constipationWhat is Constipation?

Constipation is passage of small amounts of hard, dry bowel movements, usually fewer than three times a week. People who are constipated may find it difficult and painful to have a bowel movement. Other symptoms of constipation include feeling bloated, uncomfortable and sluggish.

To understand constipation, it helps to know how the colon (large intestine) works. As food moves through the colon, it absorbs water while forming waste products or stool. Muscle contractions in the colon push the stool toward the rectum. By the time stool reaches the rectum, it is solid because most of the water has been absorbed.

The hard and dry stools of constipation occur when the colon absorbs too much water or if the colon’s muscle contractions are slow or sluggish, causing the stool to move through the colon too slowly.

Common Causes of Constipation

  • Poor diet: Eating foods rich in animal fats (dairy products, meats and eggs) or refined sugar but low in fiber (whole grains, fruits and vegetables).
  • Inadequate fluid intake: Not drinking enough water can lead to hard dry stools. Fluid is absorbed in the intestine and people who don’t drink enough water may not pass enough water into the colon to keep their stools soft.
  • Caffeine and alcohol: They induce increased excretion and  urination of water. This leads to (relative) dehydration because of an increase in water absorption from the intestine. This can, in turn, lead to constipation when not enough fluid is retained in the stool.
  • Poor bowel habits: Ignoring the desire to have bowel movements may initiate a cycle of constipation.
  • Medications that cause constipation: 
  • Laxative abuse: Habitually using laxatives will gradually produce dependency on these drugs.
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS, Spastic Colon)
  • Pregnancy: constipation is common during pregnancy and is due to several different factors.
    •  Low iron levels leads to many women taking supplements. Some brands can be difficult to digest, leading to blocks in their system.
    • There may be excess heat in a pregnant woman’s body which could dry out the stool. It could also be that her large intestine energy is stagnated through improper food or lack of exercise. That, again, could lead to a block.

Ultimately, the underlying issues need to be addressed. Acupressure techniques can effectively re-regulate bowel movements.

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The Relationship Between Constipation and Diet

The most common cause of constipation is a diet low in fiber found in vegetables, fruits and whole grains and high in fats found in cheese, eggs, and meats. People who eat plenty of high-fiber foods are less likely to become constipated.

Fiber—both soluble and insoluble—is the part of fruits, vegetables, and grains that the body cannot digest. Soluble fiber dissolves easily in water and takes on a soft, gel-like texture in the intestines. Insoluble fiber passes through the intestines almost unchanged. The bulk and soft texture of fiber help prevent hard, dry stools that are difficult to pass.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, Americans eat an average of 5 to 14 grams of fiber daily,* short of the 20 to 35 grams recommended by the American Dietetic Association. Both children and adults eat too many refined and processed foods from which the natural fiber has been removed.

A low-fiber diet also plays a key role in constipation among older adults, who may lose interest in eating and choose convenience foods low in fiber. In addition, difficulties with chewing or swallowing may force older people to eat soft foods that are processed and low in fiber.

*National Center for Health Statistics. Dietary Intake of Macronutrients, Micronutrients, and Other Dietary Constituents: United States, 1988–94. Vital and Health Statistics, Series 11, number 245. July 2002.

Not Enough Liquids

Liquids like water and juice add fluid to the colon and bulk to stools, making bowel movements softer and easier to pass. People who have problems with constipation should drink enough of these liquids every day, about eight 8-ounce glasses. Liquids that contain caffeine, like coffee and cola drinks, and alcohol have a dehydrating effect.

Changes in Life or Routine

During pregnancy, women may be constipated because of hormonal changes or because the heavy uterus compresses the intestine. Aging may also affect bowel regularity because a slower metabolism results in less intestinal activity and muscle tone. In addition, people often become constipated when traveling because their normal diet and daily routines are disrupted.

Abuse of Laxatives

Myths about constipation have led to a serious abuse of laxatives. This is common among people who are preoccupied with having a daily bowel movement.Laxatives usually are not necessary and can be habit-forming. The colon begins to rely on laxatives to bring on bowel movements. Over time, laxatives can damage nerve cells in the colon and interfere with the colon’s natural ability to contract. For the same reason, regular use of enemas can also lead to a loss of normal bowel function.

Specific Diseases

Diseases that cause constipation include neurological disorders, metabolic and endocrine disorders, and systemic conditions that affect organ systems. These disorders can slow the movement of stool through the colon, rectum, or anus. Several kinds of diseases can cause constipation:

  • Neurological disorders
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Chronic idiopathic intestinal pseudo-obstruction
  • Stroke
  • Spinal cord injuries
  • Metabolic and endocrine conditions
  • Diabetes
  • Underactive or overactive thyroid gland
  • uremia
  • Hypercalcemia
  • Systemic disorders
  • Amyloidosis
  • Lupus
  • Scleroderma
  • Problems with the Colon and Rectum

Intestinal obstruction, scar tissue (adhesions), diverticulosis, tumors, colorectal stricture, Hirschsprung’s disease, or cancer can compress, squeeze, or narrow the intestine and rectum and cause constipation. Your treatment may consist of a combination of Acupressure, Reflexology, Tuina or Health Recovery chips, as well as monitoring ones diet/lifestyle habits, to help facilitate smooth bowel movements.

Lack of Exercise

Lack of exercise can lead to constipation, although doctors do not know precisely why. For example, constipation often occurs after an accident or during an illness when one must stay in bed and cannot exercise.

Medications

Some medications can cause constipation. They include:

  • pain medications (especially narcotics)
  • antacids that contain aluminum and calcium
  • blood pressure medications (calcium channel blockers)
  • antiparkinson drugs
  • antispasmodics
  • antidepressants
  • iron supplements
  • diuretics
  • anticonvulsants
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Some people with IBS, also known as spastic colon, have spasms in the colon that affect bowel movements. Constipation and diarrhea often alternate, and abdominal cramping, gassiness, and bloating are other common complaints. Although IBS can produce lifelong symptoms, it is not a life-threatening condition. It often worsens with stress, but there is no specific cause or anything unusual that the doctor can see in the colon.

Ignoring the Urge to Have a Bowel Movement

People who ignore the urge to have a bowel movement may eventually stop feeling the urge, which can lead to constipation. Some people delay having a bowel movement because they do not want to use toilets outside the home. Others ignore the urge because of emotional stress or because they are too busy. Children may postpone having a bowel movement because of stressful toilet training or because they do not want to interrupt their play.

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