Constipation can be caused by dehydration (not drinking enough fluid), lack of fibre (fruit, vegetables and wholegrains), lack of exercise, medication, too much calcium or iron in the diet, pregnancy or too much tea or coffee (increases urine production and so decreases fluid in the bowel). Other factors include surgery, haemorrhoids (piles) and anxiety. It can also be a symptom of another medical condition such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Lactose intolerance can lead to constipation. It is a common digestive problem where the body is unable to digest lactose, the sugar found in milk and dairy products. Around 15 per cent of the UK population are thought to be lactose intolerant. Lactose intolerance can cause both constipation and diarrhoea, depending on the circumstances.
Cow’s milk allergy is a well-known cause of constipation and can sometimes be the only symptom of the allergy. Studies have shown how a dairy-free diet can work better than laxatives to help ease constipation in children with cow’s milk allergy.
Meat and dairy products contain no fibre whatsoever. Fibre is essential in the diet to maintain good bowel health through regular movements. People – adults and children alike - whose diets are based on animal products and processed foods often suffer from constipation but it’s neither normal nor healthy. Before you reach for laxatives, look at your diet and make sure you eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables every day, pulses (peas, beans and lentils), wholegrain foods such as brown rice, wholemeal bread and wholemeal pasta, nuts and seeds – you most likely won’t need any chemical help!
Find out what you need to eat each day here.