Constipation is one of the most common health conditions in the United States, but out of embarrassment, or the sheer risk of divulging too much personal information, it should come as no surprise that it’s rarely discussed in social settings. However, it’s so common, that approximately 14% of American adults suffer from it, which accounts for nearly 3.2 million medical visits each year (and that’s just what has been reported!). So, let’s talk about it.
Although constipation can be persistent and uncomfortable, there are plenty of diet and lifestyle tips that can help ease the pain associated with it. It goes without saying that dietary fiber, good hydration, and regular exercise are some of the most important factors. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommends a daily fiber intake of 25-38 grams per day, depending on age and gender. Unfortunately, the vast majority of Americans do not even come close to meeting these daily recommendations. Furthermore, if you’re following a popular diet that may limit your grain intake, such as paleo, keto or gluten-free, you should be careful to include plenty of other fiber rich foods such fruits, vegetables, and legumes where appropriate. Increasing your fiber intake to meet these daily requirements, along with drinking plenty of water and staying active, may reduce your risk of constipation.
Along with dietary changes, there are three nutritional supplements that have shown the most promise in reducing the discomfort associated with constipation:
Magnesium naturally relaxes muscles and has been considered safe to use on a regular basis for mild constipation. Common dosages are 250 mg-400 mg/day. It is generally not recommended to take over 400mg/day as this can cause unpleasant gastrointestinal side effects including diarrhea.
Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin which has the ability to pull water into your intestines and promote bowel movements. While vitamin C may be beneficial, too much vitamin C, in dosages above 2000 mg/day, may cause diarrhea, nausea and upset stomach.
Probiotics have been touted for their ability to help ease a variety of digestive issues, including constipation. A recent clinical trial published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded that, on average, probiotic intake increased the number of weekly bowel movements, and helped to soften stool, which made for easier bowel movements. The study found that probiotic preparations that contained Bifidobacterium appeared to be the most effective.
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