Updated: May 28
Constipation seems to be something that everyone will experience at least once in their lives but for some of us, especially those of us with children with special needs, it seems that constipation is a constant struggle.
The use of over-the-counter and prescription laxatives, though temporarily helpful, can sometimes exacerbate the issue causing your child to become dependent on these medications to have a bowel movement .
Even more frustrating, the sheer volume of choice of laxatives on the market can leave you confused as to which has the least amount of side effects and which is best for your child.
What is a frustrated parent who has tried every prescription and over-the-counter laxative out there supposed to do?
What's the best way to start battling constipation and even banish it in kids? How about start with the basics?
Battling Constipation By Changing the Diet
Dietary changes can be a very effective and gentle way to help ease and possibly eliminate constipation.
The most common culprits for constipation usually include dairy (especially cow's milk) , gluten which is a protein found in wheat , and lack of fiber in the diet.
Let's examine each of these foods separately to understand why they may be causing constipation.
First off, cow's milk and cow's milk dairy products contain a high amount of a protein called casein. A variation of this casein, ß-casein A1 has been found to be allergy inducing. ß casein A1, when acted on enzymatically upon ingestion, becomes ß casomorphin 7 which has been found to delay bowel transit time.
Delayed bowel transit time means that it is taking longer for the food you ingest to be digested and for the waste matter to be eliminated from your body in the form of stool. The ideal bowel transit time is usually anywhere from 12-24 hours so the longer it takes for you to have a bowel movement between the time you ingest your food and elimination, the more likely it is that you are constipated.
Secondly, gluten, a protein found in wheat, has been discussed in another post about thyroid health, but does it contribute to constipation as well?
As it turns out, gluten has been linked to a myriad of diseases and syndromes in people who don't have Celiac disease, usually called nonceliac gluten sensitivity.
One of the syndromes that gluten is linked to is IBS, or irritable bowel syndrome, which is a condition that results in gastrointestinal discomfort with diarrhea and/or constipation .
The mechanism of how gluten causes constipation is poorly understood and thought to be linked to altered gut motility, slowing down the movement of waste elimination in your intestines, and low-grade inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract.
Lack of Fiber
Finally, the lack of fiber is a big contributor to constipation as we need fiber in our diets daily to eliminate solid waste. Fiber is the substance found in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes that your body can't digest. It passes through the digestive tract relatively unchanged and is eliminated in your stool.
There are two different types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber dissolves in water while insoluble doesn't. Soluble fiber can be found in foods like oats, many fruits and vegetables, beans, barley and psyllium.
Insoluble fiber can be found in foods like whole-wheat flour, wheat brans, and certain vegetables.
While insoluble fiber is usually thought of as adding bulk to the stool and essential for regular bowel movements, studies show that it is soluble fiber that may be more helpful in decreasing constipation.
Making sure to have adequate amounts of both types of fiber in the diet is best to help reduce constipation. Also with added fiber intake, drinking more water is crucial, as increased fiber without adequate hydration can exacerbate the effects of constipation.
While these are the most common culprits when it comes to constipation, there may be underlying causes or food sensitivities that are unique to your child that should evaluated by your health care professional.
By reducing or eliminating these dairy and gluten from your diet, and adding in more fiber you may find that constipation becomes a thing of the past.
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