Although it might make you chuckle, constipation is no joke. Not being able to “go” can be really painful and downright scary. Here are some ways to prevent constipation and some of the causes.

You’re Not Eating Enough Fiber

A major source of constipation is lack of fiber in the diet. When you don’t eat fiber, you don’t have the bulk necessary to pass stools. Some types of fiber also act as food for the beneficial bacteria that live in your gut.

A high-fiber diet can be troublesome for people with digestive problems, but if you’re only problem is constipation, slowly increase your fiber intake to 30 grams per day. You’ll have to drink a lot more water in the process too, because fiber tends to have a dehydrating effect.

Try to get a mix of soluble and insoluble fiber, with an emphasis on soluble fiber. Why soluble fiber? Because it’s one of the best sources of food for your gut bacteria and it will easily add bulk to your stools without causing damage to the intestinal walls.

Some forms of insoluble fiber, called “roughage,” aren’t as healthy as soluble fiber and can cause discomfort. You can also take supplemental fiber that you mix into a glass of water, or in pill form, like psyllium husk.

You’re Not Feeding Your Gut Bacteria A Diverse Diet

Aside from fiber, you might also need to increase your intake of resistant starch. There’s some evidence showing that resistant starch selectively feeds beneficial bacteria. This is a special type of starch found in some grains, seeds, and legumes, some starchy foods like potatoes and rice (but only when cooked and rapidly cooled), and some raw foods like raw potatoes and unripe bananas and plantains.

The starch is not digestible by your body. Instead, your intestinal bacteria feed on it and multiply. This provides the bulk needed to relieve constipation. With resistant starch, as with fiber, it’s important to start slow and work your way up. You’ll know when it starts working.

The starch works because it’s a fermentable fiber. It goes through your stomach and small intestines undigested. When it reaches the colon, the friendly bacteria there feed on it. When they do, they convert the starch to short-chain fatty acids, one of the most important being butyrate.

Butyrate is the preferred fuel for cells lining the colon. So, you’re helping your colon get the fuel it needs to improve motility, and feeding friendly bacteria, which then add bulk to your stools, which reliefs constipation. Neat, huh?

You’re On Painkillers

Some kinds of painkillers, especially narcotics, can cause constipation and other stomach problems. Many of the receptor sites that use these drugs are in the digestive tract. This is a problem, because as painkillers do their work, they also shut down motility, making it difficult to pass waste.

Most people who are on painkillers are also on laxatives because they need help going to the bathroom.

Obviously, the best case scenario has you off of the painkillers as soon as possible and back to a normal life. But, if you need them, ask your doctor about getting a good laxative to help you out in the short-term.

You’re Addicted To Laxatives

Of course, it’s easy to become dependent on laxatives. Once your body senses that it no longer needs to move stools through the system, it doesn’t. If used for long enough, the stimulant in laxatives can replace the natural undulation caused by the colon.

Your body won’t function properly without them. This is primarily a problem with stimulant laxatives, including ex-lax, senna, and dulcolax. But, there are others that are stimulants that you can become dependent on.

Ask your doctor about side effects and how to transition back into a natural diet that will allow you to go without having to be dependent on drugs. At the end of the day, the laxatives will help you through a tough time, but they’re a short-term fix.

You’re Taking Antacids

Some kinds of antacids will cause constipation, especially if they contain calcium or aluminum, and you’re drinking the stuff like water. Unfortunately, even depressing stomach acid isn’t a great solution, because bile helps the digestive process and makes it easier to go to the bathroom.

There is some research and evidence that suggests that stomach acid isn’t the problem anyway. If you’re looking for ways to improve your digestion and reduce or eliminate constipation, you might want to try health coach and licensed acupuncturist Chris Kresser’s advice on eliminating GERD.

Corrina Sherman is a dietician and is also a nutritionist. She is pleased to share her views on this aspect of healthy living with an online audience. Her thoughts can be found on a variety of different websites.

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