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Publication #FSHN10-07

Constipation Myths1

Wendy J. Dahl2

What causes constipation?

Constipation is a common health concern for the older adult and may contribute to a lack of appetite, as well as more serious health problems. Constipation may result from a number of health conditions and diseases, and is a side effect of many drugs. Lack of exercise also contributes to constipation. Low fiber intake is the most common cause of constipation.

There are many myths about constipation. The following questions and answers address some of those myths.

Q: Does drinking lots of water prevent constipation?
A: Fluid intake alone will not prevent constipation. However, dehydration may contribute to constipation (1).
Q: Does eating cheese cause constipation?
A: A group of retirement home residents were given a 10-fold increase in cheese. No changes in signs of constipation were found (2).
Q: Does aging cause constipation?
A: Age alone does not cause constipation. Elderly people are at increased risk of constipation due to lower fiber intake, medication use, immobility, and disease (3).

In practice, constipation is often defined by stool frequency of fewer than three times per week. Symptoms include straining, prolonged passage of stool, pain, and incomplete emptying (4)

References

1) Chung B, Parekh U, Sellin J. 1999. Effect of increased fluid intake on stool output in normal healthy volunteers. J Clin Gastroenterol. 28(1):29–32.
2) Mykknen H, Karhunen L, Korpela R, Salminen S. 1994. Effect of cheese on intestinal transit time and other indicators of bowel function in residents of a retirement home. Scand J Gastroenterol. 29(1): 29–32.
3) Gallagher P, O'Mahony D. 2009. Constipation in old age. Best Pract Res Clin Gastroenterol. 23(6):875–87.
4) Leung L, Riutta T, Kotecha J, Rosser W. 2011. Chronic constipation: an evidence-based review. J Am Board Fam Med, 24(4):436-51.

Footnotes

1.

This document is FSHN10-07, one of a series of the Food Science and Human Nutrition Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date July 2010. Revised December 2013. Visit the EDIS website at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu.

2.

Wendy J. Dahl, PhD, assistant professor; Food Science and Human Nutrition Department; UF/IFAS Extension; Gainesville 32611.


The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.