There are many aliments brought on by poor diet, but one of the most common and often the first indication that our diet is inadequate is constipation. It is the direct result of not taking in enough fibre to help the body rid itself of waste products. Moreover, the strain of trying to pass the ensuing small, hard motions from the bowel can lead to further complications such as piles.

So what’s normal?

According to received medical wisdom there is no standard frequency that denotes “normal” bowel movements – it varies considerably from person to person, with some regularly passing three movements a day and others one every three days. However, nutritionists and colonics experts agree that everyone should pass a motion at least twice a day.

Everyone is prone to occasional constipation as, for whatever reason, our environment, diet, or drinking water change – if you are visiting friends in a different part of the country, for example, you could be constipated for a few days until your body adjusts or until you return to your customary eating habits and drinking water.

This is perfectly normal and nothing to worry about. A better indication of constipation is if, during the normal course of events, your stools are small and hard and you pass them only infrequently. Moreover, if your constipation lasts more than three days, it is worth seeking advice from a physician. In rare cases, constipation, particularly if there is blood in the stools when you do finally pass a motion, can signal cancer of the bowel.

What causes constipation?

Apart from the most common culprit of not enough fibre in our food, other causes of constipation include eating too much meat or dairy produce, not drinking enough fluids (fibre needs water to form soft motions), food allergy, lack of exercise, ignoring the need to pass a motion, dependence on laxatives, the side-effects of some medicines, pregnancy (the pregnancy hormone progesterone relaxes the muscles of the intestine, which slows down bowel movements, making you more likely to become constipated), anxiety, stress, and tension.

Surprisingly, stress figures largely in the cases of constipation for some patients. Exercise has an important and long-term role not only in relieving stress but in keeping constipation at bay. T’ai Chi, yoga, and aerobic exercise are all recommended.

How can we help?

Identifying the cause of constipation, is paramount to its treatment. Eating lots of vegetables, brown rice, whole grains, and drinking lots of water but not with food may all help. Contrary to popular belief, wheat should be avoided, especially wheat bran, since this irritates the bowel. In addition, you should cut out diuretics such as coffee, salt, sugar, and alcohol. Supplements may also be recommended, particularly if you have been taking laxatives, which increase the risk of vitamin and mineral deficiency. Tests with Bio-lab can be done to establish any deficiencies.