Constipation and Diet

What is constipation?

A person with constipation has difficulty passing stool or has incomplete or infrequent bowel movements. The frequency of bowel movements is individual; for some people, up to three times a day is normal, while three times a week is normal for others – as long as the bowel movements are soft and easily passed without discomfort and straining. Additional symptoms that may be present are abdominal pain, poor appetite, back pain, nausea, and/or rectal pressure or fullness.

What causes constipation?

There are organic and functional causes of constipation. Some organic causes include diverticular disease, intestinal obstruction, tumours, hemorrhoids, diabetes, hypothyroidism, strictures, neuromuscular or musculoskeletal impairment and, sometimes, inflammatory bowel disease.

Some functional causes of constipation are irritable bowel syndrome, lack of physical activity (especially if bedridden), a low fibre diet or inadequate fluid intake, and side effects from some medications (e.g. narcotic analgesics, calcium or iron supplements, chronic use of laxatives or enemas, and some heart medications). Consult your doctor to determine what may be causing your ongoing constipation pattern.

Dietary Recommendations for Constipation:

  • Evaluate your diet to ensure adequate sources of fibre. Fibre provides roughage or bulk to your stool. If organic causes have been ruled out, or addressed by your physician, try adding high fibre choices gradually to your diet.
  • Drink at least 8 cups of water or fluid daily to help soften the stool. Adequate fluid is especially important when adding high fibre food choices to your diet.
  • Try 30 mL of Fruit-Rite fruit spread daily for chronic constipation.
  • Try this Recipe for Constipation Relief:
    Blend in a food processor:
    1 cup pitted prunes
    1 cup raisins
    1 cup pitted dates
    1/2 cup orange juice
    2/3 cup prune juice
    Consume 2 tbs for constipation relief. Refrigerate up to 2 weeks or freeze for longer periods.
  • Increase your activity level to 15 to 30 minutes, 3 times per week if permitted by your doctor.
  • Try to relax to help the muscles involved in bowel movements to relax.
  • Develop good bowel habits by getting into a routine. Set aside the same time each day to relax for a bowel movement.
  • If diet and lifestyle changes are not enough to alleviate the constipation, talk to your doctor about a stool softener or a natural bulk laxative.

Mary Flesher, Clinical Dietitian
First published in the Inside Tract® newsletter issue 138 – July/August 2003
Image: VadimGuzhva |