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Chocolate and Constipation : Understanding the Complex Relationship

Constipation is a condition where there is difficulty in passing stool and the bowel movements are infrequent. This can be caused by medications, certain conditions, or lack of fiber and water in the diet. According to some people, chocolate can also cause constipation; however, there is not enough data to support this.

Chocolate is one of the famous and most loved dessert and food item. It is gifted to people who you love and it is loved by people of all ages; children and old alike. Pieces of chocolates are also used in many baked food items to increase their taste and appeal.  Despite the fabulous taste and the popularity of the chocolate, it is thought to cause constipation in some people.

Studies done in 2005 showed that people suffering from irritable bowel syndrome or chronic constipation said one of the foods which triggered their symptoms was chocolate.(1)

In this article we will find out if this magical treat, which is chocolate, does cause this side effect or not. We will find out the association between chocolate and constipation.

What is Constipation?

Constipation is when one has lesser bowel movements and has difficulty in passing motions.(2) Constipation is technically defined as when one is passing less than three bowel movements in a week.(2, 3) Individuals who are suffering from constipation pass dry and hard stools, which are slower to pass through the intestines. Constipation is not a fatal condition, but it can be quite uncomfortable and causes symptoms, such as bloating and abdominal discomfort. The patient can also develop hemorrhoids and anal tears if there is severe and chronic constipation.

What Are The Causes Of Constipation?

  • Constipation often stems from problems with your diet. Fiber and water make stools softer and easier to pass. If you don’t get enough fiber or water in your diet, you can become constipated.
  • There are some medications which can cause constipation as a side effect and these are: anti-seizure medications; antacids, hypertension medications; medications for Parkinson’s disease; iron supplements; some antidepressants and narcotic pain relievers.(2)
  • In some cases, constipation occurs as a result of a life change and is temporary. Pregnant women also develop constipation as a result of changing hormone levels.
  • Some medical conditions can also cause constipation and these are: Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, stroke, diseases affecting spine or brain; intestinal tumors; spinal cord injuries and hypothyroidism.(2)
  • As you age, movement in your intestines slows, and you’re more likely to become constipated.
  • There are some individuals who get constipated only when they travel.

How Does Chocolate Affect Constipation?

There is no concrete evidence that constipation can be caused by chocolate; however, there are some individuals who seem to have issues with constipation after eating chocolate.(7) One doesn’t exactly know if it is the cocoa that is the culprit or some other component in the chocolate. Other ingredients in the chocolate can also cause constipation, such as milk present in the chocolate, which can cause constipation. Caffeine present in chocolate can cause dehydration, which can make the stools hard and dry and cause difficulty in passing them.  Chocolates and foods which contain chocolates are often high in sugar and this can cause problems with bowels too.

The Effect of Chocolate on Different Types of People

Any type of response to chocolate depends on any medical condition the person has. People suffering from IBS can suffer from constipation after eating chocolate. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, there are around 12% of people in America who suffer from IBS.(4) The exact reason why chocolate can contribute to constipation in individuals suffering from IBS is not known.

On the flip side the cocoa present in the chocolate and its other components can help some people having constipation.(7) A study done in 2006 showed that cocoa husks given to chronically constipated children helped in passing the stools better as these husks are high in fiber.(5)

What Is The Safe Quantity Of Chocolate Which Will Not Result In Constipation?

How much chocolate should you eat and if you should eat it at all depends the effect it has on your body. If you are not suffering from constipation as a result of chocolate, then you can continue to eat it. However, one should consume chocolates in moderation, as it has increased calories, sugar and fat and is not good for overall health.

If chocolate is causing constipation, then it is better to remove it from your diet and see if there is any relief in your constipation. After the constipation gets alleviated, then it can be gradually reintroduced to your diet and you can see if it is causing constipation again.

When Can You Get Rid Of Constipation?

If the cause of constipation is chocolate, then it will resolve after eliminating chocolate and foods that have cocoa in them. However, even after stopping chocolate consumption you continue to be constipated, then it means there is another cause for it and you need to remove other foods to find the source.

What are the Ways to Prevent Constipation?

Lifestyle Changes: This is one of the best ways to prevent constipation. One can achieve this by eating fiber-rich foods like vegetables, fruits and whole grains. Fibers provide bulk to the stools making it easier to pass. The recommended fiber quantity for adults is around 22 to 34 g from the diet every day.(6)

Drink More Water: Along with increased fiber, the daily water intake should also be increased as fluids helps with easier bowel movement.

Exercise: Exercise is another important lifestyle aspect along with dietary changes to help with constipation.  Regular exercise is beneficial for overall health and also enhances healthy bowel function.

Take Your Time: It is also important to avoid rushing bathroom visits and instead give yourself time and sit calmly till you have completely emptied your bowels.

When Should One Use Laxatives?

Laxatives can be used if the lifestyle changes fail to help with the constipation issues. Laxatives can be purchased OTC and are available in different forms such as:

Bulk-forming agents, such as Metamucil and Citrucel to help increase the fluid content in the intestines.

Stool softeners help in absorbing more fluid and make the stool softer and hence easier in passing it and consist of Surfak and Colace.

Osmotic laxatives also help in increasing the quantity of fluid in the stool and consist of Milk of Magnesia.

Stimulant laxatives are another option for constipation and consist of Dulcolax and Correctol. They work by helping in the movement of the stool through the intestine by initiating the muscle contractions (peristalsis). Stimulant laxatives are stronger than other types and can have side effects, such as diarrhea and abdominal cramps. This is why it is not recommended for long term usage.

References:

Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:November 24, 2023

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