A reader, 73, writes that she has been taking laxatives for most of her life for severe constipation.
About a year ago, she started a fiber therapy regimen that was working well until recently. Now, she writes, she has started alternating her fiber regimen with laxatives, and wants to know more about doing a fiber therapy program.
Constipation is a common problem, says Cheryl Kapalka, clinical nutrition manager for Valley and Summerlin hospitals, and one that can be caused by a diet that’s deficient in fiber.
Fiber can be found in such foods as fruits, vegetables, beans and bran cereals, and it aids digestion and elimination by keeping food moving through the digestive system.
Most people should be getting 25 to 35 grams of fiber each day, Kapalka says, but “most Americans actually don’t get enough fiber in the diet.”
The use of a fiber supplement can be an easy way to add fiber to the diet. For example, one popular brand, Metamucil, is made of psyllium, “a natural soluble fiber that you can find in foods,” Kapalka says.
The Metamucil powder is dissolved in a glass of water. Kapalka recommends starting out with a small dose, increasing it as your body becomes accustomed to it, because too much could be a problem as well.
Follow the dosing directions on the label. Be sure it’s dissolved in water. And, Kapalka says, be sure to drink plenty of water with it.
Water is, in fact, another useful tool for keeping regular, she adds, and “it’s common that people don’t drink enough water.” Similarly, regular activity and exercise can help to promote regularity.
Although fiber supplements work by adding fiber to the diet, some laxatives work by inducing bowel movements in a variety of ways.
But laxatives pose their own set of problems. Using laxatives to excess can actually cause constipation “because the body gets used to them so it doesn’t respond to the laxative,” Kapalka says.
So be wary about overusing laxatives. And when over-the-counter laxatives no longer work, “there are a couple of prescription drugs for constipation, and people with irritable bowel or ulcerative colitis may need the help of these drugs,” Kapalka says.
Note, by the way, that any change in bowel habits can be a sign of something more serious, so a visit to a doctor is in order if constipation recurs or lasts too long.
But Kapalka says a doctor also might help our reader obtain more effective help in dealing with constipation.
“It could be more than just the fiber,” she says.