Anyone who has ever been constipated before knows the struggle can be all too real. It's not only uncomfortable, but it can also be painful and seemingly never ending for some. A lack of fiber, certain medications, and health conditions are some common causes behind why you may be constipated. But according to experts, there are also some surprising causes to be aware of.
According to the U.S. Department of Health an Human Services, constipation is pretty common across all ages and tends to affect women more than men. It's basically a condition in which someone has difficulty emptying their bowels, usually due to hardened stool. As Jeffrey Kim, MD, FAAFP, family medicine physician at Loma Linda University Health, tells Bustle, it can affect each person differently and may cause abdominal pain, bloating, discomfort and feelings of unease or distress.
According to Dr. Kim, constipation can be caused by a number of different things. For instance, not drinking enough fluids or eating enough fiber are pretty common causes. "Sometimes underlying medical conditions such as hypothyroidism, colon cancer, or other medical disorders can cause constipation," he says. "Certain medications such as opioids are also a common cause. In older patients, the cause can be multi-factorial. Some patients who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome may have higher rates of constipation."
As with many things related to your health, your lifestyle habits can increase your chances of getting constipation. So here are some surprising things that can cause it, according to experts.
1. Fermented Foods
Fermented foods like kefir and sauerkraut can be be really beneficial for your health. But as Lisa Richards, a nutritionist, tells Bustle, it can also cause short-term constipation. "In the long run, the beneficial bacteria they contain should help to improve your digestion and boost your immunity," she says. "But in the short-term, introducing large amounts of probiotic bacteria can lead to rapid changes in your gut flora that cause constipation." If you want to eat fermented foods or take probiotic supplements, start slow. If your digestive system is doing well, you can gradually increase your intake.
2. Skipping Workouts Or Being Inactive
Skipping workouts can lead to constipation or make it worse. As Christina Friedman, health expert and founder of Women's Fitness HQ, tells Bustle, "Not getting into motion can keep food from making its way through the intestines." It's one of the many reasons why people are recommended to take walks after a large meal. Exercise in general is also good for keeping your bowel movements regular.
3. Eating Too Many Nuts Or Dried Fruit
"If you’ve ever eaten too many nuts, you may have noticed that some pieces come out the other end completely undigested," health and wellness expert, Justine Altman, FDN-P, tells Bustle. "That's because nuts are hard to digest." When something is hard to digest, it results in bulky waste that's harder to move through the colon. The same applies to dried fruits. While they contain a ton of fiber, too much can lead to constipation. "The fact that they’re dehydrated means they require a lot of water to be reconstituted and then digested," Altman says. "So if you’re not extremely well-hydrated, those dried fruits aren't digested well, leading to dense stool that’s difficult to eliminate and causes a backup."
4. Eating Too Fast
According to Altman, there are a couple of major reasons why eating slowly can benefit you. For one, there's an entire process that goes on right before you take your first bite. "Several body organs harmonize all at once, making sure you garner as many nutrients from that food as possible as it moves through your system," she says. When you eat too fast, the body isn't always ready yet. Your body will adapt, but the digestive process won't be working at 100 percent. So bigger chunks of food won't get broken down or be absorbed entirely before moving into the colon.
Eating too fast can also trigger your fight-or-flight system. When you're in a rush to finish your food, your body can interpret that as stress. "When your body is stressed, it doesn’t care whether you’re digesting your food well," Altman says. "The only thing that matters is surviving the immediate threat. The end result is poor digestion, because your body resources are being used for fight-or-flight rather than rest-and-digest." This ultimately leads to constipation.
5. Drinking Liquids At Meals
When we eat food, the body's goal is to absorb as many nutrients as it can and then eliminate whatever can't be used. According to Altman, our bodies produce digestive enzymes that help break down food at each stage of the digestion process. "But when we drink fluids with meals, especially if we drink more than a few ounces, these enzymes are diluted and just not as powerful," she says. When those enzymes can't do their job well, the body will have a hard time breaking down food. While she doesn't recommend drinking less, she suggests drinking between meals rather than during them.
Keep in mind, this is an issue that gets debated all the time. Some experts say drinking water during meals can cause issues like constipation, while others say it's beneficial. Whether it's a good idea or not really comes down to how your body reacts to it.
6. Toilet Ergonomics
"Simply put, the human body was built to squat when we poop," Altman says. "But the typical posture of sitting on an average toilet seat causes a narrowing of part of the rectum, which makes it harder to move poop through that space." The easiest solution here is the get yourself a Squatty Potty. According to Altman, these allow you "to still sit on the toilet to do your business, while widening the rectum for easy evacuation." In fact, research shows products like these really do help.
7. Tight Pelvic Floor Muscles
One little known cause of constipation is tight pelvic floor muscles. In order to have a normal bowel movement, physical therapist, Katy Rush, tells Bustle, your pelvic floor muscles must be able to relax enough so the bowel movement has enough room to come out. "Some people don't have the ability to relax these muscles as much or as well as they should and ultimately this leads to constipation," she says. "In some cases cases, using a stool or a squatty potty can also help the pelvic floor muscles relax."
8. Holding It In
Sometimes, like in the middle of a meeting, you may feel the need to go to the bathroom but instead choose to hold it in. While that's fine every now and then, it's not a good habit to have. "If this happens frequently, the colon itself can stretch out so that the individual no longer gets regular urges to have a bowel movement," Rush says. "Ultimately, this can lead to constipation."
Just remember that everyone is different. Eating certain types of food or doing certain things may or may not cause you to have constipation. Underlying medical issues and medications can also play a big role in it. The key here is to pay attention to what your body is telling you. Overall, it's just important to be aware of the potential causes. These are just a few surprising ones to pay attention to.