It is normal to experience constipation from time to time, but chronic constipation can be harmful to your digestive health. The definition of constipation is having three or fewer bowel movements in one week. It also can refer to straining to have a bowel movement, or passing hardened, dry stools. There are many reasons that you may be constipated, and the sooner you understand what is causing your constipation, the sooner you can get relief.
Here are some common causes of constipation:
1. Dehydration—You have probably heard that you should drink 8 glasses of water per day, but that may not be enough. According to the Institute of Medicine, men should drink at least 104 ounces of water per day (13 cups) and women should drink at least 72 ounces (9 cups).
2. Poor diet—In our fast-paced society, we gravitate toward pre-packaged, preserved or fast foods that are high in fat and low in fiber. Fiber is a necessary component of a healthy diet, but few people eat enough dietary fiber. Fiber helps you feel full, creates bulk in the intestines and moves digested food more swiftly through the gastrointestinal
tract. Men should consume at least 35 grams of fiber per day and women should consume at least 25 grams of fiber per day.
3. Alcohol and caffeine—Both alcohol and caffeine can cause dehydration, so limit yourself to an occasional alcoholic drink and choose decaffeinated beverages like soda and tea.
4. Medications—Talk to your doctor if you are taking diuretics, antacids (with aluminum and calcium), narcotics, antidepressants, supplements, anticonvulsants, or blood pressure medicine. Any of these medications could be contributing to constipation.
5. Dairy products—Milk, yogurt, cheese and ice cream are delicious, but tend to be “binding.” Dairy is slow to digest and can cause bloating, cramping and constipation.
Keeping a journal of your food intake and bowel habits can be helpful in identifying the root cause of your constipation. You may find that simply drinking more water will resolve your issue, so use a fitness app or set a daily calendar reminder to alert yourself to hydrate your body. If constipation persists, don’t just ignore it or try to live with it. Make an
appointment with your primary care physician or gastroenterologist for further testing.