Constipation - Let’s Talk About Poo

Poo - we all do it, we just don’t love to talk about it. But our bowel motions can tell us a lot about our health and it is the reason naturopaths love asking about it! So let’s talk about it, shall we?!

Did you know that constipation is common worldwide, and in Australia it has a prevalence of 20%-30%. Whilst it is more common amongst children, pregnant women and the elderly, it can occur through all stages of life. It can also be very uncomfortable and can have a significant impact on quality of life, affecting both physical and emotional wellbeing. Did you know that mood and anxiety disorders are found to be more prevalent in constipated patients compared to the general population?

But how infrequently do you have to be passing a bowel motion to be diagnosed with constipation?

Diagnosing Constipation

Functional constipation is generally diagnosed when loose stools are rarely present without the use of laxatives and two or more of the following are present more than 25% of the time;

  • Straining

  • Lumpy or hard stools

  • Sensation of incomplete evacuation

  • Fewer than 3 spontaneous bowel movements a week

  • Sensation of anorectal obstruction or blockage

Other symptoms of constipation can include;

Stools that are

  • Dry

  • Hard

  • Small and pebble-like

  • Or, a large bulky mass

Causes/Risk Factors for Constipation

Several risk factors exist for constipation which may also be causative. These include;

  • Suppressing the urge of a bowel motion

  • Diet - low fibre and also low calorie intake

  • Excessive use of stimulant laxatives which can result in the body relying on these for a bowel motion

  • Certain medications

  • Hormonal changes, such as menopause. Some women can also experience constipation at different stages in their menstrual cycle.

  • Ageing

  • Pregnancy

  • Physical inactivity

  • Psychosomatic causes, such as anxiety, depression and stress

How To Help Improve your Digestion and Reduce Constipation

The good thing is that, for most causes of constipation, there are many dietary and lifestyle changes that can make a huge difference in the regularity and quality of your bowel motions. These include;

  1. Increasing your fibre intake - Low fibre intake can increase the risk for constipation. It is recommended that men consume 30g of fibre per day and women consume 25g. Partially hydrolysed guar gum (PHGG) is an excellent source of supplemental fibre as it is gentle for most people, including those people following a FODMAP free diet, and it has been shown to promote bowel regularity.

  2. Focusing on hydration - it is important when increasing your fibre intake that you also increase your water intake. Sufficient water is also required to transport waste through the digestive system.

  3. Probiotics/Prebiotics - Specific probiotic strains may help to stimulate the movement of waste through the digestive system. Probiotics such as Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli have been shown to enhance peristalsis (movement of waste to the rectum).

  4. Regular Exercise - exercise can help to bring on the urge to move the bowels.

  5. Stress management - Stress as well as anxiety can increase the risk for constipation.

  6. Abdominal massage - massaging the abdominals can help provide relief of symptoms.

Note - It is always important to speak with your healthcare professional to rule out other causes of constipation, especially if constipation has arisen suddenly with previously regular bowel motions.

About the author

Casey is a clinical naturopath and nutritionist and the founder of The Natural Path Health. She has a passion for identifying and treating the root cause of disease to achieve long-lasting health goals with her clients. "I love helping my clients regain their energy and vitality for life."