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Your last bowel movement was two days ago. Thinking something is wrong because you heard that healthy adults pass stools daily, you grab your car keys and head to the store to buy some laxatives. But do you really need a laxative?
Despite what you may have heard, a healthy adult does not need to have a bowel movement daily. The human intestine does not have to function on an exact schedule. Some healthy people might pass stools once or twice a day while others only do so three times a week. What is normal and healthy for one person might not be for another. An irregular schedule does not necessarily imply that you are constipated. What is important is that the stools are soft and easy to pass.
What is constipation?
Constipation is the inability to have a bowel movement for a period of three or more days. People who are constipated usually experience dry, hard or painful stools and strain excessively during their bowel movements.
How can I alleviate constipation?
Constipation is usually a temporary discomfort that can be alleviated or prevented through simple lifestyle changes. Here are five changes that you can make to combat constipation:
- Drink plenty of fluids: It is important to drink enough fluids to prevent dehydration. Liquids make bowel movements softer and easier to pass. So, drink plenty of water and other fluids. However, limit caffeinated beverages, such as coffee and soft drinks. They tend to worsen constipation by causing dehydration.
- Exercise regularly: Regular physical exercise stimulates intestinal function, while a lack of exercise can increase your chance of constipation. So, go biking, swimming, running or brisk walking for at least 30 minutes on most days.
- Eat a low fat/high fiber diet: The most common cause of constipation is a diet low in fiber and high in fat and sugary foods. This kind of diet tends to cause or aggravate constipation. So limit or avoid high fat foods, such as cheese, ice cream, fast food and processed products. Instead, consume 20 to 35 grams of fiber daily by incorporating more fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grain products into your diet. And like your mother said, eat those prunes as well as raisins and figs. They are full of dietary fiber. Since dietary fiber isn’t digested and absorbs water, it provides bulk in the intestine making food pass through quicker and bowel movements easier to pass.
- Allow yourself time for a bowel movement: Don’t ignore the urge to go, even if it is at an inconvenient time. The longer you wait, the more water your colon will absorb from your stool, making your stool harder and more difficult to eliminate.
- Limit your use of stimulant laxatives: Many people use laxatives even when they are not constipated because they worry about being irregular. However, relying on laxatives can disrupt normal bowel reflexes, can cause or intensify constipation and over time may affect the function of your colon. So, laxative use should be limited. But a mild laxative may be appropriate in some circumstances, such as when you are traveling and your diet or exercise habits have been altered, causing constipation.
If your constipation lasts more than a week, it might be time to see your doctor because it could be a symptom of a larger underlying problem.
The bottom line:
Not having a daily bowel movement is not necessarily a sign of being unhealthy or constipated. So, don’t automatically reach for a laxative. It may do more harm than good. Instead, drink enough fluids, exercise regularly and eat a diet that is low in fat and high in fiber. And don’t ignore nature’s call. Your health is worth an interruption to your daily routine! So, treat your intestines right and they will pay you back with soft stools that are easy to pass.