Did You Know?
The mineral magnesium can draw water to the colon through osmosis. Brown rice, wheat, leafy vegetables, beans, nuts like almonds, and seeds like pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, etc., are packed with magnesium.
Almost everyone experiences the problem of hard stool at some time or the other. While doctors may prescribe medicines (tablets, liquids) for constipation, people prefer to take over-the-counter (OTC) laxatives for the relief of mild, occasional constipation. Chronic constipation is usually treated with enemas. Overuse of stimulant laxatives and enemas needs to be avoided, as they can lead to dependence. With complete dependence, the colon may lose its ability to move things through, and the doctor may find it difficult to treat the constipation.
There are various factors that can lead to the hardening of stool. These are diseases such as colon cancer, diabetes, scleroderma, and thyroid irregularity. The causative factors may also include the use of certain medicines, excessive consumption of meat or its products, lack of physical activity, wrong diet, and physical as well as mental stress. Whatever be the conducive agent, the basic reason for not having normal or soft stool is excessive extraction of water from the colon. Both medical or natural remedy to this problem is to increase the availability of water in the colon or to add a water-retaining agent that adds water to the stool before its elimination from the body. Such agents are called stool softeners.
List of Natural Stool Softeners
Whole grains are packed with insoluble fiber that softens stool. So, you should incorporate whole grain products like breads, pasta (whole wheat pasta) and cereals (grits, oatmeal) in your diet to ease constipation. Researchers at the University of Finland have found that whole grain rye bread works great for constipation. It is better than wheat bread and laxatives. Arabinoxylan, the main component of dietary fiber in rye, promotes easy movement of food through intestine. Wheat, oats, barley, amaranth, corn, millet, bulgur, spelt, quinoa, rye, brown rice, buckwheat, etc., are some of the popular whole grains.
Fruits, Vegetables, and Seeds Rich in Dietary Fiber
Human body cannot digest dietary fibers such as hemicellulose, pectins, lignin, gums, and polysaccharides. They pass through the intestine undigested. These undigested dietary fibers absorb water many times of their own weight. Therefore, their presence in stool makes it softer and bulkier. Foods such as cereals, fruits, and vegetables are rich sources of dietary fiber. You should increase the intake of fruits like apricots, peaches, prunes, pears, kiwis, blueberries, cranberries, grapes, figs, and plums in your diet. Also, the consumption of legumes (beans have more than 10 grams of fiber per cup serving - that's more than almost any other fiber source) and leafy green vegetables like spinach, lettuce, celery, amaranth, kale, cabbage, broccoli, bok choi, etc., twice a day may help provide relief from hardened stools. Fiber-dense seeds like flaxseed (1.9 g of fiber in 1 tablespoon of ground flaxseed) or chia seeds (about 5.5 grams of fiber per tablespoon) can accelerate the process of digestion and can promote a soft bowel movement. You may sprinkle these seeds over any dish. The fiber is good not only for the bowels, but also for the heart. It helps maintain normal blood glucose levels too. You are supposed to consume 25 to 35 grams of fiber a day. This much fiber should keep your gastrointestinal system moving.
Lack of water in the body often results in constipation and difficulty in the evacuation of hard stools. Water is necessary for softening the stool in the large intestine. Therefore, drink plenty of water. Consumption of 8-10 glasses of water a day may help boost various metabolic processes in the body.
Warm foods and liquids (even warm water) can help relieve the symptoms of constipation. Caffeine can stimulate bowel movements. Coffee exhibits diuretic properties and when consumed in conjunction with plenty of water, it can help relieve constipation. If you are already dehydrated, coffee may worsen the condition. Those who don't like coffee, can have a cup of hot tea or hot lemon water to get the same effect. Hot clear soups also work great for constipation.
Aloe Vera Juice
Aloe vera contains anthraquinone glycosides. They are known for stimulating the bowel movement contraction, and hence are active components of synthetic laxatives. Drinking ¼ cup of aloe vera juice, twice a day at an interval of 10 hours, may help provide relief from constipation.
Make it a point that you exercise for at least 20 minutes everyday. You need not perform rigorous exercises, rather mild exercises like walking for 20-30 minutes, can help treat the problem of hard stools. Physical inactivity often results in constipation.
Foods to Avoid
Consumption of chocolates and dairy products (often are high in fat and low in fiber) like milk and cheese can harden the stool. The lactose in dairy is responsible for increased gas and bloating. Red meat is high in fat and it comes with tough protein fibers. It takes longer for the digestive tract to process and digest it. It is also rich in iron, and can lead to constipation. Unripe bananas, frozen dinners, fried foods (chips, fries), sources of refined carbohydrates (pastries, cakes, cookies, crackers), iron and calcium supplements, etc., can also harden the stool.
Women should avoid the use of laxatives during pregnancy. It can lead to miscarriage or can induce labor. They should incorporate natural stool softeners in their diet. Those who are irregular or are finding it difficult to pass stool (straining) need to follow a high fiber diet. They should try to lead a stress-free lifestyle as well.
Simple dietary and lifestyle changes can help improve your digestive health significantly. Decrease the amount of foods that hinder the softening of stool and cause constipation. You should not feel shy about using the office/public restrooms, and should never ignore the urge. By using the aforementioned natural methods, you should get relief within a couple of days. However, in case of no or negligible improvement or relaxation, you should consult a healthcare professional. Some sort of digestive disorder may be the underlying cause. So, monitor your condition well and take appropriate action on time.
Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.