Like the topic of pooping in general, no-one really talks about constipation, well not unless it’s with their doctor. You see, it’s a very common health complaint in western cultures, affecting around twenty percent of people in Australia, which is a fairly average statistic across all western populations. Yes… populations where we predominantly use a western pedestal toilet. Constipation is in fact one of the most common digestive problems we experience, and it can be the result of sitting on this type of toilet.
So let’s talk about constipation. First, it’s common across all age groups – even kids can suffer from constipation. And for adults 60 years and over in the US, the figure increases to about 33% according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (US). We expect that this increase in our older generations is also fairly common throughout the globe where pedestal toilets are used.
While often a temporary issue for most, which in many cases can be easily treated by making simple lifestyle changes, constipation can be an ongoing problem for others. It can be painful, uncomfortable, and can lead to other health concerns. In some instances it may be an indicator of an underlying problem, or it can lead to chronic constipation or fecal impaction. So it’s important to see your doctor if your constipation is painful and doesn’t get better.
So what is constipation?
Constipation happens when your poop is hard and dry, making it difficult to pass or move. Generally the symptoms of constipation are:
- you have less than three bowel movements per week
- you strain too much on the toilet
- your stools are hard and dry
- you feel like you’re bowel movements are not complete, or
- you feel completely blocked.
What causes constipation?
The colon’s main job is to absorb water from residual food as it’s passing through your digestive system. It then creates a stool (which is the formed waste). The colon’s muscles work (peristalsis) to eventually propel the stool through the rectum to finally be eliminated.
Constipation can be caused by changes to diet or physical activity levels, medications you’re taking, travel or change in routine, or because you aren’t drinking enough water.
The most common causes of constipation are:
- not eating enough fibre (and eating too much meat and dairy products)
- not drinking enough water – just like fibre, stools need water to be kept soft
- lack of exercise – “movement is important for movement”!
- ignoring or delaying the urge to have a bowel movement
- being stressed.
You can also become constipated:
- during pregnancy – constipation is very common during pregnancy as the pregnancy hormone progesterone relaxes and slows down the passage of food through the intestines.
- when due for your period for women
- if you take laxatives too often
- from certain medications, eg high calcium antacids and pain medications
- when you have a medical condition such as diabetes, Parkinson’s disease or Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
- if you have a problem with your digestive tract, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), diverticulitis or haemorrhoids
- or you are experiencing emotional issues like anxiety, depression or grief.
What can I do to improve pooping and relieve constipation?
Squatting, as opposed to sitting, could be a game-changer when it comes to emptying your bowels. Healthline.com says “When people use posture-changing devices to squat, studies show, they go more quickly. They also strain less and empty their bowels more completely than when they sit on the toilet. By making it easier to poop, squatting might ease constipation and prevent hemorrhoids, which are often a result of straining.”
The natural human impulse is to squat while emptying the bowels, as the sitting position doesn’t allow for your rectal muscles to relax in a straight line. A foot stool for western toilets offers simple, easy relief for painful bowel movements, and is generally the more natural way to ‘go’.
A toilet foot stool lifts your feet off the floor and positions your body into a simulated squatting position for an easier, more comfortable movement without straining. A 2019 study with a small sample size, showed that a toilet modification device that elevated the hip flexors into a squatting position resulted in less straining and more complete bowel movements.
Besides changing the position that you use to poop, there are other practices you can follow to make pooping a more pleasant and efficient part of your day.
- Eat plenty of fibre. The recommended amount of fibre is 25-38 grams per day. Fibre helps stools pass through your bowels efficiently and then out without straining. Of course you can have too much fibre which can also cause issues for your digestive system, but in the main most of us just don’t eat enough per day.
- Stay hydrated. The water content in your stool matters when it comes time to poop. Dehydration, especially in combination with low fibre intake, can cause hard, dark stools that lead to constipation.
- Your colon can be stimulated by regular physical activity. Exercise helps to move things along and clear waste out. It can also stimulate blood flow to the abdominal area, triggering a bowel movement.
- Try to do poop at the same time each day. When it comes to digestion, our bodies tend to operate on autopilot. If you visit the bathroom at around the same time each day and position yourself for a bowel movement, you can help train your digestive system into a regular schedule.
- Do not ignore the urge to go. When you feel it, don’t try to ‘hold it in’ but rather go as soon as you feel the need. One of the problems with holding poo in is that it can start to dry out and become hard to pass. If you don’t pass this poo and things begin to back up, it can cause chronic constipation or fecal impaction.
This information is general only in nature and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.