Ever since the lockdown was announced, Rahul Shetty* hadn’t left his home in south Mumbai, unless for an essential item, such as food or medicine. Most of his days were spent sitting in front of the laptop, either working from home or binge-watching, eating and scrolling through his phone. A regular jogger, Shetty admits that the new normal took a toll on his health. “I turned into a couch potato. And, as a result, I constantly felt constipated,” he says.
Staying in a confined space and working from home to flatten the COVID-19 curve changed our daily routines in various ways. These changes included our toilet habits too, which gave rise to a new term – quarantine constipation. Gastroenterologist at Manipal Hospitals in Dwarka (Delhi), Dr Lovkesh Anand, tells us that he was inundated with queries and complaints about constipation since the lockdown was implemented. But Delhiites weren’t the only ones who found it difficult to well, unloose the caboose. The internet is our witness - this was a worldwide phenomenon.
What is constipation?
But before we delve deeper into quarantine constipation, we need to first understand what constipation is. “For some, facing difficulty in passing stool is [constipation]. To others, less frequent bowel movements or too small in quantity. As per guidelines, if a person hasn’t passed number two, at least three times in a week, then that is constipation. But again, frequency of motion differs from person to person,” explains Dr Anand.
Quarantine and constipation
Understanding complications in our bowel movements during quarantine begins with understanding the circadian rhythms. The National Institute of General Medical Sciences (India) describes these as the physical, mental and behavioural changes that follow a daily cycle. These internal processes repeat roughly every 24 hours and influence sleep-wake cycles, hormone release, eating habits, digestion and other important bodily functions.
Adding to this, Dr Anand says, “Our colon (large intestine), which is responsible for storing, processing and getting rid of waste from our body, works according to the body’s circadian rhythm. Disrupted rhythms may cause an increase or decrease in the colon motility, and the latter leads to constipation.”
Holistic Ayurvedic doctor Dr Pankaj Chansarkar, who is one of the experts at Vedary (Mumbai), couldn’t agree more. He shares that stress, physical inactivity, change in eating schedule, mindless snacking, poor sleep cycle and low auto detox in the body are a few elements that disturb rhythms.
During the lockdown, that’s exactly what happened. Stuck at home, juggling between work and household chores, and getting accustomed to our new routines was difficult for many. The new lifestyle, most of which was indoors, is also highly sedentary, which in turn, exacerbated quarantine constipation.
To help you get your bowels back on track naturally, follow these tips by Dr Anand and Dr Chansarkar.
- Dr Chansarkar feels it’s important to practice intermittent fasting once a week. It gives the body some time to process the food you’ve eaten. Also, it helps lower blood sugar levels, improves brain health, reduces inflammation and encourages the body to burn fat.
- Exercising or walking (stationary walking, if not the regular) at home can significantly help relieve constipation. Dr Anand recommends at least 30 to 45 minutes of walking or exercising, five days a week.
- Eating more fibre helps soften your stool and makes it easier to pass. So, make sure your meals include whole grains, legumes, vegetables, fruits and nuts, all of which are high on fibre.
- Avoid foods that slow down movements of the gut and lead to bloating. This includes processed foods, sugar, dairy and those with high starch content.
- Tea lovers, you can ditch the regular masala chai for Triphala tea. It is full of nutrients that aid in gut health and helps in cleansing the body as well, says Dr Chansarkar.
- Keep your body hydrated throughout the day because dehydration can cause constipation. However, avoid alcohol, since that dehydrates the body, too.
If all these tips fail to deal with your constipation, do not hesitate to pick up the phone and call your family doctor or a gastroenterologist for advice.
*Names have been changed to allow our interviewees to remain anonymous.