A Conversation about Constipation
Let's chat about constipation.
That invitation alone ought to provide a certain relief to some of the estimated 4 million Americans who suffer from recurrent constipation. After all, for such a common problem, it's not one we discuss much. As they say, misery loves company....
I got to thinking about constipation while writing this week's "Eat, Drink and Be Healthy" column about probiotics, the edible "friendly bacteria" that are touted as fix-alls for everything from the immune system to the digestive tract. While probiotics may in fact help keep some people more regular by populating their intestines with "good" bacteria, more research is needed before any strain of probiotic can be confidently recommended as a standard medical treatment for constipation.
Constipation -- which is technically defined as having a bowel movement less frequently than once in three days -- can be chronic or temporary. Beyond that, constipation's in the eye of the beholder: If you're accustomed to going three times a day and you're suddenly reduced to one, that may be your version of constipation.
Sometimes constipation's related to stress; some people (like me!) get that way when our schedule is disrupted, as when we travel. While some diseases, hormonal imbalances such as those a woman experiences during pregnancy, and medications can cause chronic constipation, quite often it's a result of poor diet and lack of exercise.
But improving your diet -- by adding more whole grains, legumes, vegetables and fruits -- can be hard, particularly for older people for whom shopping and cooking are challenging. Exercising requires resolve, too. That's in part why so many people turn to laxatives to relieve constipation: According to the the NIH, Americans spend more than $725 million a year on over-the-counter laxatives.
Nearly everyone gets constipated once in a while. But if you find yourself getting that way more often than usual, you should see a physician to make sure illness or a medication's not to blame. If neither appears to be the culprit, it might behoove you to gradually introduce more fiber into your diet. You could also try eating yogurt, making sure the variety you choose contains live cultures. (Here's more on choosing a probiotic product.) Just go easy at first, as introducing these foods too abruptly could cause uncomfortable bloating, gas and even diarrhea.
Do you suffer from chronic (or occasional) constipation? What do you do to correct it?
Please cast your vote in this week's "poll" (which we know isn't scientific, right?) and elaborate in the Comments section below.
Results of last week's poll: More than 500 people weighed in to say how many different diets they'd tried. 32 percent had tried fewer than 5; 27 percent had tried between 5 and 10, followed closely by the 26 percent who had tried more than 10 diets. 12 percent of you said you'd tried none at all.
Coming next Tuesday: This weekend I'm going to try my hand at making home-made yogurt. I'll document the process in photos and post them here next week!
Jennifer LaRue Huget
March 24, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories: Alternative and Complementary Medicine , Chronic Conditions , Family Health , General Health , Nutrition and Fitness
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