Are you sitting comfortably?

Then let me begin, because believe it or not it could make all the difference!

Constipation is one of the most common disorders in the western world but one of a few things that still doesn’t make for polite dinner conversation (at least in most circles!). It’s not fussy about who it affects either, starting with the very young all the way up to old age.

Constipation can be hard to define but is generally accepted to be a reduction in the normal frequency of bowel movements a person has, with stools that are hard, dry, small in size, and difficult to pass.

Thankfully there are lots you can do to prevent and treat constipation.

Firstly make sure you are drinking at least 6-8 glasses of water a day. Keeping hydrated is very important in preventing and treating constipation. One of the main functions of the large intestine is to reabsorb water, turning waste from a liquid into a semi-solid. When dehydrated the body tries its best to get water from wherever possible. This includes dehydrating the contents of the bowel until stools are small and hard. If you don’t like the idea of your body using water extracted from your poo drink more water, (caffeinated drinks, such as tea and coffee, and alcohol don’t hydrate but actually act as diuretics making you pee more).

Stress tightens the bowel muscles and will definitely make constipation worse. It is important that you try to lower your stress levels; any of the lovely complementary therapies can work wonders!

Make sure your diet is high in fibre. Fibre acts like a sponge absorbing water, producing large stools that move easily through the large intestine. Choose soluble forms of fibre found in porridge, oatcakes and fruit and vegetables, as these will soften the faeces making it easier to pass. Eating large amounts of fibre, particularly bran based fibre without drinking water, will leave you trying to pass bran based poo, and that really doesn’t bear thinking about……….

The mineral magnesium is needed to control smooth muscle contractions, preventing constipation. Good food sources include pumpkin seeds, plain popcorn, mixed nuts (unroasted), rye crisp breads, peanut butter and sunflower seeds. Include at least one good magnesium food source daily.

Another important point is NOT to ignore the signals when you do need a bowel movement. Don’t be embarrassed to use the toilets in work or public toilets. Stopping yourself from going can make the symptoms of constipation worse. Does it really matter if someone possibly hears something?

Massage your stomach in a clockwise direction, start on the right and work in a circular motion, massaging at least twice daily. This can be enough to get things moving.

Practice some deep breathing exercises this will massage the digestive system and help prevent constipation.

Exercise is fantastic at getting things moving. My lovely Mother always sings the praises of exercise as a cure to almost everything (particularly jumping jacks for some strange reason) and when it comes to constipation she’s definitely right. Get moving to get things moving!

Give yourself a set time each day to use the toilet, choose a time when you won’t be disturbed. Sit on the loo even if you don’t feel the need to go. This will retrain your bowels although it may take two to three weeks to work. It’s important not to strain!

And finally change your position on the toilet, sitting comfortably is very, very important! Don’t sit forward, sit back and raise your feet above the level of your bottom. You will probably need to invest in a small stool (no pun intended) in order to do this. This relaxes the abdominal muscles allowing the contents of the bowel to pass without obstruction. This can be a huge factor in children’s constipation; sitting on the toilet with little legs dangling will get them absolutely nowhere.

If your constipation continues for more than a few days or contains blood or mucus please visit your GP.

©Catherine MacBride 2007.