If you suffer from chronic constipation, you’re not alone. Find out what causes constipation in women – and four strategies to help you relieve it.
Gas, bloating and constipation are common problems that women struggle with occasionally and even regularly (pun not intended.) In fact, digestive problems are one of the most common reason that people visit their doctor and pharmacy. Having digestive distress is not only uncomfortable but it can cause other problems such as headaches, fatigue and even bad breath.
When it comes to digestive health, there are many factors to consider to keep your system running smoothly.
Women’s bodies and their hormone levels go through many changes throughout the various life stages. From adolescence to pregnancy to menopause, fluctuating levels of the hormones estrogen and progesterone and the stress hormone cortisol can cause a myriad of emotional symptoms such as irritability, anxiety, depression, fatigue and fogginess as well as physical symptoms, such as changes in digestive function and constipation.
Constipation is particularly common during pregnancy and the menopausal years.
During pregnancy, progesterone levels are higher and that causes the smooth muscles of the digestive system to relax, so food passes through the intestines more slowly and stools become drier. As the baby grows there is pressure on a woman’s internal organs, including the colon and rectum, making elimination less efficient.
Prenatal supplements can also contribute to the problem because they contain higher amounts of iron. Some forms of iron tend to be more constipating than others, so do some research when choosing a prenatal.
During menopause a woman’s level of estrogen declines and when estrogen is low that can cause levels of the stress hormone cortisol to rise. The resulting effect is a slowing down of stomach emptying and intestinal movement and the symptoms of gas, bloating and constipation.
In addition to hormonal fluctuations, here are some of the other factors that can throw your digestive system off track:
- Not getting enough physical activity.
- Poor eating habits: inadequate fibre or fluid intake, eating junk food, eating too fast
- Stress: reduces intestinal motility.
- Imbalance in microflora: not enough good bacteria or too much bad bacteria can cause gas, constipation and even impact nutrient absorption
Now that you know what causes constipation, what can you do to support digestive health and stay regular?
Exercise regularly. Exercise improves blood flow and stimulates intestinal and bowel contractions. A 20-minute daily walk is all that it takes.
Regular exercise is also a great way to keep your heart and bones healthy.
There are also certain yoga poses that address the intestinal binding and create movement, through focusing on breath and lower body movement. Here’s a video that can guide you through the poses at home:
Drink more water. Water is essential to maintain hydration and bowel function. The Institute of Medicine recommends that women consume 2.2 liters of water each day. That is equivalent to about 9 glasses of water.
Boost fibre intake by eating lots of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts and seeds. Current Health Canada guidelines recommend that women age 19 to 50 consume 25 grams of fibre daily and those over age 51 consume 21 grams daily. According to recent national surveys most people are only consuming half of the recommended amount.
Consider a fibre supplement. For those who struggle getting enough fibre on a daily basis a supplement can help to bridge that gap. Look for a product that contains a blend of soluble fibres and is free of gluten and other fillers.
Boost your beneficial bacteria. Not having enough “good” bacteria can hinder digestive function and contribute to constipation. Improve your gut microflora by eating fermented foods such as kefir, tempeh and miso and consider taking a probiotic supplement on a regular basis to support digestive health.