4 surprising causes of constipation

A lack of fibre or not enough water can result in constipation, but have you ever considered these potential causes?

28 January 2015
by Chisanga Mukuka

1. Hypothyroidism

Your thyroid gland is responsible for the body’s metabolism, and when it becomes underactive the motion of the digestive tract slows down causing constipation. This can be easily controlled and treated with thyroid replacement therapy says Cape Town based GP Dr Charlotte-Louise Enslin.

2. Vitamins and minerals

Calcium and iron can both result in constipation. While they are found in multivitamins, the dosage is usually too low to have an effect. Constipation is more common in people taking supplements of either of these minerals, such as pregnant women or those with anaemia or osteoporosis. For those who regularly take iron supplements and find themselves feeling constipated, speak to your doctor about adjusting the dosage or type of iron you take. For calcium-related constipation, Dr Enslin suggests adding a magnesium supplement or reducing your dosage. Vitamin D has also been associated with constipation, and this too can be remedied by combining with a magnesium supplement. Speak to a Clicks pharmacist for advice if you suspect that your supplements might be causing constipation.

3. Painkillers

Because the digestive system is home to many narcotic receptors, constipation is often a side effect of painkillers. Ibuprofen, aspirin and opioids such as codeine, tramadol, morphine and oxycodone are common examples, and this is usually specified on the packaging. “Treat this problem by firstly knowing what you’re swallowing,” says Dr Enslin. "Try to avoid opioids, but if they are necessary for severe pain, ask your doctor to prescribe a safe laxative to take with your medication.”

4. Chocolate

Although those with irritable bowel syndrome report constipation after eating chocolate, there is no clear evidence that chocolate causes constipation. “It has not been demonstrated in the general public”, says Dr Enslin, “and some studies even suggest that being rich in magnesium might make dark chocolate good for relieving constipation.” Nevertheless, if you suspect that a certain food is to blame, try avoiding that particular food for a period of time and see if it relieves the problem.

If a case of constipation results in bloody stools, bad piles or weight loss, consult your doctor as soon as possible. Remember to drink enough water (1 to 1.2 litres a day), eat plenty of fibre, fruit and vegetables, and exercise regularly to prevent constipation as far as possible.

IMAGE CREDIT: 123rf.com