Written by Lisa Petty, MA, ROHP
It’s not something we generally discuss in polite company, but most of us know the incredible sense of lightness that comes from a healthy bowel movement. In fact, it’s something we strive for daily. But a variety of factors can impair your ability to start the day with a clean slate – or a clean bowel.
Constipation occurs when movements occur less than three times per week. Symptoms that accompany constipation include straining, feelings of incomplete bowel evacuation and hard, lumpy stool. Some research suggests that up to 27% of Canadians are experiencing constipation at a given time, and women and the elderly are more likely to be affected.,1
Studies have also shown that the amount of time it takes food to pass through the digestive tract from mouth to anus (also known as ‘transit time’) is slower in women. Women may also be affected by constipation during menstruation.
Primary causes of constipation include problems with the defecation process and may include normal or slow transit time. Many instances of constipation seen by physicians are termed ‘functional’ constipation, which typically responds to lifestyle modifications that include a high-fiber diet, exercise, and increased fluid intake.3,4
Secondary causes of constipation include underlying health conditions or prescription medications. A key secondary cause of constipation that impacts up to 20% of the population is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Common symptoms of IBS include diarrhea, constipation or both; changes in bowel movements, and abdominal pain that is often related to bowel movements. A 2017 review reported that insufficient dietary fibre may be a leading cause of IBS.5Of course, not all fibre is the same, and some may make IBS symptoms worse.
Fibre is essentially what is left after your body has extracted all the nutrients out of the fruits, vegetables, and grains that you eat. Non-digestible polysaccharides such as gums and mucilages as well as non-starch polysaccharides stored in cell walls are also considered to be fibres. Although fibres are not digestible by humans, they provide health benefits to digestive processes in multiple ways. Insoluble fibre helps to promote elimination by adding bulk to stool while soluble fibre helps to slow digestion and provide fodder (prebiotics) for the beneficial probiotic bacteria that reside in the colon. Although these fibres are associated with health benefits, certain prebiotics can exacerbate symptoms for those with IBS.6
To get the health benefits of fibre without unpleasant consequences such as bloating and flatulence, choose fibres that are low in fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols (FODMAP) that have been linked to worsening of IBS symptoms. Research shows that low FODMAP fibres such as acacia gum are slowly fermented by gut bacteria and are therefore well-tolerated and effective for constipation relief – whether or not you have IBS.
Gutsmart with acacia gum and Bacillus coagulansprobiotics helps relieve abdominal pain associated with IBS.
 Winge, K., et al. (2003). Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry. 74(1), 13–139
 Kapoor, M., et a. (2017). Journal of Functional Foods, 33, 52–66.
 Andrews, C. N., & Storr, M. (2011). Canadian journal of gastroenterology. 25 Suppl B, 16B–21B.
 El-Salhy, M., et al. (2017). International journal of molecular medicine, 40(3), 607–613. https://doi.org/10.3892/ijmm.2017.3072
 Irritable Bowel Syndrome. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/irritable-bowel-syndrome/symptoms-causes
 Lunn, J., & Butriss, J. (2007). Nutrition Bulletin, 32(1), 21–64.
 Cherbut et al., 2003