty of high-fiber foods in your meals. These foods will increase the volume of your stool and provide the necessary impulse for the colon to transport the feces out of your body. Also, try to avoid foods low in fiber, like anything that’s heavily processed, as well as dairy and meat products.
Focus on hydration. Drink plenty of fluids and include one glass of water before each meal. Especially one glass of water in the morning on an empty stomach can be very effective. Steer clear of sugary beverages and tea/coffee, which have a dehydrating effect.
Try to get regular exercise as this is key to get and keep your bowels moving.
Train your gut and get back to a routine bowel movement. Don’t ignore the urge to pass stool and try to create a regular schedule for bowel movements.
Enrich your diet with a high quality, multispecies probiotic supplement. This will help to restore the healthy bacterial balance in your gut microbiome, which will support your intestinal health and healthy digestion.
If you experience unexplained and persistent changes in your bowel habits, especially in case there is blood in your stool, you have strong abdominal pain, experience a fever or alternate constipation and diarrhea over a longer time frame, please consult a healthcare professional.
How can probiotics help with constipation?
Probiotics produce the important layer of mucous that lines your colon and helps move your fecal matter along. In case of constipation, there might be an imbalance in the probiotic bacteria in your gut. Your mucous layer might not be thick enough to easily move your feces along.
Your beneficial gut bacteria also keep potentially harmful bacteria, fungi and viruses in check, and with that promote a healthy bacterial balance. When this healthy bacterial balance is disrupted, you may experience it as changes to your bowel movements and other digestive issues, such as bloating and gas. Probiotic supplements add beneficial bacteria to your gut so that you can maintain a healthy balance in your gut flora.
Also, these probiotic helpers play a very important role in the communication between the gut and brain. Often, a bacterial imbalance in the gut can disrupt normal gut-brain communication pathways, which can lead to issues with your bowel movements. You need the right types of probiotic bacteria to communicate with your brain so it can “tell” the colon to move your fecal matter out of your body at a healthy speed.
OMNi-BiOTiC BALANCE was scientifically formulated with six, specific probiotic strains that help to optimize digestion and bowel movements, alleviating constipation, bloating and gas.
Key takeaways on how to manage constipation
Constipation is a common digestive complaint, and there are many ways to support your digestive system and return to regular bowel movements. Especially lifestyle changes concerning eating, drinking and exercising habits will help to remedy constipation.
In addition, a high-quality, multistrain probiotic supplement like OMNi-BiOTiC BALANCE helps to restore and maintain gut health and with that supports healthy digestion and regular bowel movements.