Constipation is defined as having fewer than 4 bowel movements in a week. Constipation, however, is frequently used to describe a noticeable decease in the number of bowel movements of a person, even if that decrease still leaves them above four per week. The symptoms of constipation include infrequent bowel movements, painful bowel movements, bloating, and hard stool.
There are generally two major biological causes of constipation. The first is that the large intestines extract too much water from the stool. This type of constipation is usually caused by medications or dehydration. Certain medications, especially pain medications and certain blood pressure medications can increase the ability of the large intestines to absorb water. This results in harder than normal stool. A dehydrated person will also extract more water than normal from the stool. The second biological cause of constipation is that the muscles surrounding the large intestines do not push the stool through fast enough. This too will have the effect of causing too much water to be removed from the stool, but the causes are different. In this situation, low activity levels in the individual are the cause of the constipation.
There are two basic ways to help prevent constipation using food. However, another important aspect is to increase activity levels. As stated above, a leading cause of constipation is decreased activity levels, which is a reason why constipation is so frequent following surgeries or accidents that result in immobility. Constipation is also frequent in older individuals for this reason.
As far as food, there are to thing a person can do.
1. Increase intake of water and juices. The major problem that causes constipation is not enough water in the stool. Making sure you are well hydrated will allow the large intestines to not have to extract as much water from the feces. Also, food fully saturated with water will have an easier time progressing through the digestive tract. The other thing to watch is to avoid alcohol, caffeine and carbonated beverages as all three things actually increase dehydration, even though you are actually consuming a liquid.
2. Increase your intake of fiber, both soluble and insoluble. Fiber enters our diets mainly from fruits and vegetables and both soluble and insoluble fiber are not absorbed by the body at all. The way fiber in food helps reduce constipation is by giving stool more form as it moves through the large intestines, this allows the muscle contractions to be more effective of moving the stool along at an acceptable rate. Fiber also acts as a cleaning agent for the large intestines and removes material that has been stuck to the walls of the large intestines. Fiber is found in all fruits and vegetables, and is especially high in foods like oatmeal.