It’s not just food that travels through your digestive system. It’s fluid. Yes, that includes water, but also juice, milk and other non-caffeinated drinks. If you want things to flow properly, you need to hydrate them.

If you’re finding it difficult or painful to pass waste or your stool is particularly large, dry or lumpy, it may be a sign that you need to change how you drink and eat. A lack of fluids, alongside low fiber intake, is one of the leading dietary causes of constipation. In a healthy digestive system, fiber and water work together after you’ve extracted the nutrients from your food to bind the waste together, then soften and expel it.

Failing to hydrate properly isn’t the only cause of constipation. It can also be associated with lack of physical activity, stress and changes in your routine. Sometimes it is a side effect of various medications. It’s more common when you’re pregnant or just after giving birth. In rarer cases, it’s part of a larger medical issue, such as thyroid problems, diabetes, kidney disease, celiac disease, cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy or Parkinson’s. These are just a few of the possible associated conditions.

Even in these cases, however, failing to consume enough fluids can still exacerbate constipation. Having something to drink may be one of the simplest ways to try to alleviate the symptoms. Water, juice and milk are all fine. Herbal teas, which tend not to have any caffeine, can help, but regular tea or coffee aren’t such good ideas. It doesn’t have to be a drink, with many fruits and vegetables (such as watermelon, cucumber, apples, oranges and strawberries) having a high fluid content. Fruit and vegetables also boost your fiber, so this is a good approach.

Keep in mind that you need to drink more on hot days, after you’ve been exercising, or if you’ve been ill. Some people, like the elderly or the very young, also need to drink more and may not notice if they become dehydrated, so be aware of that if you have any kind of caring responsibility.

Hydration is important for a wide range of reasons, and that includes your digestive health. Just checking in and making sure you’ve had something to drink is a valuable way to improve your wellbeing and maximize your performance, leading to a happier and more comfortable life.

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