Travel constipation: What causes it and how to ease it?

Travel constipation can make your holiday uncomfortable (Picture:Getty)

With summer getaways firmly in our sight, our bodies will once more have to go through the ups and downs that come with travelling.

From swollen ankles to dehydrated and thirsty skin, our bodies can react negatively to changing altitudes and locations.

One particularly uncomfortable health issue is a change in movement of the bowels.

Travel constipation happens when you suddenly are no longer on a regular bathroom schedule and struggle to pass stool while holidaying.

According to Healthline, ‘travel constipation is common after a long flight’ as ‘your diet is usually interrupted, and sitting down for hours at a time can slow things down in your gut.’

Signs that you are constipated include pooping fewer than three times a week, passing dry and hard stool, feeling bloated or full or straining while on the toilet.

Long flights can cause the issue but according to registered nutritionist Clarissa Lenherr, other elements play a part too.

Stress and anxiety

Clarissa says the stress and anxiety that comes with travel is a big culprit.

‘Travelling can be stressful for a whole host of reasons: luggage allowances, being late, going through security, delays, unplanned situations and the unknown once you reach your destination,’ she explains.

‘When we feel stressed, the sympathetic nervous system responds by triggering a ‘fight or flight’ response.

‘In this state of stress, we release our stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline to keep the body alert and ready to face the threat.

‘When it comes to digestive health, being in this fight or flight response actually signals the body to send resources, such as blood flow and energy, away from the gut and directs it to more vital areas of the body such as our heart, brain and muscles.

‘The repercussions of this can result in indigestion, nausea, slowed digestion, bloating and potentially constipation and/or diarrhoea.’

Along with a decrease in general movement, this tension wrecks havoc with our insides.

‘Specifically, when it comes to constipation, stress and anxiety can cause the muscles in our digestive system to slow down, which can delay the need to open your bowels,’ Clarissa notes.

‘And when our bodies are under stress, we release more of the hormone CRF (corticotrophin-releasing factor), which impacts gut motility and triggers the intestines to slow down, potentially resulting in constipation.

‘It is suggested that long-term stress can deplete the levels of commensal bacteria we have residing in the gut, which we need to support healthy bowel movements.’

Air travel, passenger looking out airplane window, empty seats, COVID-19

Travel constipation is totally normal (Picture: Getty Images)

Easing symptoms

Thankfully, there are ways to ease the symptoms. Clarissa says to do this successfully, you must care for your body both mentally and physically.

‘To prevent yourself from entering a “fight or flight” stress response, you can try deep breathing or meditation,’ she says.

‘A few deep breaths can calm the mind and body and take you into a ‘rest and digest’ state when the body is best primed for digestion.

‘To help with bowel movements, try increasing your fibre. Fibre helps to bulk out our stool and keep us regular. Include nuts and seeds, fruits and veg with their skin on and wholegrains.

‘Some of the best foods to try include flax and chia seeds, kiwis and psyllium husk.

‘Ensure you are drinking plenty of water, especially if travelling somewhere hot.

She continues: ‘You may try peppermint tea too. It can help to support movement in the bowels, helping stool pass along. Drinking tea can also be a calming process to reduce anxiety.

‘Also, try consuming ginger. It has been shown to stimulate gastric emptying, as well as reducing nausea which may be triggered by anxiety. Make a fresh ginger tea, throw fresh ginger into your smoothie, have a ginger shot or consider a ginger supplement.’

Meanwhile, for extra longterm prevention Clarissa advises trying a probiotic.

‘Taking a good quality probiotic can help to improve the commensal bacterial balance,’ she says. ‘If you have low diversity of bacteria or low levels in general, a probiotic may be the solution.

‘Always opt for a probiotic that is multi-strain and check in with your healthcare provider if pregnant, breastfeeding or on any medication before taking supplements.’

Clarissa’s top tips to prevent/ease travel constipation

  • Try some deep breathing or meditation before your flight
  • Drink peppermint tea
  • Consume extra fibre by eating wholegrains, fruit, veg, nuts and seeds
  • Drink plenty of water, aiming for 1.5 to two litres
  • Consume ginger
  • Take a probiotic

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