Constipation is common in people with Parkinson’s. Peristalsis(muscle contraction) controlled by the intrinsic nervous system is responsible for moving stools through the bowel. As experienced throughout the body with Parkinson's, muscle contraction can be slow leading to constipation. In additional a side effect of some medications for Parkinson's is constipation. Whilst little can be done to improve peristalsis, a high fibre diet, staying well hydrated and chewing well or having food cut up into small pieces will help stools past through with less effort.
Fibre adds bulk to stools and acts like a sponge. The recommended intake of fibre for adults is 30ga day (check with your consultant or dietician if your requirements differ from this). Most food labels list fibre content, but as a guide foods high in fibre include bran, oats, whole grain rice, wholegrain bread, fruit, vegetables, beans, pulses, nuts and seeds. Listed below is the fibre content of a range of high fibre foods, and as can be seen reaching the 30g recommended amount does take a little effort. However, a breakfast of oats, with added bran, nuts/seeds and raspberries is a good start (14g fibre), add to this a further 4 portions of fruit and veg (8g) and beans on toast (10g) and you have reached the target.
Staying well hydrated is essential to reducing constipation. Water is absorbed by the fibre and adds weight to stools and helps drag them through. The recommended fluid intake a day is 8 glasses but the best way to check hydration levels is by the colour of urine. Urine should be pale yellow, just off clear. A strong yellow colour is a sign of dehydration. But note that B vitamin supplements make urine more yellow.
Gut bacteria is something that has been discussed a lot in previous Parkinsons.me blogs. Evidence between gut bacteria imbalances and Parkinson’s continues to grow. In addition gut bacteria imbalances can be a cause of constipation. Foods that support good gut bacteria are probiotics such as live yogurt (not suitable for those avoiding dairy), fermented foods such as miso soup, sauerkraut and pickles and prebiotics such as fibrous food (fibre again!)
That’s what to eat, now how to eat. The size of food arriving at the bowel may also add to constipation. Chewing food well is optimal but not always possible for people with Parkinson’s, so instead ensure food if cut into small pieces. Finally movement, exercise is known to help ease constipation so do stay as active as possible.
Constipation is an issue with Parkinson’s but by following these recommendations it will hopefully keep discomfort to a minimum.