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How can constipation be prevented?

In order to help prevent constipation it's important to drink water daily. Eating a well-balanced diet that includes fiber, fruits and vegetables helps as well. Everyone's digestion system is different and there may be foods that seem to cause constipation. Keeping a food diary and logging your meals and your symptoms may help you pinpoint trigger foods and prevent future problems.

Next time you get the munchies, smear a few celery sticks with a couple of tablespoons of peanut butter. Eating lots of water-rich foods (aka celery) and getting adequate magnesium (a la peanut butter) may help keep you regular.

A lack of fiber in the diet is a common culprit in constipation. But not getting enough magnesium or not eating enough water-packed foods may have an impact, too. In fact, women in a recent study were most likely to suffer from constipation if they had low magnesium intake and didn't eat many juicy foods (think watermelon, oranges, peaches, cucumbers, tomatoes).

Although ample research has found that fiber improves or prevents constipation, this recent study didn't. But the researchers think the women's generally low intake of fiber to start with probably affected the results. So don't ditch your high-fiber breads and cereals. Just remember that the key to making them work is to get plenty of water with them.

If you are constipated, you are having trouble with bowel movements (pooping).

Constipation is uncomfortable, but it's usually not serious. In some cases, you may need to see a doctor.

Here are some things you can do to prevent and treat constipation:

  • Eat a healthy diet. Include more vegetables, fruits, beans, and whole grains. These foods have a lot of fiber. Fiber helps make bowel movements easier.
  • Limit low-fiber foods. If you are often constipated, limit foods like ice cream, cheese, and meat.
  • Drink plenty of water. Drink 8 cups of water every day—unless your doctor has told you to limit fluids.
  • Exercise at least 30 minutes every day. Exercise makes your whole body work better.
  • Visit the bathroom more often. Go when you first feel the need to urinate (pee) or have a bowel movement. It's not good to hold things in.
  • Try medicine. You can buy medicine for constipation at the store. Look on the label for the words stool softener or laxative. But don't use laxatives for more than a week. And do not give laxatives to a baby or child unless your doctor says to.

To treat and prevent constipation, try these foods and beverages:

  • Water: Water helps move waste through the bowels and keeps people regular. Plus, it makes stools soft and easier to move through the colon and to pass through the body. Water offers other health benefits like keeping skin in optimal condition and promoting cellular functions.
  • Artichokes: Fiber helps people stay regular. It adds bulk to the stool because it gives the muscles in your digestive tract something to grab onto. And that means food can keep moving through the body. Antioxidant-rich artichokes are brimming with fiber.
  • Apples: Apples are loaded with soluble fiber, which is the type of fiber that absorbs water. So, this soluble fiber helps retain water as it goes through the digestive system. It then helps prevent constipation by giving stools the right consistency to pass easily. Apples also are high in pectin, a naturally occurring fiber.
  • Oatmeal: Oats are a whole grain with both insoluble (which isn't broken down by the gut and absorbed into the bloodstream) and soluble fiber. Plus, they help decrease the risk of diabetes and lower cholesterol.
  • Coffee: Coffee, as well as other hot drinks like herbal tea or hot water with lemon juice (the citric acid in lemon juice stimulates the digestive system), stimulate muscle contractions in the colon, helping relieve constipation.
  • Legumes: Beans, chickpeas, green peas and other legumes pack a fiber punch. Beans contain a fiber-like starch, known as resistant starch, that acts as a mild laxative and helps balance the bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract. Beware that consuming a lot of beans can trigger bloating and gas. So, bean consumption should be increased gradually.
  • Raisins and prunes: Raisins are high in fiber and contain tartaric acid, which offers a laxative effect. And prunes (also known as dried plums) have a compound that triggers intestinal contractions, giving you the urge to push out waste. So, prunes act as a mild laxative.

This content originally appeared on HealthyWomen.org.

Dr. Heather E. McDougall, MD
Gastroenterologist

Constipation is slow moving of feces in the large intestine causing hard stools that are difficult to pass. When stool is held in the large intestine for long periods of time, more and more water is absorbed from the stool, making it harder and drier. Constipation can be prevented by drinking at least 64 oz. of water per day, exercising regularly, increasing fiber intake with raw fruits and vegetables, and whole grains and bran (do this slowly, over several weeks to prevent bloating), and cutting back on foods that are high in sugar, highly processed, as well as high fat and low fiber such as meats, cheese, and ice cream. Also, eating on a regular schedule can help the body regulate elimination. Call our doctors if you have questions or need more information!

Dr. Angela Lowery, DNP
Family Practitioner

Constipation can be prevented. You can help decrease constipation by consuming foods high in fiber, increasing your fluid intake, exercising and taking time to use the restroom when you have the urge to have a bowel movement. If you continue to have constipation you may need to add fiber supplements. Consult with your healthcare provider before adding supplements.

Dr. Roshini C. Rajapaksa, MD
Gastroenterologist

Constipation is most often addressed by changing your diet to include more fiber and water—as well as exercising more regularly. Watch as gastroenterologist Roshini Raj, MD, explains the best ways to prevent and treat constipation.

Depending on the cause, constipation can be prevented. By consuming a high-fiber diet, avoiding foods that don't contain fiber, getting enough fluids, and exercising regularly, you should be able to prevent constipation in most cases. However, this may not be enough, especially if you need to take constipating medications or are exposed to prolonged bed rest. In these instances, a fiber supplement may be required. Before pursuing any of these options, however, talk to your doctor, as the cause of your constipation determines the treatment.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.