Irregularity can be a painful, irritating, and downright embarrassing problem. But if you are suffering with hardened stools, painful bowel movements, or fewer than three movements a week – you aren’t alone.
It is estimated that today in America, about 33 million adults suffer from chronic irregularity. In addition to that, recent clinical reports indicate that in the United States, irregularity accounts for about 2.5 million visits to the doctor, and a total of 92,000 hospitalizations every year. That’s a lot of pain, anguish, and money spent on tummy troubles.1
If you are suffering with irregular bowel movements that cause pain, it is important to know what you can do to help alleviate the problem. Here are five ways to reduce irregularity, and feel better, fast:
These friendly microorganisms include bacteria and yeasts that live in every area of your body, but most of them call your gastrointestinal system “home.” What’s so great about them is that they work hard to improve the digestive process, making it easier to pass stools. However, there are many unfriendly strains of bacteria and yeasts that also live in your GI tract. These “bad” bacteria are known to cause all types of digestive upset, including irregularity, if they are left to overgrow.
The best way to get your digestive system back on track is to consume more of the friendly strains of bacteria, known as probiotics. They can be found in fermented foods, including cabbage (sauerkraut), pickles, miso soup, yogurt, and kefir. You may also choose to purchase a high-quality comprehensive probiotic supplement to boost the number of friendly bacteria in your gut.2
A recent systematic review of probiotics as a natural therapy for irregularity demonstrated that probiotics were able to significantly improve the number of stools passed per week by participants.3
In another study, probiotic microbiota were shown to greatly improve gastrointestinal motility in subjects.4
2. Sparkling Water
If you love the familiar fizz of soda, you aren’t the only one. That sweet, and bubbly flavor is just how soda lures millions of Americans into consuming loads of empty calories. Scientists have also found that drinking soda (even the diet varieties) has been clinically shown to negatively alter healthy gut bacteria.5
The soda solution? Sparkling water. Not only do you get the fizzy feeling you love from this sugar-free soda alternative, but you’ll also boost your gut health. One study confirmed that drinking carbonated water was able to reduce acid reflux while improving bowel and gallbladder emptying.6
Cutting back on sugary beverages isn’t always easy. So, try this naturally sweet sparkling water recipe, and see if it’s delicious enough to help you kick your soda habit to the curb:
Berry Bliss Sparkling Water Recipe
1 bottle of plain, filtered, sparkling water
½ cup frozen, organic strawberries
½ cup frozen, organic blueberries
1 sprig fresh basil or mint
A drizzle of local honey to taste
Combine all the ingredients above and serve over ice for a slightly sweet, zesty, refreshing treat.
3. Morning Coffee
There is a lot of talk today about the health benefits of coffee. And much of it is true. While coffee gets a bad rap sometimes, one recent study suggested that coffee consumption can increase levels of the powerful antioxidant glutathione, and improve protection against DNA damage, especially following regular/repeated intake.7
Not only that, but for many people, coffee can stimulate the colon into having a bowel movement. This is most common when the coffee is consumed at times when you’d normally have a bowel movement, like when you first wake up in the morning. It is important to note that the results of this study included both regular and decaffeinated coffee.8
Another study revealed that caffeinated coffee was able to stimulate colonic motor activity in participants. Its magnitude was found to be comparable to a meal, and was also determined to be 23 percent stronger than decaffeinated coffee.9
Coffee may also be able to improve digestive regularity through its soluble fiber content. Even though only small amounts of fiber are found in coffee, one study showed that it is just enough to improve the balance of bacteria in the gut, helping to improve irregularity.10
Some people suffer with painful bowel movements, which can contribute to irregularity. For this reason, lubricants may help. These are inexpensive products that you can find over the counter or by prescription from your doctor.
They work by coating the surface of your stool, making elimination less painful, and easier. Essentially, these are the most cost effective form of laxatives that are commonly recommended for people with anorectal blockage.11
When all else fails, you may want to try a laxative. You can purchase them over the counter at your local pharmacy, or you can get a prescription from your doctor. Either way, it may do the trick to get your GI tract back in order. But before you take that step, talk to your doctor about which type of laxative would be right for you.
Here are the four most common types of laxatives:
- Bulking Agent.
These are fiber based laxatives that work to draw more water into your GI tract to make passing stools easier.
- Stool Softener.
Usually, these types of laxatives contain oils to soften stools. This can make defecating less painful and more reliable.
- Stimulant Laxative.
These formulas work by stimulating the nerves inside your gastrointestinal tract, to increase bowel movements.
- Osmotic Laxative.
This is a type of laxative that draws water into your GI tract to soften stools, and make them easier to pass. One well-known form of osmotic laxatives includes magnesium citrate – a liquid shown to clean out the bowels.
In addition to a pharmaceutical laxative, you may opt for a more natural option, like prunes. This sweet fruit has been used for centuries to relieve irregularity due to its content of a chemical compound known as sorbitol. This is technically considered a sugar alcohol, but it provides a laxative effect, as studies have confirmed.12
NOTE: Always check with your doctor or pharmacist about laxatives before using them, as prolonged use can cause serious damage to a healthy digestive tract.
How to Prevent Irregularity
There are many different reasons you could be suffering with irregular bowel movements. Here are four of the most common causes:
1. Poor Diet. Many people today don’t realize just how much junk food they are really eating. That’s because an estimated 70 percent of the foods you can find on grocery store shelves today contain highly processed ingredients, artificial colors, large amounts of added sugar, and some other 5,000 additives. What’s so shocking is that these include so-called “health” foods like protein bars, cereal, and even fruit juices.13
These foods are known to contribute to irregularity, so avoid them if you’re having constipation problems. Instead, health professionals suggest eating more natural foods like fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to get more nutrients into your GI tract. This has been shown to help prevent irregularity.14
Also, remember that part of maintaining good digestive health includes drinking plenty of water.
2. Regular Exercise. You don’t have to become a professional runner or gym enthusiast to exercise. In fact, just a 15-minute walk every day is enough to get your heart pumping, and it’s a great way to get outside, too. Not only that, but a National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey revealed that low physical activity doubled the risk of chronic irregularity in adults.15 The takeaway: Get moving, and you’ll get moving.
3. Eating Fiber. When people become irregular, they often turn to high-fiber foods, or fiber supplements. However, research has shown that reducing fiber intake may actually worsen symptoms of irregularity.16
4. Taking More Care. The current position most people poop in is all wrong. In one study, researchers found that the squatting position was the best for bowel emptying. So, you may want to elevate your body with a special squatting seat to ease the elimination process. Not only that, but in the same study scientists found that most people do not allow enough time needed for defecation – in any position. So, take your time, and enjoy your “go” time.17
Easing Irregularity for Good
Doctors know that irregularity can be more than just a troublesome nuisance. Over time, chronic irregularity can even lead to serious complications of the gastrointestinal system, and land you in the emergency room. If you notice pain, or difficulty passing stool more than three times a week, check with your doctor immediately to talk about possible remedies, including these five natural ways to relieve irregularity.
If you have continual problems controlling the muscles of your GI tract, you may be able to get a recommendation from your doctor for what is known as biofeedback. In these sessions, a video monitor is used to show the measurement of the functions within your digestive system. Then, your doctor can read them as line graphs. After reviewing the graphs, your doctor may be able to help you learn how to re-train your body and improve bowel muscle function.
If that doesn’t, work, there are also surgical options for more serious colon and GI problems. So, don’t ignore your tummy troubles or blow them off, as addressing them quickly is the key to preventing further health complications.
For more health tips and delicious recipes, keep reading:
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13. Melanie Warner. Pandora’s Lunchbox.
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