Smokers who quit experience many different withdrawal symptoms, but one that is very common is also a symptom few people like to discuss–constipation. Smokers have grown accustomed to the many chemicals found in cigarettes, and when those chemicals are suddenly removed from the body, very strange and troubling changes often occur. Irregularity is one of those troubling side effects.
Much like coffee, which is a well-known and widely used product to aid in regularity, cigarettes, and more specifically nicotine, also serve to keep the bowels moving. Nicotine stimulates the contraction of the intestines, making many smokers dependent upon cigarettes to “get them moving.” In addition to constipation, smokers who have stopped smoking report many different issues when first putting the cigarettes away, including stomach pain, abdominal cramps and even nausea. The good news is these symptoms do fade over time, as the body re-learns how to function without the presence of nicotine and other substances.
What then can a newly quit smoker do to reduce their constipation and return to regularity? The passage of time will take care of most cases, as the body adjusts to its new chemical makeup. A study conducted on 1067 smokers who quit found that constipation peaked at two weeks, but it remained a problem for the entire four weeks of the study.
There are several simple changes you can make in your diet and lifestyle that should help end your constipation. Modifying your diet to include 20 to 35 grams of fiber each day will help your body form a soft, bulky stool. Increased bulk stimulates the intestine’s natural contraction mechanism, keeping you regular. Foods high in fiber include whole grains, beans, fresh fruits, and vegetables such as asparagus, peas, squash, and carrots. Reducing or eliminating foods that provide minimal or zero fiber, such as ice cream, cheese, meat, chips and other processed foods, can also help end your constipation. Be sure to drink ample water and other liquids, such as vegetable juices and clear soups. Daily exercise is important for overall health, plus it will help you get and stay regular. And be sure you actually spend time in the bathroom! Make time each day to get in there and take care of “business.” Many people ignore normal urges for a bowel movement and make their constipation worse.
Laxatives can help “restart” a chronically sluggish bowel and they come in a wide range of products using different methodologies to achieve regularity. Bulk-forming laxatives, also known as fiber supplements, are considered the safest, but they can interfere with absorption of some medicines. Fiber laxatives and natural laxatives are taken with water. They absorb water in the intestine and make the stool softer. Stimulant-based laxatives mimic the natural rhythmic intestinal muscle contractions (also caused by nicotine). Osmotics pull large volumes of water into the intestines, thus softening and loosening the stool. Stool softeners moisten the stool itself, which causes added bulk, triggering the body’s natural intestinal contractions which move the stool through the intestines.
Laxatives help restore the normal function of the colon. Some people can become dependent on laxatives the same way smokers are dependent on nicotine to stimulate their bowel movements. Gradual reduction of laxative use can end dependence on them as well.
Ending your smoking habit doesn’t have to mean an end to regularity. You can correct your constipation by eating right, exercising and, if necessary, using a laxative to restore normal intestinal function.