Unless, of course, you're not pooping regularly. In that case, poop isn't far from your mind at any given moment of the day. Chronic constipation, which is defined as having fewer than three bowel movements per week, is one of the most frequent gastrointestinal complaints in the United States. Even though irregularity is a common complaint, it is no small matter. Chronic constipation is a significant source of discomfort, and can even cause undesirable alterations in lifestyle for its estimated 2.5 million American sufferers.
If you struggle to maintain regular bowel movements, you may be able to blame one of the following eight causes of chronic constipation.
Fiber is the indigestible roughage that comprises the plant materials in our diet. Because fiber resists digestive enzymes, it moves food through the digestive tract. Inadequate fiber intake, therefore, can block up the movement of the food you eat.
Water is what allows your stool to remain flexible and movable, so dehydration can cause irregularity. When there isn't enough water in your stool, it can grow hardened, compact and stuck inside your bowels. This is why increased water intake is one of the simplest remedies for mild constipation.
Sadly, cheese and milk are known to slow down the bowels. Dairy products are low fiber and high fat, which can bind the structure of your poop into something resembling the block of cheese you consumed at happy hour. Resist the urge to overdo it on the dairy, and your colon will thank you.
They're not called the "jogger's runs" for nothing. Exercise is a top way to encourage regular pooping. All of that jostling, jolting and gravity can keep your digestive tract on the move. If you're not moving your body properly, your gut will follow suit.
I like to call this particular cause of constipation my "worried travel bowels." Any disruption in routine — often caused by traveling — can contribute to chronic constipation. If you struggle with worried travel bowels, you can troubleshoot the problem in advance of your trip by drinking a lot of water, eating fiber and walking as much as possible during your layovers.
If you know you have to use the bathroom, but you resist the urge — often to prevent the pain caused by hemorrhoids — your colon will stretch to accommodate your poop. Unfortunately, doing so will stretch out the muscles of your digestive tract and may lead to future constipation (and, you guessed it, increasingly inflamed hemorrhoids).
Check the label of your medications. If you're taking antacids that contain calcium, or if you're on an iron pill, antidepressant or strong narcotic, you may be at increased risk of irregularity.
Finally, many health conditions can cause constipation. Hypothyroidism, multiple sclerosis, pregnancy, depression, irritable bowel syndrome and colon cancer can all cause uncomfortable irregularity. If you've tried at-home remedies for your chronic constipation, but still don't have relief, make an appointment with your physician to screen for a potential underlying problem.
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