by Cora Rivard, N.D.
What’s the deal- why do so many of us have a hard time pooping while traveling? Usually, it is a combination of things. First, we often eat things not typical to our daily diet, eat too much, don’t balance with enough fiber, and don’t drink enough water. Plus, we are out of our usual routine. Any combination of these things can throw us off our normal habits. So, how can we avoid getting constipated in the first place?
1. Drink plenty of water. Sure, coffee, tea and soda help give us the kick we need to drive long distances and stay alert for activities, but they also act as diuretics and rob you of moisture. This can lead to drier stools which are harder to move. Same with alcohol. Do your best to decrease consumption of diuretic beverages while traveling, especially if you are risk of constipation. (Exception- if that cup of coffee helps to make things move for you, by all means keep it in your routine!)
2. Avoid eating too much meat. Meat is constipating- it takes a lot of water to metabolize extra protein in your diet. Don’t overdue it at those summer BBQ’s.
3. Careful of supplements (calcium, iron, zinc). We sometimes need to supplement these minerals, but keep in mind that they can each be constipating. Be careful of taking these when traveling. If you are taking any of these for strictly wellness reasons, and not medical need, consider lowering your dose or simply not taking during your travels.
4. Eat plenty of whole fruits and vegetables. The fiber and extra fluid content of these foods will help keep you regular.
5. Keep moving. If you are traveling by car or plane, make arrangements to get up to walk around and stretch whenever possible. Make sure to get some extra exercise once you get to your location. For those who are accustomed to yoga- cat/cow stretches and downward dog/cobra alternations are excellent movements for keeping things moving in a healthy pattern.
Great! So now you know what to do to help prevent getting constipated, but what should you do if you still manage to find yourself full of…um, discomfort on a trip?
1. Relax. Try not to stress out about it, that only works against the process. Practice taking slow deep breaths, and don’t force it. If you have a usual time to go, still make the time to sit and relax on the toilet- even if nothing happens, you will encourage your body to stay on schedule for future days.
2. Remember to drink plenty of water. Foods that contain plenty of fluids are also good bets to get enough hydration, for example: watermelon, grapes, cucumbers and tomatoes.
3. Try prunes, or prune juice. Not just for elderly folks, prunes are a nutritious and functional snack for anyone!
4. Ask your doctor about magnesium. I often recommend my constipated patients take a powdered magnesium citrate product mixed with hot water, approximately 300-400mg for an adult before bedtime. This promotes stimulation of smooth muscle (to help the movement) and helps keep more moisture in the stool for easier passage. Magnesium can affect the heart’s rhythm, so it should never be given to children, or to adults with heart conditions without consulting a doctor first.
5. Castor oil packs. This is an old naturopathic remedy. Just massage some castor oil gently and liberally all over abdomen, in a clockwise motion. Cover with an old clean rag or flannel cloth (an old t-shirt works fine, this oil does stain), cover with plastic, then apply some low heat from a heating pad or hot water bottle for 15-20 minutes while reclining comfortably. This can be done nightly until desirable results are achieved. Heat should not ever be applies if there is acute pain or inflammation.
When constipation is an ongoing problem beyond travels, especially for a child, please call me. There are a number of health conditions, medication side effects, food sensitivities as well as other dietary causes of chronic constipation, and licensed naturopathic doctors are often the best suited healthcare provider for helping patients safely resolve this problem. All too often, I have had patients who have finally come to see me after suffering years of procedures, medications and expenses through their primary doctors and gastroenterologists, from some of the “best” medical institutions in and around Boston. They are often surprised that more effective, long term results can be had with an effective, natural approach that gets to the root causes of constipation.
(this article should not be construed as medical advice, or to replace advice given by your doctor.)