Sometimes, it happens. You sit. You push. You wait.
You’re constipated. 💩
Here’s how the experts define it:
Having fewer than three bowel movements a week.
Having hard, dry stools.
Feeling as if you haven’t completely eliminated.
Doing a lot of straining when you try to go.
If you’re feeling stuck, here’s what you need to know…
First, the connection between menopause and constipation is true.
Constipation becomes increasingly common in this life stage — and any other where our hormones are shifting. (Think: pregnancy, during your menstrual cycle, perimenopause.) That’s because “estrogen receptors have been found in the gastric and small intestinal mucosa.”
Female hormones can affect a lot of things — we already know that. In this case, they can latch onto receptors in your gut, affect your digestive tract and cause your colon to slow down.
Et voila: Constipation.
Note: There are other things to blame for constipation. Here are just a few: diabetes, an overactive parathyroid gland, pregnancy or an underactive thyroid. And there are certain foods, like cheese and other dairy products, unripe bananas, white rice and red meat, rich desserts and gooey, sugary sweets — all of which can plug you up.
And don’t forget that certain medications can cause constipation, too. For example, drugs that treat depression, antacids that contain aluminum or calcium, and certain allergy medications (antihistamines) and painkillers, along with drugs used to treat high blood pressure and Parkinson’s disease can all play a role. Add to that sedatives, diuretics, iron supplements and anti-inflammatories.
Sheesh, that’s a long list.
The good news is that it’s not hopeless. You have some control over constipation. Paying attention to things like diet, exercise and everyday habits can make a big difference.
Add more fiber
That’s a biggie. Many of us aren’t getting enough of it. And we need it to bulk up our stools so they can pass more easily through our intestines. It’s recommended that women 50 and older get at least 21 grams each day. (Consider that the average American consumes only about 13 grams a day, and you can figure out why lots of us are constipated.)
You need both soluble fiber (which draws water into your stools) and insoluble fiber (which adds bulk to your stools) to prevent constipation.
Especially high in fiber (as well as a ton of healthy nutrients) are something called “pulses,” which include beans, lentils, chickpeas and peas.
Prunes (and prune juice), as we all know, are associated with helping constipation; dried fruits like apricots and figs are also high in fiber. Also valuable is wheat bran, broccoli, apples, grapes, pears and kiwis.
And you can’t go wrong with whole wheat breads, cereals and pastas as well as olive and flaxseed oils.
Drink more water
Don’t forget to drink plenty of water. Why? For one, dehydration is the cause of constipation in many cases. And for another, if there’s not enough water in your body, your large intestine soaks it up from your food waste, making it difficult to pass stools.
There’s research to show that tweaking the way you sit on the toilet can help, because it changes the angle of things, allowing your pelvic floor to relax and waste to pass more easily.
Think of the pose in Rodin’s famous sculpture, “The Thinker.” That is, sitting leaning forward while resting your elbows on your knees. You can also achieve something similar by placing your feet directly in front of you onto a small step-stool. That puts your body at a perfect 90-angle poop pose.
Enjoy your coffee
Coffee’s good for more than waking up your brain. Caffeine stimulates the contractions of the muscles in your GI tract and can kick-start your bowels. (If you drink decaf or tea or plain warm water, don’t worry: they can also do the job. They all make the colon more active.)
Don’t Hold Back
Don’t put off pooping. While it may not always be convenient or desirable, holding it in for too long can backfire and make you not go at all. If you can, try to create a regular schedule of bathroom visits.
What About laxatives?
Laxatives can be helpful but use them too often and your body may become dependent on them and stop being able to function on its own.
Kinder, gentler natural laxatives you might want to consider trying include castor oil, senna tea, aloe vera and magnesium citrate supplements, or those that contain psyllium or methylcellulose (Metamucil or Citrucel).
When do I need to see my doctor?
Head’s up if you have a sudden change in your bowel movements. Also notable: if there’s blood in your stool, you have severe stomach pains or you’re losing weight without trying.
As always, be safe: If other anti-constipation measures fail, consider a gut check from your healthcare provider.
For a Pause
Place this toilet stool in front of your throne and watch the magic happen. (“Life-changing” is how some people describe it.)
Like prunes? One not-so-well-known fact: Research suggests that, when eaten daily, they may help prevent bone loss. We love them and are excited to try this recipe for no-bake energy bars from registered dietitian Amy Gorin. (Amy says you can substitute flax or chia seeds for hemp seeds too. Thanks for the tip!)
To sweeten the deal, here’s a coupon for some dried plums, er prunes. (Plum growers think prunes would seem more attractive if given a different name and we don’t disagree.)
Massage for your colon? Some claim this deep abdominal technique can help stimulate gas release and pressure. Let us know if you think it works!
One More Thing
Barbra Streisand always reminds me of my late mother-in-law, Jermaine, who we lost a year ago to Covid. Two talented Brooklyn-born women who love a great story and a good joke — and really shouldn’t drive. — Jennifer
Until next week, stay well. Stay healthy. Stay safe.
See you next time!
And we got nothing to be guilty of
Our love will climb any mountain near or far, we are
And we never let it end
We are devotion
— Guilty, Barbra Streisand + Barry Gibb
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