7 constipation myths busted

Constipation may not be considered as a serious condition by patients or physicians, and it often isn't given the attention it deserves. Constipation can be due to a poor diet or the side effects of pain medication; it can, however, sometimes be something more serious.

But before you make any changes to your meal plans or take any drastic steps to obtain a more regular bowel movement, read these seven myths surrounding the causes, dangers and solutions to constipation.

1. Fibre-rich diets can cure constipation

Fibre is often considered a "super food" when it comes to digestion and regular bowel movements, and can be divided into two categories: Soluble fibre and insoluble fibre. Soluble fibre dissolves in water and turns into a gel-like substance. Insoluble fibre does not dissolve in water and helps move food through the digestive tract more quickly. 

According to a study on the effects of dietary fibre on patients with constipation, insoluble fibre was found to have a bulking action that assists with the movement of waste. It also increases the frequency of evacuation. Insoluble fibre can be found in foods like whole-wheat bread, whole grains, fruit skins and seeds.

However, these insoluble fibres may cause gas formation in the intestines and thereby aggravate the condition. This is particularly true for people suffering from chronic constipation.

2. Increasing fluid intake improves bowel movement

Constipation is not only the inability to excrete waste, sometimes it is the painful passing of small, hard stools.

Some people therefore believe that increasing one’s fluid intake will improve the consistency of the stool and thus ease the movement of the bowels.

Researchers say that increasing water intake has little to no effect on stool consistency. However, should a patient be suffering from dehydration and subsequently increase their fluid intake, there would then be a change in stool. 

3. Using laxatives over a prolonged period can cause dependence

While laxatives provide temporary relief, they are not recommended for prolonged use. Laxatives can be divided into two categories: Osmotic laxatives and stimulant laxatives. Osmotic laxatives allow the increase in water secretion to the digestive tract. This improves the consistency of the stool, therefore making it easier to pass. Stimulant laxatives act on the bowel muscles to increase movement and eliminate waste.

According to a study about the myths of constipation, laxatives are not absorbed by the body and the likelihood of addiction is therefore low. Addiction would largely be due to psychological factors. Stimulant laxatives can damage the colon when the recommended dosage is exceeded.  

4. Constipation causes autointoxication and internal putrefaction

The theory of autointoxication comes from the ancient Greeks and Egyptians. This is the belief that constipated patients are at risk of poisoning themselves through the storage of waste in their bodies.

Toxins are believed to be absorbed back into the body if bowel movements are irregular but, thanks to modern science and germ theory, this theory was disproved. 

5. You have to ‘go’ every day

Bowel movements differ for everyone. Some people run a "tight schedule" by using the bathroom every day at the same time, whereas others simply go when the need arises.

The need may be once every three days, but once it surpasses three weeks, you are almost certainly dealing with constipation or even chronic constipation. If the situation carries on, you need to consult your doctor. 

6. Stress stimulates bowel movement

When nervous or stressed, some people may find themselves having to run to the bathroom.

According to Dr Kyle Staller, a gastroenterologist, stress is actually known to cause constipation.

“Many people have that experience where stress causes irregularity of their bowels… Your gastrointestinal tract has many nerves and is a nervous system organ much like the brain. The brain can impact what’s going on in the gastrointestinal tract, and vice versa,” said Dr Staller.

7. Coffee is dehydrating

Dehydration is one of the main causes of chronic constipation. When you are dehydrated, there is not enough water in your colon to excrete waste properly. 

Coffee is a diuretic. Needing to urinate frequently may convince you that you're losing too much fluid and therefore at risk of dehydration. You might be afraid that drinking coffee will aggravate your constipation or lead to the onset of constipation. But this is not the case

Some of us enjoy a hot cup of coffee in the morning to help kick-start our day – and at least 40% of people feel the urge to poo right after. Although researchers have yet to narrow it down, one theory is that the acidity found in coffee triggers your digestive system and activates gastric (stomach) acid.

Image credit: iStock

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