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Prevent constipation

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Prevent constipation

It may not be the usual topic of conversation, but many people occasionally suffer from constipation. According to the Gastroenterological Society of Australia, constipation is "one of the most common medical complaints in Australia".

It may not be the usual topic of conversation, but many people occasionally suffer from constipation. According to the Gastroenterological Society of Australia, constipation is “one of the most common medical complaints in Australia”.

One in ten children require medical help for this uncomfortable condition. One in five middle-aged women suffer from it (men have fewer problems, but it does become more common with age).

Constipation may occur due to a number of factors, including change in schedule, illness or pregnancy. While everyone is different, ideally, we should be having two to three bowel movements each day, and at the very minimum, one good stool per day.

Normally, food passes through the digestive system with the help of muscle contractions called peristalsis. Along the way, water and nutrients are absorbed and waste products are left behind. Problems result when this efficient system goes awry.

Symptoms

Those with constipation find they must strain during bowel movements and afterward have the sensation that they still need to go. Their stools are small, hard and dry. They may also experience hemorrhoids, rectal bleeding, abdominal bloating and excessive gas.

Some evidence links constipation to colon cancer. Researchers theorise that constipation allows cancer-causing compounds to sit in the colon for too long before being eliminated. See your health practitioner if you experience any possible symptoms of colon cancer, including constipation, weight loss, abdominal pain, rectal pain or bleeding or pencil-thin stool.

Taking action

As with any other ailment, the goal should be prevention. Three main strategies are important in attaining or preserving healthy colon function.

  • Exercise:  regular exercise stimulates peristalsis and facilitates lymphatic flow, essential to good digestion.
  • Fluids:  adequate fluid intake is another essential for maintaining a healthy bowel pattern. Overconsumption of caffeine and alcohol can lead to dehydration, creating or adding to the problem.
  • Fibre:  a diet filled with natural fibre sources such as raw, whole fruits and vegetables, grains, nuts and legumes is important for preventing constipation. At the same time, processed or sugar-laden foods should be avoided. Optimal fibre intake should be 30 to 40 g per day.

Help is on the way

If you need some help to get your colon in order, you may want to look into natural remedies or products.

To start, consult your natural health practitioner for a personalised remedy that will gently and effectively treat constipation and get your digestion back on track.

Also look for a colon-cleansing supplement that contains both soluble and insoluble fibre, such as psyllium and fruit pectin. Psyllium alone can often leave the colon dehydrated. Supplement daily with a good quality probiotic, such as acidophilus, available at any health food store.

Lubricating the colon is essential for smooth and gentle elimination. Good quality natural linseed oil, borage (or starflower) oil and fish oils not only contain essential fatty acids but also ease movement through the bowel.

Following these colon-healthy strategies will result in more than just good digestion. An active lifestyle and a fibre-filled nutritious diet promote strong resistance to infection and boost the immune system.

As an 18th-century food critic once observed, “Digestion, of all the bodily functions, is the one which exercises the greatest influence on the mental state of an individual.”

How fibre helps

There are two types of fibre, soluble and insoluble, both of which are vital in preventing constipation.

Soluble fibre  helps ensure stable blood sugar levels and binds with fatty acids as food passes through the intestinal tract. It can be found in oat bran, barley and linseed.

Insoluble fibre  is present in vegetables such as green beans and dark, leafy greens; fruit skins; wholegrain products; seeds; nuts; and even popcorn. It has a cleansing effect and works like a scrub brush moving and removing material from the intestinal wall. It also works to tone the bowel and balance the pH level of the intestines.

Brown rice, oats, oat bran, psyllium husk, barley, linseeds, carrots, apples and citrus fruit are good sources of insoluble fibre.

Many fruits, vegetables and legumes are naturally made up of both soluble and insoluble fibre. Some of the highest fibre content foods include linseeds, beans, avocados, blackberries and broccoli.

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