A sluggish gut can be caused by a number of factors, including a lack of fluid and fibre in the diet, ageing, being less active (exercise can have quite a big impact on how regular our gut is), hormone changes (such as those during the menopause) and certain medication. Chemotherapy, and painkillers containing codeine or morphine, can aggravate the gut in this way. Constipation can also be caused by your gut ‘holding’ upset or tension inside.
Sometimes the less you’re able to go to the toilet, the more uptight you get and the more tense your gut becomes, making it harder to go. The more you can do to reduce anxiety around your bowel habits, perhaps by doing gentle exercises, eating nourishing food for the gut and drinking plenty of fluids, or engaging in some meditation or calming activities, the sooner your gut will get back into a good pattern.
- Include lots of fibre-rich foods such as wholegrain bread, brown rice, oats and wholegrain cereals such as mueslis and porridge, plus fruits, vegetables, beans and lentils.
- Aim to drink 2.5 litres of water (including tea and herbal infusions) a day to help the fibre to swell, resulting in soft stools that are easy to pass.
- Drink gut-friendly herbal teas. Some infusions are renowned for ‘getting the gut moving’ – look for those made from tamarind, dandelion, or yellow dock. Or make your own infusions by steeping fresh root ginger or three to six senna pods (from health food stores) in 150ml hot water. Alternatively, you could try senna tablets from health food stores and pharmacies.
- Get active to help the gut to move. Exercise doesn’t need to be anything hardcore – even a gentle walk will help. Exercise can also help to reduce stress and anxiety levels which can be contributing factors to constipation.
- Eat naturally laxative fruits such as prunes, figs, apples and rhubarb. You can also buy syrup of figs and prune juice which you can add to juices or have on their own. A few glasses of prune juice (made up from prune juice concentrate and water), wholemeal toast spread with some prune spread, or a pudding of stewed apple and rhubarb can get the problem sorted. For others, it can take a couple of days for these tips to work. If your constipation is severe, laxatives are the only answer; ask your doctor for advice.