A look into natural treatments for constipation

Aging


Constipation is a relatively common gastrointestinal problem that impacts approximately 16% of the world’s population.1 It is more prevalent in the elderly than the young and in females than males.1,2 The reduced frequency or lack of normal bowel movements linked to constipation can be caused by a variety of factors.1 This includes not drinking enough water, poor nutrition, sedentary behaviours, medication, and may even be a side effect of an illness.1 When dealing with constipation, healthcare providers may first suggest lifestyle changes focused on water intake and diet.2

Mineral water: Increased intake linked to improved gut health

Mineral water comes from natural springs and contains dissolved minerals.3 A 2017 German study found that drinking 500 millilitres of mineral water every day for 6 weeks can improve the frequency of bowel movements.3 The mineral water used in this study was extracted from a spring in Slovenia, and contained a high level of minerals such as sodium, magnesium, calcium, sulfate, and hydrogen carbonate.3

When compared to regular sparkling water, people also reported that drinking mineral water improved constipation, acid reflux, abdominal pain, digestion, and diarrhea – all of which are part of the “Gastrointestinal Symptom Rating Scale”.3 This is a 7-point assessment that allows people to rate personal discomfort levels, with increasing numbers representing increasing discomfort.3 From start to end of the 6-week period, the total rating decreased from 2.33 to 1.81 in people drinking mineral water but only 2.26 to 1.92 in those drinking sparkling water with a low mineral content.

Fiber: Should you consume more or less to relieve constipation?

Unfortunately, the impact of fiber on constipation is not crystal clear as some research studies suggest it may help while others suggest it may contribute to the problem. A 2015 Korean study examined the effects of dietary fiber from chicory, broccoli, whole brown rice, whole wheat, and whole barley.4 A total of 17 grams of fiber were consumed for 4 weeks.4 When compared to people who did not ingest any extra fiber, eating an additional 17 grams per day significantly improved constipation, according to self-reports.4

On the other hand, a 2012 Singaporean study discovered the opposite – that dietary fiber may play a role in exacerbating constipation.5 In 63 cases of constipation due to an unknown cause, researchers looked at whether stopping fiber intake would be beneficial.5 After 2 weeks, people who stopped eating fiber reported a significant improvement in constipation while no change was observed in those who continued to eat their normal amounts of fiber.5

Evidently, there is a lack of consensus in the scientific community with regards to whether you should consume more or less fiber to relieve constipation. The discrepancy in outcomes may be because fiber can increase water retention – which can help with constipation – as well as increase bloating and abdominal discomfort – which may contribute to or worsen constipation.5

Always consult your healthcare provider to help determine the cause of your constipation or any treatment you may need.

References

1.        Forootan M, Bagheri N, Darvishi M. Chronic constipation: A review of literature. Medicine (Baltimore). 2018;97(20). doi:10.1097/MD.0000000000010631

2.        Bellini M, Tonarelli S, Barracca F, et al. Chronic constipation: Is a nutritional approach reasonable? Nutrients. 2021;13(10):1-13. doi:10.3390/nu13103386

3.        Bothe G, Coh A, Auinger A. Efficacy and safety of a natural mineral water rich in magnesium and sulphate for bowel function: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study. Eur J Nutr. 2017;56(2):491-499. doi:10.1007/s00394-015-1094-8

4.        Woo H-I, Kwak SH, Lee Y, Choi JH, Cho YM, Om A-S. A Controlled, Randomized, Double-blind Trial to Evaluate the Effect of Vegetables and Whole Grain Powder That Is Rich in Dietary Fibers on Bowel Functions and Defecation in Constipated Young Adults. J Cancer Prev. 2015;20(1):64-69. doi:10.15430/jcp.2015.20.1.64

5.        Ho KS, Tan CYM, Daud MAM, Seow-Choen F. Stopping or reducing dietary fiber intake reduces constipation and its associated symptoms. World J Gastroenterol. 2012;18(33):4593-4596. doi:10.3748/wjg.v18.i33.4593

Photo by Daria Shevtsova at Pexels





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