Five foods that help to relieve chronic constipation

Constipation is infrequent bowel movement or difficult to pass stool. If this condition persists for a few weeks or longer, then it can be considered as chronic.

Having difficulty passing stool? It is a sign of constipation.

Many people would complain of constipation if they observed reduced stool frequency or straining to pass stool based on their own perception of what is normal for them. However, in general, having bowel movements fewer than three times a week with mostly lumpy or hard stools are considered constipation [1]. Many older people face the problem of chronic constipation, estimated at about 20% of the elderly population [2]. Living with constipation can be not only annoying and frustrating but can also negatively affect one’s physical health, mood, energy level, and social activities [3].

Eating high-fibre breakfast cereal is a good way to increase dietary fibre consumption and avoid constipation.

Diet plays an important role to address the symptoms of chronic constipation. Increasing consumption of dietary fibre is a natural way to alleviate chronic constipation without the need for medication [4]. Dietary fibre can increase stool weight and improve stool consistency by retaining fluid in the stool. Hence, fibre supplementation is recommended to improve symptoms of chronic constipation. Here are five high-fibre food items that have been proven against chronic constipation.

Bran

Oat bran – the outer layer of the oat grain.

Bran is the hard outer layers of cereal grain. The most common types of bran available are wheat, rice, and oat.  Cereal bran is a great source of dietary fibre. Cereal bran can be added into the diet in many ways, such as sprinkling on breakfast cereal, mixing into yogurt, or adding into bread or cake dough before baking. A study showed that adding only 20g/day of wheat bran into the diet can improve bowel movement frequency and stool weight [5]. This is only about 5 tablespoons of wheat bran every day. So, start adding them into your meal daily.

Psyllium

Psyllium husk

Psyllium husk is a common remedy for constipation. It is derived from the seeds of a type of plantain plant called Plantago ovata [6]. Psyllium has a high content of arabinoxylan, a type of fibre that cannot be digested by the human gut. However, some gut bacteria can utilise arabinoxylan as an energy source. Hence, psyllium husk can promote the growth of good bacteria in the digestive tract. Furthermore, psyllium husk can also retain water in the small intestine, which increases stool moisture at the colon. This helps to reduce stool hardness and improve bowel movement [6].

Prune

Prunes are dried plums.

Prunes are dried plums. This dried fruit is a traditional remedy for constipation. It is sweet and more palatable compared to either bran or psyllium, preferred by many to maintain good healthy bowel function. Research has shown that prunes are not only effective in improving stool frequency and consistency, but the effects are also better than psyllium husk [7]. However, for treatment of chronic constipation, taking about 8 to 10 pitted prunes per day (80 – 120g) is needed [8].  

Fig

Dried figs are considered laxative for loosening stool in some cultures.

Like prune, dried fig is another traditional remedy for treating constipation. However, even though dried fig is also high in fibre content, it is more commonly considered as a laxative, that is a substance that increases bowel movement through loosening stool. Research in animal models has shown that it can relieve constipation [9]. 

Flaxseed

Flaxseeds are rich in alpha-linolenic acid, a type of plant-based omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid.

Flaxseed is also called linseed. It is well-known as a rich source of plant-based omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid (alpha-linolenic acid). However, flaxseed is also rich in soluble fibre that can help to relieve constipation. A study with 42 constipated patients with type-2 diabetes found that taking 10g of flaxseed cookies (2 cookies twice daily) as snacks for 12 weeks can improve constipation symptoms better than placebo. In addition, the participants also showed better control of blood glucose, cholesterol, and body weight [10]. Flaxseed oil is also considered a natural laxative [11].

Conclusion

Having a regular bowel movement is important to maintain good health. Chronic constipation not only affects physical, emotional, and social well-being. Moreover, chronic constipation is also linked to an increased risk of gastrointestinal cancers [12]. Increasing fibre intake is a good way to improve bowel movement. Cereal bran, psyllium husk, prune, fig, and flaxseed are five high fibre foods that can help to ease chronic constipation. Take these foods regularly!

References

[1]        M. Forootan, N. Bagheri, M. Darvishi, Chronic constipation: A review of literature, Medicine (Baltimore). 97 (2018) e10631–e10631. doi:10.1097/MD.0000000000010631.

[2]        M. Vazquez Roque, E.P. Bouras, Epidemiology and management of chronic constipation in elderly patients, Clin. Interv. Aging. 10 (2015) 919–930. doi:10.2147/CIA.S54304.

[3]        L. Munch, N. Tvistholm, I. Trosborg, H. Konradsen, Living with constipation—older people’s experiences and strategies with constipation before and during hospitalization, Int. J. Qual. Stud. Health Well-Being. 11 (2016) 30732. doi:10.3402/qhw.v11.30732.

[4]        J. Yang, H.-P. Wang, L. Zhou, C.-F. Xu, Effect of dietary fiber on constipation: a meta analysis, World J. Gastroenterol. 18 (2012) 7378–7383. doi:10.3748/wjg.v18.i48.7378.

[5]        D. Badiali, E. Corazziari, F.I. Habib, E. Tomei, G. Bausano, P. Magrini, F. Anzini, A. Torsoli, Effect of wheat bran in treatment of chronic nonorganic constipation. A double-blind controlled trial, Dig. Dis. Sci. 40 (1995) 349–356. doi:10.1007/bf02065421.

[6]        J. Jalanka, G. Major, K. Murray, G. Singh, A. Nowak, C. Kurtz, I. Silos-Santiago, J.M. Johnston, W.M. de Vos, R. Spiller, The Effect of Psyllium Husk on Intestinal Microbiota in Constipated Patients and Healthy Controls, Int. J. Mol. Sci. 20 (2019) 433. doi:10.3390/ijms20020433.

[7]        E. Lever, J. Cole, S.M. Scott, P.W. Emery, K. Whelan, Systematic review: the effect of prunes on gastrointestinal function, Aliment. Pharmacol. Ther. 40 (2014) 750–758. doi:10.1111/apt.12913.

[8]        E. Lever, S.M. Scott, P. Louis, P.W. Emery, K. Whelan, The effect of prunes on stool output, gut transit time and gastrointestinal microbiota: A randomised controlled trial, Clin. Nutr. 38 (2019) 165–173. doi:10.1016/j.clnu.2018.01.003.

[9]        X. Wang, J. Yin, Complementary and Alternative Therapies for Chronic Constipation, Evidence-Based Complement. Altern. Med. 2015 (2015) 396396. doi:10.1155/2015/396396.

[10]      N. Soltanian, M. Janghorbani, A randomized trial of the effects of flaxseed to manage constipation, weight, glycemia, and lipids in constipated patients with type 2 diabetes, Nutr. Metab. (Lond). 15 (2018) 36. doi:10.1186/s12986-018-0273-z.

[11]      A. Hanif Palla, A.-H. Gilani, Dual effectiveness of Flaxseed in constipation and diarrhea: Possible mechanism, J. Ethnopharmacol. 169 (2015) 60–68. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2015.03.064.

[12]      J. Sundbøll, S.K. Thygesen, K. Veres, D. Liao, J. Zhao, H. Gregersen, H.T. Sørensen, Risk of cancer in patients with constipation, Clin. Epidemiol. 11 (2019) 299–310. doi:10.2147/CLEP.S205957.

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