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Habits That May Cause Constipation

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4. Junk Food and Your Digestive Health

When you eat junk food, you spend your calorie capital on foods that are low in fiber and nutrients and high in fat and sugar. And all that fat and too little fiber can cause digestive woes. "We know that fat tends to slow the gut down, because the gut is trying its best to get all the calories it can from fat," says Locke.

What you can do: You don't have to give up favorite foods -- the trick is to come up with healthy substitutes. Instead of ordering pizza out, make your own with a store-bought whole-wheat crust topped by low-fat cheese and plenty of veggies. Replace the fast-food burger and fries with roasted sweet potato fries and turkey or black bean burgers on a whole-wheat bun.

5. OTC Supplements: A Surprising Cause of Constipation

Did you know that OTC supplements can affect your digestive health? Iron and calcium are the top two culprits according to Aberra.

What you can do: Eating balanced, healthy meals helps you get all the vitamins and minerals you need from food. However, that may not be enough for people with anemia or for women looking to prevent bone loss. To counter the constipating effect of iron or calcium supplements, Aberra suggests a workaround. Try adding things to your diet that make you more prone to having bowel movements, such as prune juice and high-fiber foods.

6. Overusing Laxatives Can Cause Hard-to-Treat Constipation

Overusing stimulant laxatives can lead to dependence, says Ira Hanan, MD, associate professor of medicine at the University of Chicago Medical Center. Using these laxatives every day can cause the colon to lose its ability to move things through, he says. Overusing enemas can have the same effect, so avoid using stimulant laxatives and enemas chronically. "They will eventually cause complete dependency and the constipation can be very hard to treat," he says.

What you can do: First of all, consider whether you really need laxatives. "A lot of people think that the daily bowel movement is the norm. We would consider anything from three bowel movements a week to three a day to be normal," Locke tells WebMD. If diet and exercise changes haven't helped, talk with your doctor about using fiber supplements. The problem with fiber for some people is that it may cause bloating and gas. Laxatives containing polyethylene glycol can also be used safely on a more regular basis, he says.

7. "Holding It" Is Bad for Your Digestion
Feel shy about using the office bathroom? Not a fan of public restrooms? You're not alone, according to Ellen Stein, MD. "A lot of people would prefer to go at home," says Stein, an assistant professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, MD. Unfortunately, ignoring the urge is bad for your digestive health. "Holding or keeping things longer than you're supposed to can have a negative effect. The natural signals that you hear to tell you when you have to go can be extinguished," she says.

What you can do: Stein advises trying to find a place and time to have a bowel movement. For example, use the bathroom down the hall, rather than the one next to the boss's office.

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Reviewed on November 07, 2013
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