Constipation is a common side effect of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. The cause is often related to pain control medications, along with the impact of certain treatment drugs. A starting point can be to look at your diet and experiment with building up your fibre intake. It is important to balance fibre intake between soluble and insoluble types. I often say these fibres are like a marriage and the best results for the bowel come when they are consumed together.
For example wholegrain cereal + fruit, wholegrain pita bread + salad, jacket potato + steamed vegetables.
There are times where the problems of constipation cannot be rectified by diet and you will need to use the laxative medications prescribed by your doctor or clinic. These medications should be used as instructed as ongoing constipation can contribute to feelings of discomfort and may even contribute to a loss of appetite or some nausea.
Food fix for constipation
If your doctor has suggested you work on your diet to help manage your constipation, the following should be considered.
Ensure you are eating enough wholegrain cereals such as Sultana Bran, All Bran, and other wholegrain cereals. You may also need to increase your consumption of wholegrain bread, wholemeal pasta, brown rice and whole wheat crackers. Grain fibre is important to add bulk to stools, and this is what helps flush the system. However, if you have not been eating much fibre, you should increase your intake gradually, and only if you can tolerate it.
- Try adding two teaspoons of flaxseed daily to your diet, and gradually increase to one to two tablespoons. A good way to do this is to put the flaxseed in yoghurt the night before to allow it to soften. Some people also enjoy it added to muesli and again you can prepare this the night before, adding milk so that it is easier to eat the next morning.
- Include at least two serves of fruit and five serves of vegetables a day. Smoothies and soups can be a great way to do this. A soup with pulses like lentils or beans can be a delicious meal that is full of fibre. For example, lentil and tomato soup is a lovely, spicy soup that’s full of goodness yet is surprisingly light to eat. Serve it with a slice of sourdough, rye or a granary bread to help inject a bit more of the insoluble type of fibre.
- A sufficient fluid intake is vital, keep drinks to hand and sip throughout the day
- Daily exercise can help. A walk in the park or whatever you are able to manage.
If these suggestions aren’t effective, then discuss with your doctor a suitable bulking product or laxative. Individuals with who have had a bowel obstruction or who are at risk should discuss appropriate intake of fibre with their doctor or dietitian.
If you have wind or bloating, limit foods such as broccoli, onion, garlic, cabbage, pulses, apples, carbonated drinks, sugar-free gums and sweets, and excessive amounts of refined wheat products. Any wind should improve if your bowels move properly.