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Constipation, or the big C as it is more affectionately known, can have a number of causes.  Common examples include: sudden dietary changes, consuming too many high protein and dairy products, lack of physical activity, stress and anxiety, overuse of laxatives (and residual fecal build up), some medications (e.g., narcotics, iron pills, antidepressants), and, more often than not, insufficient fluid and fiber intake. Constipation, or difficult bowel movements that occur less often than normal, can be a painful disruption to daily living and is a serious issue for many Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) sufferers. Bloating, gas and a heap of other unpleasant symptoms are often associated with the big C, so it’s important to address it and not push it to the side as just “a normal part of life” … it’s not!

Symptom relief following a low FODMAP diet tends to be greater in those who suffer the big D (or Diahorrea) when compared to constipation sufferers. Why? The low FODMAP diet works by eliminating many high fibre foods, and so it’s important to ensure that, particularly if you suffer constipation, you are still getting a healthy dose of fibre, prebiotics, and probiotics. This can be done both through wholesome foods in the first instance, and supplements when necessary. Some tips to help manage constipation while adhering to a low FODMAP diet include:

  • Stay hydrated, eat regular (smaller meals), and consume at least your recommended daily requirement of fibre (or ideally a bit more).
  • If you are taking a medication that you know may cause constipation as a side-effect, talk to your doctor or pharmacist about suitable alternatives, or strategies you can implement to reduce these side effects.
  • Consume low FODMAP high fibre foods including canned chickpeas (1/4 cup serving at a time), lentils (1/2 cup), chia seeds (2 tbsp), flax seeds / meal, and low FODMAP fruits and vegetables at every meal. Be smart when introducing high fibre foods to your low FODMAP diet. Start small (even if the food being consumed is considered FODMAP friendly - e.g., start with 1 tsp of chia seeds), and gradually work your way up to give your body time to adjust.
  • Good low FODMAP high fibre supplements include psyllium husk, acacia Senegal fiber powder, slippery elm, and aloe vera juice. Again, build yourself up to the recommended dosage. Peppermint oil is also effective for relieving gas and bloating associated with constipation. Digestive drinks like LemonAID can also help with symptom management.
  • Don’t underestimate the role of exercise in relieving constipation, as it is just as important as food. Your chosen physical activity doesn’t have to be extreme – even just light daily walking – to stimulate the natural contraction of intestinal muscles allows stools to more easily pass through the digestive system.
  • Gut bacteria can influence bowel movements and it is worthwhile investing in a good prebiotic and probiotic supplement. Prebiotics feed the healthy gut bacteria, and can be consumed in both wholefood and supplement form. Low FODMAP sources of prebiotics are limited, as prebiotics tend to be a FODMAP. However, limited portions of canned lentils, broccoli, unripe bananas and almonds are all good low FODMAP sources of prebiotics. Probiotics are live organisms that offer a range of health benefits by introducing beneficial bacteria into the digestive system. Look for a probiotic that is kept in the fridge, contains the maximum number of beneficial bacteria, and the greatest number of evidence-based strains. Speak to your pharmacist if you’re unsure.
  • Consider a magnesium supplement if you tend to steer clear of nuts, seeds and beans. Magnesium citrate can have an osmotic laxative effect, but be sure to consult with your doctor regarding recommended supplements and dosage (do NOT self-administer as you may end up permanently glued to the loo!)
  • Try to avoid going to the toilet stressed and/or rushed. Sounds like common sense, but in today’s frantic world this is not always an easy task! Stress and anxiety cause our intestinal muscles to “cease up”. Ever felt the need to rush to the toilet straight after an exam or important meeting? Chances are, you’ve been relieved of your high stress state and are now able to relax / allow your digestive muscles to uncramp … hence the floodgates!
Overall, the low FODMAP diet can be effective at reducing IBS symptoms, including constipation. However, as the diet does remove several high fibre and prebiotic-rich foods (hence why it shouldn’t be followed long-term), you may find you need some additional management strategies. A knowledgeable doctor and dietitian can help you create a tailored constipation management plan that may include a range of lifestyle alterations and potentially the use of supplements to ‘get things moving’ again.

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