Everyone can temporarily suffer from constipation depending on, for example, their diet. The problem arises when constipation becomes chronic. IBS with constipation (or IBS-C) is a common IBS subtype affecting many people worldwide, predominantly women below the age of 50. IBS-C is often accompanied by abdominal pain and discomfort related to bowel movements.
What is constipation?
From a medical point of view, it is considered constipation when you empty your bowels less than three times a week. You often have to strain when emptying your bowels and the stool is hard. Often patients feel as if they are not quite ready to go to the toilet.
What causes constipation?
Various factors can cause constipation, such as the type of diet, genetic predisposition, socio-economic status, lifestyle, etc. Low intake of fiber, inadequate intake of water, sedentary lifestyle, and failure to respond to the urgency to defecate seem to also be a predisposition. IBS-C is diagnosed when the symptoms of constipation occur at least once a week within the past 3 months.
Current treatment options
Changes in diet
Although there are some over-the-counter laxative medications available to treat constipation, long-term intake of these is not the best solution. To date, the most essential way to treat the symptoms of constipation is via a healthier diet. The low-FODMAP diet is the most widely used diet to manage IBS but it appears to be less effective in patients with IBS-C. So what changes in diet should you make to relieve constipation?
Implement more fiber into the daily diet
Many studies show that fiber intake, especially soluble fiber, could have a positive effect on IBS-C symptoms.
Fibers are carbohydrates derived from plant cell walls. Some of them act as prebiotics and nourish the gut microbiota. They are classified into:
Insoluble and not very fermentable fibers (i.e., whole grains and some beans);
Soluble fibers (i.e., oat, carrots, inulin, or psyllium)
Prebiotics such as inulin is characterized as ‘functional fibers’. Inulin is a soluble fiber that is naturally found in more than thirty thousand plants, including garlic, onion, artichoke, and asparagus. Inulin intake has been linked to the regulation of bowel movement, stool consistency, and frequency.
Some foods contain a mix of both soluble and insoluble fibers. Be aware that insoluble fiber may exacerbate symptoms in IBS-C patients. On the other hand, soluble fiber is known to soften stool consistency and this way provides relief for IBS patients. It is however recommended to start with implementing smaller portions of fiber if you are not used to it.
Other foods that help relieve constipation
There are other foods that seem to help improve IBS-C symptoms such as aloe vera, figs, and kiwis. You might also opt for foods rich in probiotics such as yogurt or fermented vegetables.
Simple lifestyle changes
Eat regular meals and make sure you take time to eat.
- Drink more fluids – at least 1L per day (try to avoid milk, artificially sweetened or caffeinated drinks)
- Move for at least 30 minutes every day! Walking, cycling, swimming, gardening…
Although there is currently no cure for IBS-C, it is still possible to relieve its symptoms. It requires being more mindful of what your daily diet and habits consist of. When you make sure that your diet is diverse, and you eat enough soluble fiber and probiotics, while trying to stay moderately active, your symptoms of constipation can be reduced. It’s about the small decisions we make, choosing to not eat pasta every day and opting for water over other types of drinks.
If you are unsure how to implement these changes into your diet, make sure to get in touch with a dietitian.