Americans love laxatives. Millions of people rely on such products to stay regular. But you can conquer constipation without depending on these medications.
A surprising number of common medicines can cause constipation as a side effect. Opiates are notorious for this, of course, but people may not think about the antihistamine in their cold medicine or OTC sleep aid. Antidepressants, motion sickness medicines, blood pressure pills and even iron supplements may contribute to this problem. Check your medicine chest for possible culprits if you are frequently troubled with constipation.
To get your colon to behave properly, you need to treat its denizens right. What should you feed your millions of microbes to keep them happy so that your digestive tract will function as it should? As much as possible, avoid processed foods. A menu with plenty of fiber-rich plant foods will be most helpful, including vegetables, fruits and whole grains. Don’t throw away the stems to those veggies. They are rich in fiber and can be delicious. Stems are great for growing a good gut garden. What about fiber supplements? When do they make sense?
Fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi can be helpful, perhaps in part because they are vegetables and rich in fiber. Sometimes supplements like magnesium will also be useful. Find out which is most appropriate for the problem at hand.
Most of the time, constipation is a nuisance, but occasionally it is a red flag that something is very wrong. A sudden change in bowel habits should prompt a check-in. Likewise, if you have pale stool and dark urine, it’s time to schedule an appointment to evaluate your liver health. Floating stool is not usually a problem, but if you are feeling ill, floating poop could be a sign of pancreatic problems. Most of the time, constipation can be corrected by changing your diet, increasing your exercise and adjusting your medicines. If those measures don’t work, your health care provider will want to look for more sinister causes.
Robynne K. Chutkan, MD, is on faculty at Georgetown Hospital and is the founder of the Digestive Center for Wellness in Chevy Chase, Maryland. She did her medical training at Columbia University and is board certified in gastroenterology. She has written three books on digestive health: Gutbliss, The Microbiome Solution, and The Bloat Cure.
Her website is: http://gutbliss.com/blog/