Constipation: Symptoms and treatment
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Constipation is when you have not emptied your bowels at least three times in a week, which is true for more than a quarter of us. Increasing your fibre content normally helps constipation, but apparently eating lots of kiwi fruit is really important too. Express.co.uk chatted to Dr Deborah Lee from Dr Fox Online Pharmacy to find out how kiwi could treat constipation.
Upping your fibre intake is the best way to improve constipation and gastrointestinal disorders including acid reflux, indigestion, stomach pain, distension and bloating.
Most often, people with these symptoms are advised to increase the psyllium or wheat bran in their diet, but there might be a better solution – kiwi.
Dr Lee said: “The humble kiwifruit has many digestive benefits for anyone suffering from gastrointestinal symptoms, including constipation.”
Most experts believe that dietary changes are needed to reduce the huge number of symptoms linked to constipation and gastrointestinal disorders.
Dr Lee said: “This can be achieved by increasing the amount of fruit and vegetables eaten every day.
“However, interest has centred recently on the kiwifruit, previously thought of as a curious-looking fruit used in Chinese medicine.”
Kiwifruit has specific properties which lend themselves to preventing constipation.
Firstly, kiwifruit fibre has a profound effect to retain water.
Dr Lee said: “This speeds up the transit time of the digestive contents to pass through the GI tract, leading to a reduction in abdominal pain, and softening the stools.”
The green fruit also contains an enzyme known as actinidin, which stimulates protein digestion in the stomach and small intestine.
Kiwifruit cell walls contain large quantities of both soluble and insoluble fibre, which is hugely beneficial for constipation.
Dr Lee explained: “The soluble fibre ferments in the large bowel to produce various large chain fatty acids which have many health benefits.
“The insoluble fibre causes pronounced water retention and swells the stools in a similar way to wheat bran.
“However, this effect is seen from eating raw kiwifruit, without the need for processing. “Kiwifruit dietary fibres appear to act as a substrate for beneficial colonic bacteria, supporting a healthy gut microbiome.”
Kiwifruit has other properties that are beneficial for health, such as its high vitamin C content.
Dr Lee pointed out: “The SunGold kiwifruit contains almost three times more vitamin C than organs and strawberries.
“Vitamin C is vital for collagen production and the formation of neurotransmitters and a potent antioxidant.
“High levels of vitamin C are also needed to activate the immune system and can reduce the number of days of illness from the common cold.
“Increasing the intake of vitamin C through kiwi and any other source can help the absorption of iron.”
Eating as little as half a kiwi fruit per day can lead to a significant increase in plasma vitamin C levels.
Kiwifruit also contains high levels of vitamin E, folate and potassium. Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant.
Dr Lee said: “Although folate is found in leafy green vegetables, levels are reduced from boiling, hence eating raw kiwi fruit is an excellent natural source of folate.
“Kiwifruit is low in sodium but high in potassium. Eating more potassium has been shown to lower blood pressure.”
How effective is kiwifruit in improving constipation?
To date, only a small number of studies have been conducted on kiwifruit and digestive health.
These were done on different populations and in different countries, making it difficult to draw firm conclusions.
However, Dr Lee stressed: “Eating two kiwifruit per day has been shown to improve stool consistency, increase the number of spontaneous bowel movements per week, and reduce abdominal discomfort.
“A randomised controlled crossover study looking at the intake of kiwifruit and digestive symptoms is currently being undertaken.”
Kiwi is also great for people on a low FODMAP diet who might have IBS, which can cause constipation.
The fruit has a low glycaemic index (GI), which means it can only be digested slowly, and the fruit has also been shown to improve cholesterol levels and reduce blood pressure in some cases.
A 2009 Chinese study found after participants spent eight weeks eating two kiwifruits per day, levels of HDL cholesterol were increased, with a decrease in total cholesterol and triglycerides.
How to eat kiwifruit
Kiwifruit is a highly nutritious, low-calorie food.
It is a natural – unprocessed – whole food and highly recommended for the health and optimal functioning of the GI tract.
The optimal number of kiwifruit to eat per day are not known, but clinical studies participants commonly ate two per day.
Dr Lee said: “Although traditionally kiwifruit is eaten peeled, the SunGold kiwifruit which has hairless skin can be eaten whole.
“The skin is especially full of nutrients and by eating it whole the fibre, vitamin E and folate contents are increased by 50, 32 and 34 percent, respectively.”
Be careful, though! Some people are allergic to kiwi.
Dr Lee warned: “The enzyme, actinin is the major underlying cause for anyone with a kiwifruit allergy. These range from mild – such as a sore mouth – to full-blown anaphylaxis.
“There may be a link with other allergies such as a latex allergy.”
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