Constipation and weight loss are 2 major reasons why people taking laxatives. Almost everyone experience this problem at some points of their life but normally it is just occasional and usually resolve quickly. For others, it can be a chronic condition, seriously affect their quality of life. In this article, we will discuss more about it and go through few myths about it.
What is Constipation?
Irregular bowel movement happens when someone is unable to have a regular routine of bowel evacuation within a period of time, usually defined as less than 3 times per week for adult. It can be further confirmed through symptoms such as delayed, straining or painful passage of stools or having small, dry and hard stools.
If above problems last for more than three months without improvement, it is then classified as chronic constipation. For those who are having symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating and diarrhea along with these issues, it is usually termed as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
Common Beliefs about Constipation
There are many beliefs that are not evidence based such as asking patients to relief their bowel movement condition through regular exercise, increase their fluid and fiber intake or taking laxatives. They are also warned about potential of becoming laxative dependence and having a “lazy” bowel upon prolonged usage of laxatives. All these beliefs concerning various aspects of irregularity will be discussed and addressed below.
MYTH #1 – Toxins being absorbed by colon causing diseases
There is no evidence to substantiate these claim. Based on article from the American Journal of Gastroenterology, January 2005, toxic substances are not reabsorbed from the colons.
MYTH #2 – You need to have a bowel movement at least “x” times
Bowel habits can be different for every individual and depends on circumstances. As long as they’re not painful or hard, there is no “must have” frequency. The general guideline is minimum 3 times a week.
MYTH # 3 – Lack of fiber can cause constipation, and fiber supplements are effective treatments
Fiber adds bulk to the stool and can increase the frequency of bowel movements. But there is a lack of correlation between the intake and the risk of irregularity. Studies suggest that that low fiber intake may contribute to irregularity in some patients, but not all. On conjunction to that, fiber supplements help some patients with mild or occasional constipation. But for patients with more severe cases of chronic type, fiber can actually aggravate the symptoms. Insoluble fiber such as bran can cause gas formation, while soluble type like psyllium (Metamucil) are better tolerated.
MYTH # 4 – Drinking more fluids can help to relief irregularity
Drinking more water is known to make the stool softer and easier to pass through. However, this has not been substantiated per study performed on elderly, children and patients with chronic condition. There is no strong correlation between increased fluids intake and stool frequency or ease of bowel movement. Except the case of dehydration, consuming extra fluid alone is unlikely to make any difference in constipation relief.
MYTH # 5 – Exercise can help
For majority of patients, this is true. Based on several medical studies, there is an established relationship between activity level and ease of bowel movement. This finding is helpful in treating modest constipation, but it does not seems to be effective for severe cases.
MYTH #6 – You have constipation when you feel constipated
It is important to distinguish between “feelings” constipated versus actually constipated as they are not equal. Lots of people who eat too little food have a sensation of “false feeling” due to the poor eating habits. It is common to have less bowel evacuation with less inputs especially on a hectic schedule during travel or so.
MYTH #7 – When you are actually constipated, you need to use purgatives
Purgatives was never natural nor first recommended option to go for, it is best to just adjust the eating habits and lifestyle to bring the body back to normal bowel routine gradually. Occasional use of laxatives for quick constipation relief is acceptable. However, overuse of laxatives may end up having the reverse effect.
MYTH # 8 – Continuous laxatives consumption can lead to dependence on it
This is a common myth that most people have but it is not 100% true, and there is not enough facts to substantiate it. The risk of most over the counter laxatives is small when used at recommended doses. Furthermore, most laxatives are generally not absorbed into digestive system, hence cannot cause direct nervous system effects. The only confirmed problem is it can lead to electrolyte imbalance for prolonged use.
Risks are higher to users who consumed large dosage of stimulant laxatives that possible to affect nerve and muscle of the colons. However, there is no enough evidence that it will cause actual addiction.
Constipation is a common condition with lots of myths and no quality evidence in guiding effective treatment strategies. The conservative natural treatment such as dietary and lifestyle change is still preferred prior to the use of laxatives.