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Why lockdown is making you constipated

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Why lockdown is making you constipated


Not had much movement for a while? (Picture: Ella Byworth)

If you’ve noticed that your tummy has been a bit off lately – you’re definitely not alone.

In the first wave of lockdown, our minds and bodies had to adapt to a new routine and way of life, and it had a big impact on how we function.

Our sleep schedules and working patterns shifted, exercise and healthy eating regimes took a back seat, and our social lives were limited to video calls and virtual pub quizzes – all of which had more of an impact on our physical well-being than we anticipated.

One puzzling symptom of lockdown seems to be more people complaining of being backed up – not being able to go to the toilet frequently enough. Which can lead to unpleasant cramps, bloating and discomfort.

Now, as the UK prepares for lockdown 2.0, gut microbiologist, Dr Kate Stephens – of OptiBac Probiotics – reveals why lockdown can trigger constipation, and how getting your gut health in good order can help us prepare for the second installment.

‘Moving less, eating differently and virtual socialising can all have knock-on effects on your health,’ says Dr Kate. ‘We have noticed huge increases in customer enquiries since the first lockdown began in March, showing that unexpected health niggles were emerging.

‘For example, IBS enquiries increased by 842% and so has bloating, which has increased by a significant 3000%.’

Quarantine constipation and tummy troubles

‘Constipation can be common due to a range of lifestyle factors, in fact one in seven reported issues with it in 2019,’ she explains.

But there are certain lifestyle changes that come with lockdown that are likely exacerbating the issue.

First of all – if you’re working from home right now, when was the last time you got up for a glass of water?

‘While working from home, we may find ourselves drinking less water and becoming dehydrated,’ says Dr Kate.

‘What’s more is that we are reaching for comfort foods that tend to be high in fat and sugar (yes, even banana bread). Many harmful bacteria in the gut are sugar monsters, they thrive on these types of foods. 

‘This can cause an imbalance in the types of microbes in our gut and our friendly bacteria levels drop. This is one of the most common factors of gut upset and can cause constipation and tummy trouble.’



How to tell if you have constipation

It’s likely to be constipation if:

  • You have not had a poo at least three times during the last week
  • The poo is often large and dry, hard or lumpy
  • You are straining or in pain when you have a poo

You may also have a stomach ache and feel bloated or sick.

If you’re caring for someone with dementia, constipation may be easily missed. It’s important to be aware of any changes in their behaviour that might mean they are in pain or discomfort, although it’s not always easy.

For more information look on the NHS website, or contact your GP

Dr Kate adds that gyms closing and spending too much time sitting down won;t be helping either.

‘A lack of exercise can also have an effect on bowel movement,’ she says, ‘making toilet habits irregular and consequently slowing down the entire digestive process.’

How to combat constipation 

So, how do we tackle it? None of us want to spend the second lockdown feeling bloated, sick and uncomfortable.

Dr Kate says making small changes to your daily habits can make a real difference.

‘If you’re struggling with constipation, I would suggest making sure you’re drinking plenty of water to keep the body hydrated, and eating plenty of fibrous foods such as oats, wholegrains, nuts and lentils as these feed our friendly bacteria,’ she suggests.

Beyond diet and making sure you’re taking on enough water, Dr Kate says it#s also crucial that we get moving. We need to make regular exercise part of our new lockdown lives, even if we can’t go to the gym.

‘Outdoor exercise is also allowed,’ says Dr Kate. ‘So try to make the most of the autumnal fresh air to help regulate some of your bowel movements by not sitting down all day.’

Constipation isn’t the only worry during lockdown. Dr Kate says immunity has also been a hot topic over the last few months.

She suggests that daily immunity supplements can be really helpful, particularly ones that include the recommended daily dose of Vitamin C.

‘Probiotics or “good bacteria” top up our levels of friendly bacteria and promote a healthy gut microbiome, helping to bridge the gap, boost immunity and reduce the unexpected effects of lockdown on our rapidly evolving lifestyles,’ she explains.

‘Supplements contain different probiotic strains that each have a specific mechanic of working to support a healthy gut.’

Basically, it’s really important not to forget about your gut during lockdown.

It’s also really normal to experience some irregularity. But if you are having prolonged problems, or worrying symptoms like blood in your stool or unexplained weight loss, you should talk to your GP as early as possible.

Do you have a story to share? We want to hear from you.

Get in touch: metrolifestyleteam@metro.co.uk.


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