Google searches for “why am I constipated” and other digestive issues surged dramatically in recent months, with the coronavirus lockdown being the likely culprit.
Extended time indoors.Disrupted routines.Heightened stress. All these and more can stymie normal digestion and regular bowel movements.
Constipation is not only uncomfortable, but it can cause serious health problems and should be addressed right away—even more so if it’s related to lifestyle change due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Constipation is among the most common health complaints for people of all ages. It’s defined as having fewer than three bowel movements per week. Now, for some people, this has always been the case, and although troubling, constipation is less of a concern than if it appears suddenly and brings painful symptoms with it.
Symptoms of constipation include having hard, dry stools; straining to go; feeling the need to go but not being able to; or experiencing abdominal pain and discomfort.
If these symptoms continue, they can lead to hemorrhoids, small tears called anal fissures, bleeding, and ulceration in the colon or large intestine.
Why Lockdown Unsettles the Bowels
Doctors say the pandemic-related lockdown can cause people to become constipated for a variety of reasons.
Increased Stress: Fear of the virus itself and uncertainties over employment and finances raise stress levels and trigger the fight or flight hormone, epinephrine, also known as adrenaline. This drives blood to vital organs and away from the gut, slowing intestinal movement.
Stress also causes an increase in intestinal permeability, negatively affects the balance of gut bacteria, and causes spasms in the gut. All of these factors can lead to constipation or make existing constipation worse.
Less Activity: The colon responds to physical movement and needs good abdominal muscle tone to work normally. But our former active lives were disrupted when gyms and parks were closed—or access to them was limited. Not to mention the fact that we’re doing less walking in our daily lives and spending more sedentary time at home.
Poor Diet: According to Dr. Niket Sonpal, a gastroenterologist in Brooklyn, New York, “a change in diet, in general, is one of the most common reasons why someone would experience constipation.”
Working from home, with ongoing access to the kitchen, can increase the intake of unhealthy food such as cakes, biscuits, sweets and snacks. Eating to relieve our boredom or the need for comfort — which has soared in the lockdown – only increases the amount of unhealthy, processed foods we consume.
Disrupted sleep: Constipation is linked to both too little and too much sleep. Yet two out of three respondents to a recent survey conducted by Kings College London said they were sleeping badly, and the problem started when the coronavirus lockdown began.
Dr. Kyle Staller, director of the GI Motility Laboratory at Massachusetts General Hospital, informs us that people having less quality sleep “may subsequently be at risk for bowel disturbances…sleep and bowels are very intimately connected.”
Dr. Neil Stanley, an independent sleep expert, said that just being out of our normal routine can be very disruptive. “Working from home, some people’s sleep patterns are all over the place.”
Resolving These Issues
Relieving stress is difficult under the pressures of the coronavirus pandemic, but there are many ways to succeed. These include reading, listening to music, taking deep breaths or meditating, exercising; whatever works for you.
For those needing extra help, the HeartMath Institute has developed scientifically validated tools since 1991 for helping people reduce and avoid stress. You can take a look at the details of their programs at https://www.heartmath.org/
To improve your sleep, Dr. Stanley suggests, “Read, do yoga or distract your mind — and if you are stressed about coronavirus, don’t look at the news at night.
“Find your natural sleep pattern — what time you are tired and when you wake without an alarm. You could then try to continue this after lockdown ends.”
Colin Espie, Professor of Sleep Medicine at Oxford University, has put together a guide on how to get a good night’s sleep during the pandemic. You can access it at https://www.nhs.uk/oneyou/every-mind-matters/coronavirus-how-to-fall-asleep-and-sleep-better/
If you’re finding it hard to stay active, then make sure you get out of your home and walk for 30 minutes each day. Dr. Sonpal also suggests that since strong core muscles can help restore healthy bowel movements, consider adding core exercises to your daily routine. Simple sit ups are a great way to start. There are also a number of free exercise programs that target your core available online.
In terms of diet, avoid snacking on processed foods and opt for fresh fruit—especially pitted fruits—and make sure your meals contain plenty of high-fiber vegetables, whole grains, beans and legumes.
You can also try drinking plenty of water and even take a fiber supplement.
If all else fails, laxatives are an option, but it’s best to avoid chemical laxatives that forcefully stimulate muscle contraction. These can cause abdominal pain and in the worst case you can become dependent on them to remain regular, so they need to be used with an abundance of caution. They are for short-term use only.
There are far better gentle, safe, natural solutions available to help you solve constipation. Green Valley offers one of them, Colon Ultra Cleanse. It’s built around a natural herb, senna.
- https://www.healio.com/news/gastroenterology/20200502/decreased-sleep-associated-with-constipation-among-us-adults#:~:text=constipation or diarrhea.-,Both decreased and increased sleep correlated
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