By Dr. Shrey Lakhotia, BDS
Stress and constipation
Stress is a normal reaction of the body to the ever-increasing demands of life. Stress can hinder the body, including the bowels, from relaxing.
Stress may hinder peristalsis
When under stress, some individuals have less peristalsis, the wave-like action of the colon that moves waste through the colon.
When stool spends more time in the colon, it is the natural action of the colon to extract more water from the stool. Stools become dry, hard and difficult to eliminate, thus creating constipation.
Stress can alter one’s lifestyle
In stressful situations people habitually eat less healthy foods, decrease their physical activity and drink less water. All three of these are common causes of constipation.
Working long hours and an erratic and busy schedule may make it harder to sleep at night. When combined with irregular eating habits and eating junk food decrease the pelvic tone and ultimately cause constipation.
Disruption of natural body rhythms
Stress does not directly cause constipation. But stress can alter the body's natural rhythm of having a bowel movement at a particular time each day.
IBS is strongly associated with stress. In patients suffering from IBS, stress can aggravate constipation or diarrhea or a combination of both.
Stress can aggravate pre-existing conditions
For those who already have slow transit time and suffer from chronic constipation, stress can aggravate the condition. Patients suffering from Diabetes and thyroid ailments have a low motility, which may worsen with stress.
More research is needed to better understand the link between stress and constipation, and unravel the links between the brain and the gut.
There are a variety of measures, aimed at maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle, that may be helpful in reducing constipation caused by stress.
Being mobile and active significantly reduces the risk of getting constipation. Ideally one should do at least 30 minutes of physical activity each day.
This can help to make a person feel healthier and improve overall mood, energy levels and general fitness, thus fighting stress and constipation.
One should eat healthy foods, especially those which are rich in fiber. This can be done by increasing one’s consumption of vegetables and fruit, bran cereals, beans and nuts.
Eating smaller, more frequent meals also helps to keep the stomach and digestive tract from being overloaded, thus reducing constipation.
Socializing and meeting new people can help in stress management. One may feel tempted to avoid people when feeling stressed, but spending time with friends can help a person to unwind.
A person can practice relaxation techniques. Getting enough sleep is essential. Good sleep habits are one of the best ways to manage stress. Other ideas are deep breathing exercises, taking a break from work or massage therapy.
These are safe & healthy forms of stress management and may help in finding relieve from stress and constipation.
One of the best ways to handle stress related constipation is to take a magnesium supplement.
Magnesium has a relaxing effect on muscles, including intestinal muscles that may be tense due to stress. When taken in the evening, it may even help a person to relax for a better night’s sleep.
Through osmotic action, magnesium pulls water into the colon. This helps to moisten stool, making it soft & slick. Moistening stool increases its bulk, which can help to stimulate peristalsis.
Since people with high stress levels tend to eat more junk food, they may be even more magnesium deficient than the average person. Studies have linked magnesium deficiency and constipation. Taking a daily magnesium supplement may provide a long-term solution for constipation.
For those who are magnesium deficient, taking supplemental magnesium may also result in other health benefits.
Note: Check with your doctor before taking an over the counter remedy, including a magnesium supplement. There are some prescription medications that a magnesium supplement may interfere with. People with kidney disease should only take supplemental magnesium upon the request of a physician.