If you're prone to constipation, you're not alone. It can be downright uncomfortable, to say the very least. But why are you so constipated?
There are numerous common causes of constipation, which range in type and severity. From extreme constipation to causes of severe constipation and the constipated face you make when your gut is on strike, we’ve got you covered.
What is constipation?
Constipation is when your bowel movements, (a.k.a. poop) are hard and lumpy, painful or difficult to pass, and you’re unable to go more than three days a week.
What causes constipation?
Well, the obvious culprits include a low fibre diet, repeatedly ignoring the urge to go, not drinking enough water, or a lack of exercise. But constipation also has other, less well-known causes, including certain medications and supplements, as well as potentially serious medical conditions.
Here are 10 possible causes of constipation you may not have considered.
1. You’re not eating enough fibre
Your constipation may be due to a low intake of fibre. Fibre is a plant-based nutrient that can’t be completely broken down by your body. As a result, it passes through your digestive tract fairly intact.
Fibre helps build stool bulk that’s essential for having regular bowel movements. Fibre also helps speed up the transit time of things that are moving through your bowels, helping to keep you regular.
A diet without adequate fibre will have the opposite effect, making movements irregular and hard to pass. So, when you don’t enough of it, you can end up constipated. What’s fascinating about fibre is that it aids bowel movements in many different ways, which is why low-fibre diets are always at the top of the list for chronic constipation causes.
2. You’re not drinking enough water
Hydration, like fibre, is key for healthy digestion. Water is a crucial element in being able to poop regularly. Our stool is formed in the large intestine, where water is reabsorbed. Your body needs water in the large intestine to help eliminate stool from the body. But that’s not all that happens. Water also cycles through your colon throughout the day. So without adequate amounts, it becomes more difficult.
Hard and lumpy stools are a trademark sign of the constantly constipated, and they are telling you that too much water has been out of your bowel contents, leaving them drier, harder, and more difficult to pass. Not sure if you’re having enough? Here are 11 Things That Happen to Your Body When You Don’t Drink Enough Water
Make sure you are drinking enough water each day, especially if you work out or live in a hot, dry climate because getting dehydrated may be the answer to your question: why am I so constipated?
3. You’re constantly Traveling
When your daily schedule is thrown for a loop, you may experience constipation. Your gut gets into a routine based on the food you eat and the schedule you keep. But when you travel, these things dramatically change, which has a profound effect on how your gut works. This can lead to constipation or diarrhoea, which should resolve once you’re back to your usual routine.
The physical act of travelling doesn’t necessarily cause constipation, but factors related to it can. A lot of it has to do with a change in your routine, but people also tend to drink less water on the go, eat lower-fibre meals, and be a little more stressed than usual—and all of that can increase your risk of getting stopped up.
There’s a quick remedy to this: Try to eat as close to normal as possible on vacation. If you know you’re going on a trip, but you eat a fibre-fortified cereal every morning, or something of that nature, consider taking some along with you. Here are 6 Healthy Travel Snacks.
4. You’re Lacking in Physical Activity
Good muscle tone, particularly in the abdominal wall and diaphragm, is necessary for regular bowel movements. This can be achieved via regular exercise and staying active throughout the day. Getting up and moving around also helps gets things moving in your digestive tract.
On the other hand, a sedentary lifestyle can weaken the abdominal wall and diaphragm, making it difficult for the large intestine to properly regulate bowel movements. I’ve seen many patients who are on a consistent exercise schedule and become constipated when they stop. Exercise is also beneficial for your mood and stress management.
Changing what your body is used to can affect various systems in your body, including making your intestines process food differently.
5. You’re super stressed out
Stress can also come into play here, as it can contribute to constipation by causing the body to release a hormone called epinephrine. This hormone, responsible for the “fight or flight” response, redirects blood flow from the intestine to more vital organs, like the heart, lungs, and brain. The lack of blood flow in the intestine thus slows down the digestive process.
Emotional and mental stress can also make the body release more corticotrophin-releasing factor (CRF), another hormone. This hormone can slow down intestinal movements, ultimately causing constipation.
Depression causes a general slowdown of the body’s normal processes, which can also affect the bowel. Stress or lack of sleep (or both, since they are so often linked) can influence your enteric nervous system, which can make you backed up.
6. You have Hormonal Changes
Just about every bodily function is controlled by hormones, and bowel movements are no exception. That said, it’s common for hormonal fluctuations to cause bouts of constipation. A common example is a spike in estrogen—the female reproductive hormone—that happens before menstruation. High levels of estrogen can delay gastric emptying, leading to constipation.
Low estrogen levels, which happen during menopause, can have a similar effect. As estrogen levels decline in menopause, cortisol levels rise, which slow down the digestive process. Constipation may also be linked to hormonal changes related to pregnancy or hyperthyroidism.
7. You’re on Certain Medications
Several medications have been associated with constipation, including:
• Iron supplements
Painkillers, specifically narcotics, can cause constipation. A lot of receptors for the narcotic class of drugs are in the digestive tract, so it tends to bring everything to a halt. Even if patients are just taking a ton of TUMS, you can get constipated from those.
Some studies have suggested that there might be a higher risk of constipation for people who are chronic users of pain relievers like aspirin and ibuprofen, as these drugs can damage the protective barrier of the gut. Iron supplements—which are taken for anaemia—and psychiatric medications can also slow down the gut, resulting in constipation.
Calcium supplements may also cause constipation, especially in the elderly who might be taking them more to boost bone health. The mechanism related to constipation is when high calcium levels result in decreasing smooth muscle contraction of the gut. Here are 10 Non-Dairy Calcium-Rich Foods.
8. You’re Regularly Ignoring the Urge to Go
Whether you’re away from home or busy with work, it can be tempting to ignore nature’s calls. However, doing so can lead to constipation or worsen existing symptoms.
Your body has certain times that it likes to poop (again, this varies for everyone!) and ignoring the cues that you have to go to can cause constipation. Your gut squeezes in waves to move food and waste through. In turn, if you regularly decide to hold it in, this continuously disrupts the waves and, over some time, will affect your gut motility to the point where you develop constipation.
When you don’t go to the bathroom, it sits in the large intestine, and water continues to be absorbed from it, making it harder to pass. Don’t resist the urge to poop–seriously. It’s healthy to have a bowel movement at about the same time (or times) every day. So, if you gotta go, then go.
9. You’re overdoing it on the dairy
Full-fat dairy can cause constipation due to its high fat/low fibre content. Fat can slow digestion, while sensitivity to lactose (milk sugar) can present as diarrhoea or constipation. Either cut down on your dairy intake or balance the scales by mixing more foods into your diet that contain fibre.
While all dairy products have the potential to stop you up, cheese seems to be the biggest digestive troublemaker—not because it’s inherently constipating but because many people eat it instead of healthier fibre-filled foods. Similarly, a diet high in cheese and other high-fat foods such as eggs and meat can slow down your digestion. Eating a lot of this melty, delicious food is one of the main explanations for constipation.
Make sure that you save room in your stomach for a fibre-filled fare. If you’re going to have cheeses and red meat and eggs, mix in some salads or other foods that have fibre. The obvious solution is? Increase fibre intake to 20 to 35 grams a day.
Related: The Best Time to have Milk
10. You’re struggling with disordered eating
Women who have an eating disorder may limit fibre-rich foods that make them feel full, or beverages, to cut calories. Doing this can wreak havoc on the digestive system. Those who suffer from disordered eating may also overuse or misuse certain types of laxatives. Since laxatives stimulate bowel activity, relying on them too much can lead to more constipation.
Over time, the nerve cells that release the necessary chemicals for your colon to do its thing end up depleted. This leads to your body needing higher and higher doses of laxatives to do the trick—until eventually, they don’t work at all. More of a problem is that when they stop working, the other simple measures that we might try have less chance of working as well because those stimulatory neurons are now dead.
Related: Binge Eating Disorder
Home Remedies for Constipation
Constipation may be uncomfortable, but it’s possible to reduce the strain by adopting certain healthy habits. Try these Foods That Help You Poop and Relieve Constipation