Let’s say you’re having one of those days when you wish your tummy felt less full and bloated and you wish you weren’t -- to put it more directly -- constipated. It’s no big deal and it’s not necessarily going to ruin your day, but you are wondering whether there’s something you could eat or drink for a quick fix.
Usually, there aren’t quick fixes for occasional constipation unless you want to take a laxative. It’s better to make a long-term commitment to regular exercise, plenty of water and a diet with sufficient soluble and insoluble fiber. By the way, health care practitioners recommend up to 35 grams of fiber a day, despite the fact that the average American is getting only 5 to 14 grams.
But here are a couple of items you might want to keep on hand for those days when you wish you had more bowel regularity. Both items are easy to obtain from a grocery or health food store.
One is oat bran, which started receiving praise in the 1980s for its heart-health benefits. But like its cousin oatmeal, oat bran is a great soluble fiber, meaning that it dissolves with water in your colon to form a gel-like material that helps normalize bowel movements. Your body needs insoluble fiber as well, from whole wheat flour and certain vegetables, to “maintain bowel integrity and health,” according to Mayoclinic.com. You can buy oat bran in the bulk foods aisle of the grocery store, or look for it in the cereal section.
The other item (also a soluble fiber) is flaxseed, whose popularity has grown so much in recent years because of its possible medical benefits that it now comes in a variety of forms -- whole, crushed, powder, capsule and liquid. Some people make a habit of adding it to juice or cereal in the morning.
The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (an arm of the National Institutes of Health) has a section on its website called “What the Science Says” about various nutritional supplements, and for flaxseed the pronouncement is: “Flaxseed contains soluble fiber, like that found in oat bran, and may have a laxative effect.”
Currently funding studies on flaxseed, the NCCAM also said that flaxseed should be taken with plenty of water to avoid worsening your constipation. If you take daily oral medications or use other dietary supplements, consult a health care practitioner, because the fiber in flaxseed may lower the body’s ability to absorb medications, the NCCAM added. Otherwise, flaxseed seems to be a safe supplement.
It might be tempting to take an over-the-counter laxative, but many medical experts caution that even when those laxatives quickly produce a bowel movement, they can prompt cramps and diarrhea as well. In addition, they can lead to laxative dependence. “Most people with mild constipation do not need laxatives,” according to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC).
Remember to keep things in perspective when the lack of a trip to the bathroom is making you out of sorts. Do you truly have constipation? The NDDIC defines it as having a bowel movement fewer than three times a week. Constipation is a common complaint, but many people, such as those with irritable bowel syndrome, have it much worse.
“Herbs at a glance: Flaxseed and Flaxseed Oil.” National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Web. 7 Sept. 2011. http://nccam.nih.gov/health/flaxseed/ataglance.htm
“Q & A Library: Conquering Constipation -- Naturally?” drweil.com. Web. 7 Sept 2011.
“Dietary fiber: Essential for a healthy diet.” Mayoclinic.com. Web. 7 Sept. 2011. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/fiber/NU00033
“Constipation.” National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. Web. 7 Sept. 2011.
Reviewed September 8, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Jody Smith