By Jake Biggs, Nutrition Longevity
1. Water: Dehydration hardens the stools and can cause immediate constipation. It is imperative to stay hydration for regular bowel movements. Several studies have found that sparkling water to be more effective that tap water at relieving constipation; specifically with individuals with indigestion, dyspepsia or chronic constipation. 2-2.5L daily of water can significantly improve bowel movements.
2. Increase dietary fibre intake: Dietary fibre increases the bulk and consistency of bowel movements, making them easier to pass with also assisting transporting through the digestive system more rapidly. A 2016 review found that 77% of people with chronic constipation benefited from dietary fibre supplementation. However, dramatic increase in dietary fibre intake upsurged abdominal pain, bloating and gas. It is recommended to a slow increase in dietary fibre. It is imperative to incorporate both types of fibre which are soluble and insoluble fibre. Insoluble fibre adds bulk to the stool and provide easy passage through the digestive tract (vegetables, whole grain, bran). Soluble fibre absorbs water with softening the stool forming a gel-like paste and improve bowel consistency. Non-fermentable soluble fibres (psyllium husk) is most optimal for treating constipation with a 2020 review concluding that psyllium to be 3.4 times more potent than insoluble wheat bran for constipation. The Australian Government National Health and Medical Research Council recommends 25g/day females and 30g/day for males.
3. Probiotic rich foods or Probiotic supplement: Probiotics can help prevent chronic constipation. Probiotics are live, beneficial bacteria that naturally occur in the gut. Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus are two such strains. Consuming greater probiotic foods can help improve the gut flora and improve constipation. These include sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh and kefir. A 2019 review concluded that taking a probiotic supplement with a balance of Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus for only a 2 week duration increased stool frequency and stool consistence. Probiotic consumption can further assist constipation treatment by the production of short-chain fatty acids, which can assist gut movement and stool passage.
4. Low FODMAP diet: Fermentable Oligosaccharides Disaccharides Monosaccharides and Polyols (FODMAPS) are a collection of short-chain carbohydrates that aren’t properly absorbed in the gut, which can initiate lower abdominal pain, abdominal distention bloating, flatulence, diarrhoea as well as constipation. High FODMAP based foods (wheat, rye, onions, garlic, legumes, pulses, milk, soft cheese, yoghurt, honey, apples, high fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners. Eliminating high FODMAPS based foods via a low FODMAPS diet is an elimination based diet that has been shown to assist constipation and relieving associated gastrointestinal symptoms.
5. Shirataki noodles (glucomannan): Glucomannan is a type of soluble fibre and research has suggested that it is effective in relieving constipation. It acts as prebiotic by feeding the food bacteria in the gut and improving bowel movements consistency. A study on children that concluded that 45% taking a glucomannan supplement experienced relief from severe constipation, compared with only 13% in the control group with no side effects experienced. Main food source being shirataki noodles.
6. Prebiotic rich foods: Prebiotics is another type of dietary fibre that comes from plant based foods (fruit, vegetables) that act as a potent fertiliser to stimulate growth of healthy bacteria in the gut. Prebiotics can assist bowel movements frequency and improve stool consistency; further improving digestive health. Prebiotic rich foods include chickpeas, leeks, bananas, onions, garlic, chicory root and Jerusalem artichokes.
7. Prunes/Prune Juice: Long considered the gold standard in relieving constipation naturally! Prunes are rich in sorbitol which is a sugar alcohol with potent laxative effects. Trials have shown that prunes to be more effective than fibres (psyllium husk) in improving constipation. Recommended dosage is 50g (7 prunes) twice daily for constipated individuals.
11. Kiwifruit: Kiwifruit is high in the enzymes actinidin which can play a role in promotion of laxation as well as having a high water holding capacity to facilitate stool bulking. A study compared a group of individuals with regular bowel movements and constipated individuals that consuming 2 green kiwifruits daily increased defecation frequency and reduced colonic transit time.