Constipation and Bloating

In Britain we spend more money on laxatives than any other country in Europe and still manage to suffer chronic constipation.  Infrequent bowel movements can have a number of causes.  The vast majority of people who complain of constipation could find relief if they were to take more exercise such as regular walking – and change their diet.  Regular stomach exercises are very useful as they encourage waste matter to move through the bowel more quickly.

In the West we tend to eat far too many foods based on flour.  If you mix flour and water together you get a thick glue like paste which tends to block the bowel rather like a cork in a wine bottle.  Melted cheese has a similar affect.  Lack of water is a major cause of constipation.  Far too many people drink caffeinated beverages, alcoholic drinks and fizzy canned drinks and juices but tea, coffee and alcohol can all if taken to excess dehydrate the bowel – you need to make the effort to drink more water.  It is crucial not to become dependent on laxatives as they have a tendency to make the bowel lazy in the long-term and deplete the body of vital nutrients.  Constipation can also denote irritable bowel syndrome especially if it alternates with diarrhoea, gas, bloating and general discomfort.  Foods like meat tend to progress more slowly through the bowel so it is important when you do eat meat that you accompany it with plenty of vegetables or brown rice, which are rich in fibre.

Also when food is inadequately digested, it often stays in the bowel too long.  If you then eat a large portion of fruit after a heavy meal this can trigger fermentation which further aggravates the situation.  Candida and food sensitivities can also cause constipation –
See Candida help sheet.

Antibiotics and pain killers can add to the problem.


Foods to Avoid:

Low fibre foods such as jelly, ice cream and soft desserts, all white flour products and refined breakfast cereals which contain virtually no fibre.  Reduce your intake of meat, coffee, tea, alcohol and fizzy drinks. Also avoid foods to which you have an intolerance. (This is usually the foods that you eat the most such as wheat and cow’s milk).  For instance cow’s milk was found to be responsible for a lot of infant constipation and this has been confirmed by a number of studies.  Cut down on full fat cheeses and don’t eat melted cheese over food – it sets like plastic in the bowel.


Friendly Foods:

Eat more bran as it is an insoluble fibre derived from rice, soya or oats.  The insoluble fibre is needed to stimulate the bowel to work properly.  Wheat bran is fine so long as you don’t have an intolerance to wheat, otherwise this can actually aggravate the problem.  Try eating more brown rice and beans like black-eyed beans, kidney, haricot, butter and cannellini beans. Linseeds are a blend of insoluble and soluble fibres which bulk the stool, encouraging it to move gently through the bowel.  Whole wheat rye bread, Ryvita type crispbreads or amaranth crackers can be eaten as an alternative to wheat based bread.

Other high fibre foods are fresh and dried figs, blackcurrants, ready to eat dried apricots and prunes, almonds, hazelnuts, fresh coconut and all mixed nuts.  All lightly cooked crisp vegetables and salads will add more fibre to your diet.  Eat more, live, low fat yoghurts which contain healthy bacteria – a lack of which can exacerbate constipation.  Drink at least 6 glasses of water daily.

Useful Remedies:

Dr Gillian McKeith’s Living Food Energy 1 – 2 teaspoons a day, this blend of fibres and nutrients helps improve bowel function and digestion.  Available from all health shops.  Acidophilus, bifidus are healthy bacteria which can be taken after a meal particularly if constipation has started after antibiotics.  Add a heaped dessertspoon of cracked linseeds to any breakfast cereal, yoghurt or over salads to ensure a good supply of both insoluble and soluble fibres.  Vitamin C powder with added calcium and magnesium, 1 level teaspoon 2 – 3 times a day for a few days can help soften the stool and increase the frequency of bowel movement, magnesium helps to tone the bowel muscles.  One of the best ways I have found to eliminate constipation is to replace one meal a day with a fruit and vegetable blend whilst eliminating all flour from any source for at least 2 days. I put half a cup of aloe vera juice, a banana, an apple, blueberries and any fruit I have to hand, plus a teaspoon of any good green food mix, a teaspoon of sunflower seeds, a dessertspoon of linseeds and a teaspoon of olive oil into my blender.  To this I add half a cup of organic rice milk and blend. It’s delicious and packed with fibre.  On alternate days I make a vegetable juice to which I still add the aloe vera juice but not the rice milk.

Arabinogalactan (AG), a fibre from the larch tree, is very useful in the treatment of constipation.  It acts as a normal stool softener which helps to normalise bowel movements. Also when AG enters the colon, it reacts with existing bacteria to produce short chain fatty acids (SCFAs).  These are a good food source of friendly bacteria in the gut and promote a lower pH in the colon, which in turn promotes peristaltic movement.  Try one capsule twice daily.  For details call the NutriCentre on 0207 436 5122 or ask at your local health store.

Add 2 teaspoons of psyllium husks to cereal and drink two glasses of water immediately.

Helpful Hints:

  • It is very important that you eliminate any underlying causes for your constipation. Visit your GP and make sure there is nothing more serious going on.  Do not strain when you have a bowel movement as this places a strain on the vascular system and can, over time, lead to varicose veins or piles.  Remember rather than fall asleep after every meal, go for a leisurely walk.  This will make you feel better, aid digestion and encourage healthier bowels.  When you feel the need to pass a motion, be sure not to ignore the signal; take the time to read a magazine on the loo!
  • For healthy bowel movements you need about a pint of fluid in between each meal to get waste moving through successfully.  Stress is a major factor.  When you add more fibre to your diet and you’re not used to it, it is essential that you drink more water.  Adding fibre without more fluid can actually aggravate the problem.
  • In the elderly a lack of folic acid has sometimes been found to be the cause of constipation, therefore, supplementing with folic acid in the form of a good quality multi-vitamin and mineral should help.
  • In infants there is a common link with cow’s milk and constipation.  Infant’s on formula rather than breast milk will benefit from a children’s acidophilus powder.
  • In adults it isn’t just milk, a number of foods can cause constipation if you are intolerant to them.  Identifying them is a very worthwhile exercise.
  • For severe constipation especially after surgery – and with your doctor’s permission – try colonic irrigation.  I have a colonic regularly as a thorough cleanse especially if I am forced to take antibiotics which cause me real problems!  You can also give yourself a home colonic.  It helps to re-educate the peristaltic movements and is called the Clysmatic, which is easy to use.  Available from good chemists.

Hope all these ideas help you to keep moving!