There's a certain aisle in the drugstore that gets a little more action during the holidays than others, and it's not the one with the gift wrap. Americans spend $700 million a year on laxative products. But these over-the-counter meds can actually make bathroom problems worse.
If your digestion goes kind of rogue during the holiday season you're not alone. Travel-induced constipation, traveler's diarrhea, and even bloating and heartburn are all common ailments this time of year for a plethora of reasons.
Getting off your regular bathroom schedule is annoying and uncomfortable. There are a few sneaky culprits that you should be aware of if you've got potty problems during the holidays:
- Air travel can mess with all of your bodily functions, but our digestion definitely suffers when we're jammed into an airline seat for hours on end. Sitting for long periods of time combined with the dehydration that goes hand in hand with traveling at high altitudes (the humidity level in a cabin is about 12 percent—lower than some deserts climates!) spells digestive issues for many.
- Undiagnosed gluten intolerance or a gluten allergy can also throw your insides out of whack. One of the most glaring signs of a gluten intolerance is digestive distress in the form of stomach aches, loose stools, and constipation. Some favorite holiday foods that only make an appearance once a year—we're looking at you, gingerbread men—are gluten and sugar bombs that can aggravate even the strongest stomachs.
- Dairy products and dishes soaked in cream are also in abundance during these months. Sixty-five percent of people lose the ability to digest dairy properly after infancy, and even though our bodies give us all the signals that dairy ain't okay anymore, most of us will ignore chronic acne or funky digestion in order to nosh on the cheese plate.
- Even though eggnog is a staple of holiday cheer, alcohol is another serious offender when it comes to messing with digestion. Because spirits aggravate stomach lining, dehydrate the body, and weaken the immune system, a night of drinking can not only mess with regular digestive patterns but also leave you more susceptible to illnesses like the norovirus. The main symptoms of the most popular illness during the winter? Vomiting and diarrhea for 24 to 48 hours. No thanks.
- Shocker: stress is a major trigger for bathroom issues. Whether in the form of constipation or an overactive colon, the anxiety of traveling, confronting difficult family members, or even falling out of a normal routine can cause issues for regularity.
Couldn't avoid the above for whatever reason and now you're... stuck? There are a few natural ways you can soothe your tummy, regulate your digestion, and get your system back on track.
Problem: Can't go!
Solution: Magnesium, prebiotics
Can't make it happen at go time? Try magnesium supplements. This essential nutrient is responsible for over 200 enzymatic processes in the body, but nearly 80 percent of people are deficient in it. Taking too much magnesium can result in loose stools, but supplementing appropriately with about 300 milligrams for women and 400 milligrams for men should help get things moving.
Prebiotics are non-digestible food components that feed the good bacteria in the stomach and intestines and help with overall gut health. Bananas, onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus, artichokes, potato starch, and whole-wheat are among the prebiotic foods that can help you go. Try adding them into your diet before the holidays to keep digestion from going haywire.
Problem: Can't get off the toilet!
Solution: Slippery elm, probiotics
To avoid spending the holidays glued to the porcelain throne, at the first sign of diarrhea, decide if it's a serious issue. If it comes with serious abdominal pain, dehydration, blood, a fever, or persists for more than three days, it's time to call a doctor.
Just a temporary annoyance? Try slippery elm, an herbal remedy used in North America for centuries. When ingested, this plant creates mucilage, a substance that becomes a slick gel when mixed with water. Sounds a little nasty, but mucilage actually coats internal organs to soothe any inflammation and also helps absorb excess liquid in the bowels, eliminating diarrhea symptoms.
Taking a probiotic regularly is a proactive step anyone can take to keep bowels working optimally. Creating a healthy gut microbiome is the key to fighting any sort of digestive irregularity.