Constipation is a functional disturbance of the gastrointestinal tract (gut) in which bowel movements are infrequent or incomplete. One bowel movement per day is considered to be the normal frequency, but may vary according to the habit of the individual. Constipation may be caused by worry and stress, or by a diet which lacks roughage, or by lack of exercise, or by some diseases of the intestines. A sedentary lifestyle and fast food culture, with multiplying aspirations have added to the problem. Purgatives are a group of drugs used to promote the evacuation of faeces from the bowel. A point of caution is that purgatives are one of the much abused drugs by the lay person, specially the elderly, who ultimately become habituated to a daily dose of the purgative.
Today, life has to be lived 'full throttle' in the wake of competition, and exaggerated needs of the individual. This leads to "stress", which in simple language is an agency - physical, chemical, mental, microbial, or environmental - which tries to alter the constant internal environment of the body. This disrupts the internal constancy (homeostasis), and the internal biorhythms of the body are disturbed. Quite a few rhythms of the body are circadian (24-hour cycle) in nature, and bowel movement is one of them. Bowel movement are regulated by the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS), which is functionally involuntary and self-regulating.
Stress perhaps is not a direct cause of constipation. But can alter the body's rhythms and reduce intestinal motility. Long working hours, erratic schedules, meeting deadlines, lack of sleep leads to stress and constipation. Excessive intake of alcohol and caffeine cause dehydration and hardening of stools. People suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) also suffer from constipation or at times diarrhoea, where stress is perhaps the culprit.
Thus, sluggish bowels may be the result of: lack of fibre in diet; insufficient liquid intake; mental stress; some medications; lack of exercise; and bad bowel habits. The following simple steps may be taken to cope with this distressing problem of constipation:
- Drink enough fluids: It is recommended that a minimum of six glasses of liquid, or preferably eight must be a part of every adult's diet. Any fluid may be taken, but 'water' is considered to be the best.
- Eat lots of fibre: Isapgul husk (Isogel) obtained from Indian Plantago seeds may be used to soften and add bulk to the feaces promoting evacuation. Bran, the residue of husks after milling of wheat is a good alternative. Other foods rich in fibre are beans, prunes, figs, raisins, popcorn, oatmeal, pears, and nuts.
- De-stress yourself: Budget your work-time with intervals of suitable distractions to de-stress. Practise yoga and meditation. Slow down and take life easy.
- Toilet train yourself: Do not ignore the urge to defaecate, but attend to "nature's call" promptly.
- Take Regular exercise: Walking is the best exercise to relieve constipation. The youth may take time to go the gym.
- Medications: Certain medicines also cause constipation as a side effect. Common culprits are antacids, antihistamines, calcium supplements, diuretics, sedatives and antidepressants.
There simple steps may relieve constipation, and use of laxatives can be avoided. Proper defeacation is a great reliever of stress. A hearty laugh has a massaging effect on the intestines and helps digestion.