Q. What changes in my diet can I make that would help with regularity?
A. Harmony Allison, MD, a gastroenterologist at Tufts Medical Center, says: “The two dietary and lifestyle changes that will help you the most are fiber, fluids, and regular exercise. The fiber and fluids add bulk to stools and make them easier to pass. Exercise helps to move things along.
“I advise my patients against taking fiber pills or fiber supplement bars. If they don’t drink enough water with them, the increased fiber can make the constipation worse. I suggest eating a bran or other fiber-rich cereal because people eat those with milk. If you want to try a supplement, get the kind you mix with water.
“Fruit is also a good source of dietary fiber. Studies have shown that prunes both draw water into the stools and stimulate the colon to move things along. The only catch is you need to eat about 12 prunes a day to get the full effect.
“If changing your diet and getting more exercise don’t work, you could talk to your doctor to figure out the cause. Certain medications, including those for high blood pressure or depression, can cause constipation.
“If you do need to take laxatives occasionally, they can be effective and are generally safe if used as directed. The two common types are osmotics and stimulants. Osmotics draw water into the stool; stimulant laxatives induce the colon wall to push stools along. Ask your doctor or pharmacist for a recommendation if you’re not sure what to take.”