Your lifestyle and eating habits can greatly affect your digestion, and it’s common to suffer from the symptoms of constipation. But there’s plenty you can do to prevent constipation, or cure it if it does occur.
Tips for constipation relief
1. Don’t eat in a rush
Wolfing down food means it isn’t chewed properly. The gut then has to process larger pieces, which takes longer and can cause constipation symptoms.
It takes, on average, six to eight hours for food to pass through your stomach and small intestine, and around 53 hours to go from mouth to toilet. So eat slowly – you’ll enjoy your food more, too!
2. Drink up
Water helps lubricate your digestive system and allows the smooth passage of food through the digestive tract, keeping constipation symptoms at bay. It also keeps stools soft, so it’s important to drink plenty of fluids throughout the day.
Aim to drink at least one-and-a-half litres of water a day, and reduce hydration ‘robbers’ such as caffeine, alcohol and fizzy or sugary drinks.
3. Get regular exercise
The quicker you burn calories, the faster your metabolic rate will be, so the quicker you’ll convert food into energy. Staying active also helps stimulate the bowel, which speeds up food transit time, avoiding constipation.
4. Look at your diet
What we eat influences the digestive process and certain foods can cause constipation. Meat can sit in the stomachs of those with poor digestion for hours, and undigested protein can irritate the gut lining.
Dietary fibre comes from plant-based foods – vegetables, fruit, legumes and wholegrains – and helps to bulk up stools so they move easily through your digestive tract, so eat plenty.
5. Get into a good bowel habit
Never ignore the urge to go to the toilet: the longer you put it off, the harder the stools become and the more constipated you’ll be.
6. Have breakfast
This helps the colon start to contract, which can help regulate your bowel habit, avoiding constipation. Try porridge with a sprinkling of nuts and fresh fruit or rye toast topped with a nut butter and mashed banana. Limit your caffeine too: have a glass of juice or soy milk instead.
7. Try magnesium
Constipation can be related to low magnesium levels. Fill up on magnesium-rich green leafy veg, beans, lentils and wholegrains – all good fibre foods – or try a supplement.
You could also bathe in Epsom salts, as your body can absorb the magnesium in them through the skin.
8. Take a natural approach
Psyllium husks act to soften the stool making it easier to pass. Capsicum has been shown to have a gentle stimulant effect on digestive function, helping to provide constipation relief.
Get more tips on tackling constipation in our healthy gut guides.
This article has been adapted from longer features appearing in Healthy, the Holland & Barrett magazine. Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP before trying any remedies