MYTH: YOU SHOULD HAVE A BOWEL MOVEMENT EVERYDAY
What's "normal" varies from person to person. Some people go three times a day; others, three times a week. Although having a bowel movement once a day is common, it's fine to go a few days without one. Constipation means having fewer than three bowel movements per week. You're considered severely constipated if you have less than one movement a week.
MYTH: CONSTIPATION CREATES TOXINS AND HEALTH PROBLEMS
Some people believe that constipation causes the body to absorb poisonous substances in stools. They believe this causes diseases such as colon cancer. But there's no evidence that the stools produce toxins or that colon cleansing, laxatives, or enemas can prevent cancer or other diseases.
MYTH: HOLDING IT WON'T HURT
You may feel too busy at work to have a bowel movement. Or you'd rather wait until you're home. But ignoring the urge when it comes may not only make you physically uncomfortable -- it can cause or aggravate constipation by weakening the signals over time.
MYTH: ALL FIBER IS CREATED EQUAL
Eating foods with fiber helps you feel full and stay regular. Insoluble fiber in particular can help ease constipation because it's indigestible and doesn't dissolve in water. It adds bulk to stool and helps it pass through the intestines faster. Good sources of insoluble fiber are whole-grain breads, pasta, and cereal. Soluble fiber dissolves in water. As part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, it may lower heart disease risk.
MYTH: COFFEE CAN FIX CONSTIPATION
It's true that the caffeine in coffee can stimulate the muscles in your digestive system to contract, causing a bowel movement. So why isn't it recommended as a fix for constipation? Coffee can actually make stools harder to pass because it is also a diuretic, so it draws liquid out of stools. If you are constipated, avoid coffee and other diuretics such as caffeinated tea and cola.
MYTH: COLON CLEANSING WILL CLEAR YOU OUT
Enemas and colon irrigation (high colonics) may temporarily remove body waste, but they're not an effective way to prevent or cure constipation. Enemas can actually cause constipation in older people who get them regularly. Colonic irrigation, which is usually done by colonic hygienists or therapists, can damage the colon and can lead to other issues.
MYTH: CASTOR OIL IS A CURE-ALL
Castor oil is a powerful laxative. But like other laxatives, it should not be used long-term. Overusing laxatives can hurt your body's ability to absorb nutrients and some medications. Castor oil can damage the bowel muscles, nerves, and tissue if overused -- all of which can cause constipation. Use it only with a doctor's guidance.
MYTH: IT'S NORMAL TO HAVE BLOODY STOOL
Blood in a bowel movement is not always serious, but you should always call your doctor if it happens. Bright red blood is usually from hemorrhoids or tears in the anal lining called fissures. Constipation and straining during bowel movements can be the cause. Maroon or tarry black blood or clots usually mean bleeding is coming from higher in the gastrointestinal tract. The cause may be more serious.
FACT: SWALLOWED GUM CAN GET STUCK
It's true -- but only in rare cases. Sometimes swallowing large amounts of gum or many pieces in a short time can form a mass that blocks the digestive tract, especially if you swallow it with other indigestible things. The blockage can cause constipation. But for most people, the indigestible parts of gum move through the intestinal tract and eventually get eliminated from the body just like other foods do. So swallowing the occasional piece of gum is harmless.
FACT: VACATIONS CAN CAUSE CONSTIPATION
Travel can change your daily routine and diet, contributing to constipation. Avoid dehydration-related constipation by drinking water, especially if you're flying. Also move around when you can.
FACT: MOOD CAN AFFECT YOUR REGULARITY
Depression may trigger constipation or make it worse. Reducing stress through meditation, yoga, biofeedback, and relaxation techniques may help. Acupressure may help, too. And massaging the abdomen may help relax the muscles that support the intestines and get your bowels moving.
FACT: MEDICATIONS CAN CAUSE CONSTIPATION
Some medications for pain, depression, high blood pressure, and Parkinson's disease are associated with constipation. Too much calcium and iron can also lead to constipation. Calcium supplements, especially if taken with another supplement or medication that binds the stool, may also cause problems.
FACT: A LOW-FIBER DIET MAY CAUSE CONSTIPATION
Not having enough fiber in your diet often leads to constipation. To prevent it, try to get at least 25 grams a day, but more is better. Eat more whole fruits and vegetables; replace white rice, bread, and pastas with whole-grain products. Increase your fiber intake slowly to avoid gas and bloating. Drink at least 2 to 4 extra glasses of water a day. Don't expect results overnight.
FACT: PRUNES HELP KEEP YOU REGULAR
This small, dried fruit has earned a big reputation as "nature's remedy" for constipation. Prunes (often called dried plums) can prevent or improve constipation symptoms. They're packed with insoluble fiber, as well as the natural laxatives sorbitol and dihydrophenylisatin. The soluble fiber found in prunes may help lower cholesterol. And they're safe for long-term consumption. Children who don't like prunes might eat prune juice ice pops or sip prune juice mixed with another juice to disguise the taste.
FACT: DRINKING WATER MAY HELP
Drinking plenty of water helps prevent dehydration, which can lead to constipation. Liquids can help keep your stool soft to help prevent and alleviate constipation. Talk to your dietitian/nutritionist about how much water is good for you.
FACT: EXERCISE KEEPS YOU REGULAR
Lack of physical activity can contribute to constipation. Exercise, however, can help make your bowel movements more regular and can reduce stress. Wait at least an hour after eating a big meal before you exercise to give your body time to digest your food. Then get moving! Try a 10- to 15-minute walk several times a day. Stretching and yoga can also help constipation.
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