We’ve all suffered from it – that miserable, bloated, gassy, lethargic and irritable feeling that comes from being…well…blocked!
Constipation. Sometimes it’s transient. Sometimes it lasts a lot longer. And it’s never fun!
The classic cure for many of us? Fibre! Bring on the Kellogg’s All-Bran. Pour yourself a bowl of it, or add a couple of table-spoons full to a bowl of your favourite breakfast cereal, add some sliced banana or other fruit, and serve with a splash of milk or a dollop of yoghurt. After that, you’re good to go – right?
That was the conventional wisdom. Trouble is, conventional wisdom isn’t always wise. Nor medically sound. Some clarity, please.
According to a recent article in The Globe and Mail: “Not having a daily bowel movement doesn’t mean you’re constipated. Medically speaking, constipation is defined as having less than three bowel movements a week. Chronic constipation occurs when you have infrequent bowel movements – whether hard, formed or small stools – or difficulty passing stools for several weeks or longer. The condition interferes with quality of life, affecting work and social relationships and mental well-being.”
Laxatives. Fibre. Recent research suggests that for many people afflicted with chronic constipation, such conventional cures either don’t work or provoke nasty side-effects such as bloating and gas.
But a recent analysis, as reported by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, has added clarity to the conventional wisdom about constipation, based on 16 randomised controlled trials involving 1,251 adult participants. The research assessed:
- The effect of fibre supplements on frequency of bowel movements, bowel transit time (i.e., how long it takes food to move through the gut), as well as symptoms such as bloating, gas, abdominal pain and straining severity.
- The studies used various types of fibre supplements, including psyllium powder, polydextrose powder, inulin, guar gum, pectin powder and wheat bran. Doses ranged from four to 40 g per day and treatment durations lasted two to eight weeks.
- Fibre works, particularly psyllium.
According to Healthline, “psyllium is a bulk-forming laxative. This means it soaks up water in your gut and makes bowel movements much easier and can help promote regularity without increasing flatulence. It can be used as a one-off to ease constipation, or it can be added to your diet to help promote regularity and overall digestive health.”
There are precautions to take if you’re really suffering from constipation, especially if it’s a condition that’s become chronic and is accompanied by severe pain – please consult with your doctor first to rule out an intestinal obstruction or adhesion or twisted bowel – and no amount of fibre will fix physical conditions such as these. Surgical intervention may be necessary. Take it from me, I know!
- Before starting a fibre supplement, review your medications with your pharmacist or your doctor. Fibre supplements can decrease the absorption of certain medications, including ones used to treat thyroid disorders, depression and Type 2 diabetes.
- Start slowly to prevent digestive discomfort. Begin with the lowest recommended dose and gradually increase the amount of fibre.
- Take a fibre supplement with at least 250 ml of water to enhance effectiveness and prevent side effects. Be consistent. Take your fibre supplement daily.
Advice: Don’t Ignore High-Fibre Nutrition
Constipation is a nasty and uncomfortable condition to suffer from. And it can hit us at any age. According to Activebeat, there are 10 or more important foods that can help with constipation – and our advice is to consider consuming them on a regular basis.
Taking a fibre supplement for constipation is all well and good. But it’s important not to ignore healthy day-to-day eating habits. Including any and all of the following in your diet will help ensure your gut health is optimal:
- Whole grains
- Fruits and vegetables
- Pulses, nuts and seeds are key
- Oats, oat bran, psyllium husks, barley, beans and lentils
- Citrus fruit, pears, apples and chia seeds
- Wheat bran, whole wheat pasta, whole grain rye bread
- Pinto beans, nuts, sweet potatoes
- Plus kale, green peas and raspberries are examples of other foods high in fibre
Enjoy – and feel good!