In the UK about 10% of the population are regularly constipated; 20% or more in the elderly.
Women, particularly, are prone to suffer.
Constipation is the result of waste material moving too slowly through the large intestine, leading to infrequent or painful elimination.
Bowels should be moved at least once per day - ideally once for every meal! Otherwise harmful toxins accumulate in the body and may cause many different problems such as bad breath, body odour, coated tongue, depression, diverticulitis, fatigue, wind, headaches, indigestion, piles, hernia, insomnia, obesity, varicose veins or more serious problems.
Poor absorption and blocked intestines can also reduce absorption of nutrients and medication so no matter how good your diet, you can't absorb food correctly.
Did you know? * The average person has 1 - 3 kg of unwanted, putrefying matter stuck to their bowel wall.
This creates a source for toxicity and a welcome home for parasites.
* 37 million drug prescriptions are made in the UK for digestive diseases every year.
* 1 in 5 people in Europe suffer from a gut disorder.
* 1 in 10 of all deaths in the UK are from gut disorders.
* Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) affects 20 - 30% of the UK population.
* The number of bowel movements per day should equal the number of meals eaten.
The Problems with Laxatives Many sufferers are tempted to resort to laxative substances to promote bowel movement, but these can cause problems.
There are four basic types: * Stimulant laxatives irritate the intestinal wall, stimulating peristalsis.
They can damage the bowel walls with habitual use, as well as leading to dependency.
Long term use can damage nerve cells in the colon wall, which will perpetuate constipation rather than alleviate it.
* Stool softeners soften faecal matter so that it passes through the intestines more easily.
The mineral oils contained in these can damage the lungs if inhaled, and they decrease the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins.
Long-term use can cause liver damage and increase the toxicity of drugs.
* Osmotic agents promote secretion of water into the colon, initiating bowel movement.
These are safer than stool-softeners and stimulant laxatives, but if used regularly, dependency can result.
* Bulk-forming agents increase the bulk and water content of the stool and are the ONLY type than can safely be taken on a regular basis.
What Causes Constipation? The cause of constipation is often poor diet with excess junk food and insufficient fiber or fluid intake.
Experts recommend that we should have 20 - 35 grams of fiber daily, however the average person consumes only 10 - 12 grams.
We need both soluble and insoluble fiber, which keeps your colon clean, and helps to relieve both constipation and diarrhea.
Other causative factors include lack of exercise, advanced age, poor diet, muscle or structural disorders.
It may also be a side effect of iron supplements or certain prescription medicines.
If you suspect the latter, do not change any medication without your GP's approval.
How to Stop Constipation The following recommendations should help.
* Drink plenty of water whether you are thirsty or not.
* Aim to drink 2 litres of still mineral water daily.
This final target may need to be built up to over a period of a few days.
If adding fiber supplements (see below) make sure you have a full glass of water with each dose.
Herb tea or fruit juice diluted 50-50 with mineral water add variety to your fluid intake, but alcohol, tea and coffee do not count towards the total - in fact they can have a dehydrating effect.
* Eat small portions of food, minimise large, heavy meals.
* Vitamin C supplements at higher doses can encourage loose stools.
* 6-8 prunes (or 3 figs) before breakfast may be helpful.
If this is insufficient, eat more before dinner.
They are best eaten before meals as they can otherwise cause flatulence.
* Other foods with a mild laxative effect are: strawberries, raw spinach, watermelon, garlic and dandelion leaf tea.
Fruit (bananas, citrus fruit and apples) and vegetables (cabbage, raw green leafy vegetables, celery, peas and carrots) should help as they contain good levels of fiber.
Rice, nuts, lentils and seeds are also good sources of fiber.
* Whole-grain products contain more fiber (and vitamins and minerals) than white.
* Soaked flaxseeds may be helpful too, but be sure to drink plenty of water and chew them well.
Ideally grind them, to avoid them passing through you undigested.
* Avoid fried, refined and processed foods.
Also minimize foods like dairy, fats and spicy foods - these stimulate mucous production and are difficult to digest, as well as containing little fiber.
* Essential fats help stool formation - these can be obtained in supplement form or in foods such as nuts (almonds, Brazils, cashews, walnuts) and oily fish (salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, tuna).
* Visit the toilet 20 minutes after every meal to encourage a habit reflex.
Relax with a book for ten minutes, don't strain or push.
Leave if there's no bowel movement and don't worry.
* When you do get the urge to 'go', don't delay.
* Exercise can help prevent constipation, even a brisk daily walk, as physical activity speeds the movement of waste through the intestines.
* It's important to have a healthy balance of good bacteria (probiotics) and bad.
Heavy laxative or antibiotic use may have caused the bad to crowd out the good.
Acidophilus or consumption of live, unsweetened yogurt daily can help restore the balance.
Garlic helps destroy bad bacteria.
The colon is a holding tank for waste matter that should be removed from your body within eighteen to twenty four hours.
If this does not happen, harmful toxins can form.
These can cause distressing conditions such as migraine, Candidiasis, wind and bloating.
Or they can play a role in the development of serious conditions such as diabetes, thyroid disease and bowel cancer.
If the suggestions above don't help constipation to clear up quickly, please ask your GP to check that it doesn't have other, potentially serious, causes.