By Michael A. Smith, MDconstipation is usually not a big deal. For most of us, with better hydration, it resolves itself without much of a hassle.
However, chronic bouts of constipation are not only uncomfortable, but also can inflame your colon’s mucosal lining. This inflammation can cause bowel motility problems in the future.
The problem with chronic constipation is that no one really knows how to define it or treat it. The conventional approach usually involves bowel stimulants which can be unpredictable and ineffective.
Not only that, but who wants to have to rely on bowel stimulants for long periods of time? They're just not a good option for effective relief.
Mixing Fibers and Probiotics Shows Promise for ConstipationResearchers from the Univeristy of Sao Paulo reported that mixing fructooligosaccharides with two probiotics, Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria, improved the number of bowel movements in people with chronic constipation after 30 days of supplementation.1
Combining prebiotic fibers with probiotics is known as a synbiotic. The prebiotics in this case were called fructooligosaccharides. This is a non-digestible fiber that provides a beneficial effect by stimulating growth of healthy gut bacteria. Or to put it another way … prebiotics are the food source for the probiotics.
For this study, the researchers recruited 100 women with constipation and assigned them to either two doses of the synbiotic or a placebo. The results showed that the frequency of bowel movements increased in the synbiotic group, but no changes in bowel movement were noted in the placebo group.
Additionally, the researchers reported that stool consistency and shape improved for the synbiotic group. This positive change in stool resulted in less severe abdominal symptoms and a decrease in the intensity of constipation.
The researchers were satisfied with the results, but insisted that larger clinical trials are necessary before any conclusions can be made. But at this point in time, synbiotics look promising as a safe treatment for people with chronic constipation.
Lifestyle Suggestions for Chronic ConstipationIncrease your fiber intake and add more fruits and vegetables to your diet. Whole grains, bran and legumes can also help if consumed daily. They are among the foods that offer the most fiber per serving and they encourage the growth of bacteria in the colon, adding to stool bulk.
Cut back on low-fiber foods such as meats, cheeses, and processed foods. And definitely drink plenty of water — about eight full glasses a day. As you increase your intake of fiber, you may also need to step up your fluid intake.
Keep in mind that caffeine-containing drinks such as coffee, tea, and colas have a mildly dehydrating effect on the body, but they do promote contractions in the bowel and can sometimes facilitate bowel movements.
Lastly, exercise. Exercise is an important factor in the management of constipation. Regular exercise, especially abdominal muscle exercises, and brisk walking can help manage constipation and aid in digestion.
See Your Doctor if Your Bowel Habits Change AbruptlyAmong middle-aged or elderly people, severe constipation or an abrupt change in bowel habits should prompt a thorough medical evaluation.
Patients should be screened for thyroid hormone levels as well as electrolyte levels — such as potassium, calcium, glucose, and creatinine. Other measures might include evaluation of your stool for blood and white blood cells.
Colorectal screening is mandatory in patients older than 50 years who experience a change in bowel habits. Screening tests include a sigmoidoscopy or a colonoscopy and possibly a barium enema. These tests are used to detect colorectal cancer and diverticular disease.
The bottom line is this: Managing chronic constipation without stimulants is possible. Consider taking a synbiotic, be sure to exercise, and improve your diet for safe and effective relief!
- J. Clinical Nutrition. Aug 24, 2012. Doi: 10.1016/j.clnu.2012.08.010
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