The American lifestyle is making more people constipated than ever.
For many the condition is just an aggravation, but to others it’s daily agony that in some cases can be dangerous and deadly.
A recent survey conducted by the American Gastroenterological Association shows that 16 percent of Americans – including one third of people over 60 – experience chronic constipation.
Constipation is defined as an individual passing fewer than three stools a week and straining to have bowel movement to a point as though there is a noticeable blockage.
It can be considered chronic when individuals experience symptoms multiple times in a three month period.
A recent survey shows that 16 percent of Americans and one third of people over 60 experience chronic constipation, and that it can be linked directly to the American lifestyle and Western diet (stock image)
THE WESTERN DIET EXPLAINED
The Western diet is loosely defined as one full of fatty and sugary foods, such as burgers, fries and soda.
People often eat foods that are high in
- Saturated fats
- Red meats
- ‘Empty’ carbohydrates
- Junk Food
And low in
- Fresh fruits and vegetables
- Whole Grains
Health effects have been linked to things such as hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, colorectal cancer and dementia.
A study conducted at Harvard Medical School shows that the number of people being admitted to the hospital primarily for constipation has more than doubled since 1997.
In the US there are more than 700,000 emergency department trips every year due to the condition.
Dr David Dunkin, a pediatric gastroenterologist at Mount Sinai in New York, told Daily Mail Online that when chronic, constipation can have major complications including swollen veins and torn skin.
Swollen veins can often result in hemorrhoids in older adults that can cause discomfort and bleeding.
And when untreated he explained it can also cause an accumulation of hardened stool in the intestines, or a rectal prolapse, meaning that a bit of the intestine protrudes from the anus.
When that happens it often requires surgery.
Dr Dunkin also said that occasionally the accumulation of hardened stool can cause encopresis, which means that impaction is so severe it causes an overflow of leaking fecal matter. This happens most often in constipated children.
‘And occasionally children are so constipated that they aren’t eating enough food and so they aren’t growing as well. It’s not that common but it does happen and can be serious,’ he said.
The huge uptick in the United States has resulted in billions of dollars spent by individuals both out of pocket and in taxes on a problem that can often be fixed by simple lifestyle adjustments.
And Dr Dunkin explained that one of the most common causes of constipation is an individual’s diet.
The Western diet, which is full of processed high-fat foods, has contributed significantly to the epidemic.
‘Most constipation is caused when people are eating a lot of processed foods and not enough fibers,’ Dr Dunkin said.
‘With kids you see that they are sometimes just picky eaters and need to be taught how to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into their diet, but it happens in adults too.’
The average person eats significantly less fiber and drinks much less fluid than they should, and both things are essential for bowel movement.
UNEXPECTED REASONS WHY AN INDIVIDUAL MIGHT BE BLOATED
1. Texting and eating
Aerophagia – or swallowing air – is becoming more common and causing people to feel bloated.
As Dr Chuktan explains, more people are texting while they are eating than ever, and swallowing air is common when people aren’t eating mindfully.
Low serotonin levels in the gut is linked to depression, which can cause constipation and bloating.
Additionally, it is a common side effect of many of the drugs used to treat the disease.
When people aren’t drinking enough water, are taking antihistamines or are spending too much time in air conditioning, it can impact their digestion.
That happens because intestines use their lubrication, causing the digestion to slow down.
People who have their appendix out as a kid are more prone to bloating later in life.
That’s because the appendix provides beneficial gut bacteria.
Without that bacteria it’s more difficult for people to digest their food, making them bloated.
5. Skipping meals
Guts become more inactive if there are long periods of nothing moving through the gut.
That’s the same reason that bloating and constipation are common in individuals with eating disorders.
6. Hormone imbalances
Estrogen dominance in women can be linked to bloating.
One of the most common causes of estrogen dominance is artificial hormones, which can come from things like the birth control pill.
7. Taking pain medicine directly after exercising
Certain pain medications are very toxic to the GI tract and keep them from doing their job properly.
That is in part related to the fact that they decrease sensation in the body.
8. Sedentary workplaces
If people spend all day sitting at their desk they are more likely to be bloated.
That’s because the lack of movement causes the GI tract to move more slowly.
When people are stressed blood flow is shunted away from the digestive tract and to other muscles in the body.
That can slow down gut movement and impact the pH, enzyme and acid secretion of the digestive tract.
Information from Well and Good
New York City dietitian and nutritionist Limor Baum told Daily Mail Online she sees people in her office frequently who are suffering from constipation and other related issues, such as bloating and diarrhea.
‘American diets are often processed and low in fiber which is hurting people,’ she explained.
‘Even people who are eating a lot of fiber are eating this processed different kind of fiber that isn’t the same as the natural stuff and can actually create more problems.’
She said that people are replacing things like legumes, beans, brown rice and strawberries that they should be eating with processed things that are labelled as healthy but have little nutritional value.
Even things like high fiber cereal can cause more problems, she explained.
Another dietitian and nutritionist Karen Ansel, author of Healing Superfoods for Anti-aging: Stay Younger, Live Longer explained how that works.
‘Our diets filled with highly processed foods that are stripped of fiber that pull fluids into the gut to keep things moving smoothly,’ she said.
‘Eating too many processed foods in place of fiber-rich foods also has another downside. It reduces the growth of good gut bacteria that nourish the colon and promote healthy digestion, causing the gut to become sluggish.’
Speaking about fad diets that are meant to help people lose weight and improve health, Baum said that in the long run they do more harm than good.
‘A lot of people do these low-carb high protein diets and are completely cutting out all those good fibrous carbs that help with gut health and digestion,’ Baum said.
‘Healthy carbohydrates are a really important part of someone’s diet.’
Ansel also added that popular probiotics from foods such yogurt and kefir do encourage beneficial bacteria, but that it’s not as necessary as people promoting these trendy products might have you believe.
Kefir is a fermented milk drink that is said to promote healthy digestion.
‘Fiber-rich foods play a key role as well as they are the preferred food source of gut good bacteria,’ she said.
‘So while probiotics are the good bacteria that keep the colon happy, many kinds of fiber are like the fertilizer that helps them grow.
‘By feeding these beneficial bacteria a steady supply of food you can help them thrive and keep things moving digestively as well.’
Even more than diet, people aren’t drinking enough water and aren’t moving around enough and it’s causing them to be constipated.
That’s because when people don’t move around enough it causes their gastrointestinal tract to slow down as well.
‘When you sit for 10 to 12 hours a day you can start to have serious issues with your digestive track, and that conglomerates with other issues like bloating and gas,’ she said.
‘I always tell my clients that just going on small walks can have a major impact on their bowel movements and can make them feel significantly less bloated.
‘Yoga, also, is a great way to alleviate constipation and bloating. People don’t always realize that because it’s not high in cardio, but it makes a really positive impact.’
Dr Dunkin said that this happens to children too when they aren’t active enough.
‘In a lot of households families don’t limit screen time and so kids and adults aren’t getting the exercise required and become constipated,’ he said.
‘And that’s linked to the obesity epidemic in America too. They are both related to the unhealthy diet and lack of exercise people are getting.’
Though an individual’s diet and lifestyle are the most common causes of constipation, it can also be caused by other things including certain diseases and opioid use.
Using opioid pain killers can cause constipation because of the way they impact movement in the intestine that is critical to digestion. They also reduce digestive secretions and decrease the urge to use the bathroom.