It’s ok to talk about constipation because we all have bowel movements!
Constipation happens when we experience hard to pass or infrequent bowel movements, hard or lumpy stools, or when our bowel movements leave us with the feeling of being incomplete. Irregular or difficult bowel habits can be uncomfortable, disruptive to our daily routines, and decrease our feeling of wellbeing. Added together constipation can affect our mood, decrease our comfort and restrict our quality of life. In recent years there has been lots of media coverage and corporate advertising giving attention to gut-health including the use of pre- and pro-biotics.
The first step towards improving digestive health is understanding what is normal for you and that not everyone needs to have a bowel movement each day. Perceptions of constipation often vary based upon our own personal experience, family, and culture. While approximately 38% of the population reports symptoms of constipation it is normal for all of us to experience some of these symptoms from time to time depending on the foods we are eating.
In most cases constipation is a symptom, not a disease. Not eating enough fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can contribute to the symptoms of constipation. Often constipation can be managed through changes to your diet, drinking more fluids, and exercise. There are even some new and exciting natural health products that offer solutions to improve bowl health and regularity.
At Great Lakes Clinical Trials, we study digestive function by researching various probiotics and prebiotics to understand the mechanisms by which they can improve gut bacteria while gently offering laxative effects. As an example kiwi fiber acts as a prebiotic promoting good gut bacteria. Additionally, research has shown kiwi fibers have the capacity to swell up to 12x greater than traditional wheat bran adding much needed bulk to stool. Actinidin, an enzyme found exclusively in green kiwifruit, acts to enhance the digestion of food proteins.
These supplements have the potential to offer naturally sourced alternatives to many traditional over the counter laxative treatments. Ideally laxatives should only be used occasionally as needed for short periods. Frequent and long-term use can have unforgiving repercussions on digestive health including resulting in laxative dependency. This may decrease the ability of the gut to function normally making the symptoms of constipation worse. Some types of laxatives can adversely interact with the medicines we require and/or disrupt normal electrolyte balance affecting several bodily functions including in the colon, heart, and nervous system.
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