Dr Hassan Mayanja, a physician based in Kampala, says constipation is a result of a deficiency in roughage (fibre) in one’s diet.
“With constipation, it means you have few bowel movements, straining to have bowel movements or pass stools that are small and dry,” he says.
Mayanja says one may not be taking enough water. “When it comes to babies, most get constipation when they start taking solid foods. Milk also solidifies during digestion.”
He explains that this happens because babies’ guts are not used to solid food. He adds that a baby is more likely to get constipation if she/he is taking formula (tinned) milk.
Sharon Naluwende, a nutritionist at Mulago hospital, says if you have constipation more often or get severe pain or bleeding while passing stool, it is important to consult a doctor because these symptoms can be a sign of a more serious digestive disorder.
She says poor diet and an inactive lifestyle are the most common causes of constipation.
Naluwende adds that constipation usually causes abdominal bloating and cramping and to avoid this, one needs to have foods rich in fibre in their diet.
Haspha Nassolo, a senior nursing officer at the Joint Clinic Research Centre, says the causes of constipation are many but lack of exercise are the commonest causes of constipation, even not drinking enough water.
She says constipation a symptom of hypothyroidism.
Naluwende says over consumption of red meat (raw), irregular eating and drinking habits, overeating and eating a wrong combination of foods are other causes.
Naluwende advises that you drink a lot of water, at least six glasses a day.
You can squeeze half a lime in a glass of hot water and add a teaspoon of salt. Sometimes, salt water cleanse, and this helps you cleanse your colon and digestive system by bringing on a forced bowel movement.
You can also add honey and a slice of lemon juice to your warm drinking water.
Naluwende says drinking hot water can provide your body with the water it needs to fill. It can also improve digestion, relieve congestion, and even make you feel more relaxed.
Nassolo says roughages are foods that are high in fibre. Roughage is the portion of plant foods, such as beans, Nassolo says they include fruits, vegetables, grains and nuts and an example of nuts are groundnuts.
These should be incorporated in one’s diet at least daily to avoid constipation. She advises people to choose brown rice and wholegrain wheat bread since they have more fibre.
Nassolo says tomatoes contain a lycopene that belongs to a group of nutrients called carotenoids. Carotenoids impart the yellow and pink colour of fruits and vegetables. These carotenoids are an important source of vitamin A. Lycopene, a carotenoid, is found almost exclusively in tomatoes and gives them the red colouration.
She says tomato consumption results in concentration of lycopene in blood (plasma) and in other tissues including the prostate, testisis, adrenal gland, breast, pancreas, lung, kidney, colon, skin, ovary and stomach.
Naluwende recommends that you make fruits part of your diet, especially bananas and pawpaws because they make the stool soft in a short time. You will be fine in a day or two.
Mayanja says the fibre in the avocado is beneficial for improving digestion, boosting regular bowel movements and is well known to help prevent constipation.
He says avocado fiber is not only good for constipation but also helps lower one’s risk of colon cancer. Taking one in the morning and the second in evening may work, but the number of avocados doesn’t matter.
Naluwende says pawpaws contain digestive enzymes, which help break down hard to digest foods in our stomachs. Due to the high fibre content, pawpaws also help to reduce constipation by adding bulk to one’s stool and can relieve an upset stomach.
Other wonder fruits are pears, guava, grapes and oranges. Take an orange or two before you go to sleep and when you wake up. You should also drink fruit juices, especially concentrated passion juice and apple juice.
Take two spoonfuls of virgin coconut oil before you sleep.
Mayanja says exercise stimulates and encourages bowel functions. Straighten your rectum by sitting in a squat position. “If you can’t squat, sit in a low position and elevate your feet.
Then massage your stomach with circular movements although you can do this while lying down. Elevate your feet whenever you sit on the toilet by putting an elevated surface like a stool in front of you”, he advises.
He also says to put the baby on his/her back and exercise the legs by making bicycle movements. You can also massage his/her tummy.
The nerve wrecking pain aside, constipation produces toxins (poisonous substances) which end up in the bloodstream. Mayanja says the blood carries them to the rest of the body and this could lead to health complications like rheumatism, arthritis or high blood pressure.
He says when treating constipation, try to identify and rectify the underlying cause since long-term constipation can lead to piles (hemorrhoids), anal tears, fecal incontinence and fecal impaction. Mild constipation can be treated without much worry, but as Mayanja points out, you should seek medical help if it is too painful and severe.
“If constipation is too painful, it could mean that your bowel is closed. You may even fail to pass stool completely and you need to see a doctor if this happens,” he advises.
Mayanja advises people to avoid high fat foods, red meat, cheese and refined foods.
He notes that fast fried food could be the cause for your constipation because it is hard to digest. “You should opt for less oily food with more fiber as well as plenty of water.”
Do not take strong teas and other drinks with caffeine
Leave out sugary foods like cakes, biscuits, pastries and white bread
Avoid irregular meals and chew your food thoroughly because chewing helps the intestines.