Whether we teach, bartend, or greet customers, many of us stand and move around for a living. However with state-wide shutdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us have been furloughed, finding ourselves sitting at our home computer or on our couch for much of the day.
Moreover our diet has changed. From the morning cup of coffee to the salad in the break room, we had a routine that our bowels acclimated to and learned to go with the flow. Now that we may sleep in, skip our morning coffee and eat more snacks around the house, intestines look at this new sludge with confusion.
“Quarantine Constipation” is real and many Americans are finding their stools to not pass so easily. Here’s the breakdown on constipation.
What is constipation?
Constipation is a decrease in frequency of bowel movements or difficulty passing stool that persists longer than one’s normal bowel movement cycle. In general, less than three bowel movements a week could be considered constipation. 20-30% of the US population suffers from constipation and this percentage increases in those who are elderly or confined to medical facilities. Some people have hard stools that are difficult to pass with normal motility, whereas others have soft stool but poor motility.
What causes constipation?
A variety of factors could be the culprit. These include:
- Lack of water
- Lack of fiber in one’s diet
- Certain foods in one’s diet such as cheese, diary, fat, gluten, those high in meat
- Lack of exercise
- Frequent sitting
- Hormone fluctuations
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease
- Laxative abuse
- Eating disorders
- Medications such as narcotics, antidepressants, iron supplements
Constipation should never be ignored………
Why does sitting cause constipation?
Most of us who work standing up or use a stand-up desk can attest to the fact that we seem to get a thumbs up from our colon. In fact some of us will even admit we suffer from less constipation than our 90 degree angle sitt’n brethren.
Sitting may impede flow, flow that occurs hours before one needs to empty his bowels. And not only do angles play a part in this but when one sits, their abdominal cavity shrinks, as opposed to stretching when standing up. An individual who is standing allows more volume of abdominal room for the colon to work.
Additionally, pressure from sitting and the chair may cause undue pressure on the lower colon. If you think back to high school physics, pressure has to be less at the destination of flow. True, mass and density can vary based on poop amount but even NASA gets it (see below).
….where “choke” is the act of sitting.
Even in basic terms, our caveman forefathers and mothers realized that standing made an easier bowel evacuation, (standing and squatting even easier). So 2020 humans may need to go old school, doing less sitting and more standing.
What should our stool look like?
When someone is constipated, the stool is not moving through the colon as quickly as it should. The more hours and days it sits in the colon, the more water is absorbed. So the stool churns and churns becoming dryer, smaller and harder. So pebbles or rock-like stool is a sign of constipation. Conversely, as in diarrhea, stool has not been processed by the colon properly, water has not been absorbed and thus it appears very soft or liquid-like. This puts one at risk of dehydration. Therefore healthy stool is a happy medium.
Using the Bristol Stool Chart, the ideal stool would be in the shapes of Type 4 and 5.
What should I do if I’m constipated?
First drink more water. Secondly look at your diet and see if you have any offending agents such as dairy or fried foods. Thirdly, exercise and get off the couch (as discussed previously). Fourthly, visit your medical provider for an evaluation. Finally, try and relax. Many of us have difficulty pooping because we are stressed or on a time crunch. Your body doesn’t care if you have a Zoom meeting in 5 minutes. The body likes to relax when it relieves itself so grab a magazine, or my blog, and take some time out of your day to poop. Sometimes we need to stop and smell the roses……