If you’ve been chronically constipated before you will agree that constipation can have a significant impact on your quality of life. In this article, we will refer to functional constipation (Constipation not due to an organic abnormality), whenever we discuss constipation. Consistent and proper bowel movements are essential to a healthy and superior quality of life. The bowels are one of the body’s main ways of eliminating toxic waste that would otherwise harm us.
The human gastrointestinal tract can stretch up to 30 feet in length and is essentially a tube that runs from the mouth to the anus. It is broken down into many sections; the mouth, esophagus, stomach, the small intestines, the large intestines, and the anus. This system is in direct contact with the outside world and functions to:
- Digest the food we consume
- Selectively absorb the required nutrients from that food
- Eliminate the resulting toxic waste
Many factors play a roll in how well we digest, how long we digest, how well we absorb the nutrients, and how frequently we eliminate. Often, when we have problems with our bowel movements, they will also be accompanied by other gastrointestinal issues such as gas/bloating, heart burn, abdominal discomfort, or even hemorrhoids.
What most people don’t realize is that other systems in our bodies that are physically far from our gut can be directly affected by our gastrointestinal health!
For example, Inflammation in our intestinal tract can lead to symptoms such as foggy brain, rheumatic joint pains, fatigue, skin disorders (eg. Eczema), or even more internal disorders such as autoimmunity.
Not only does chronic constipation contribute to gut inflammation, but the longer the stool is in the colon, the more toxins are re-absorbed into our bodies. These are some of many reasons why the gut should never be neglected when addressing health.
Want to naturally fix your constipation? Then read on!
Having adequate dietary fiber is very important for bulking the stool, binding toxins so that they do not get reabsorbed into the body, and increasing transit time (the amount of time it takes food to get through your digestive system). We get fiber from veggies and fruits Eat your veggies and fruits!
Digesting your food properly can significantly reduce levels of constipation. Digestion starts in the mouth through the mechanical action of chewing. Chewing thoroughly, and having adequate stomach acid levels (Something to consider if you are taking heart burn medications!) can greatly improve constipation. One thing I like to do for stomach acid is apple cider vinegar. I usually give my patients 1Tbsp with some water two to three times a day. Though if you are taking any heart burn medications, if you have a stomach ulcer, or if you react easily to medications or supplements, I would advise you talk to a professional before you try this as it can aggravate your condition!
Adequate water intake is one of the most important remedies for treating constipation. I have seen multiple patients taking laxatives and other medications to treat their constipation, while having 0 to 2 cups of water per day. It makes more sense to try increasing the water intake before going to the laxatives, no? How much water should you drink? As much as you need so that your urine is not dark yellow! If you are taking B-complex vitamins, this may not be the best method to check if you’re drinking enough water as your urine will be bright yellow nonetheless. If you have kidney disease, please consult your doctor before increasing your water intake.
Did you know you can actually “teach” your body to have constipation? If you are one of those people who hold it in until you get home, then you are inadvertently teaching your body to always hold it in! Moreover, since mental stress can also lead to constipation, utilizing proper stress management in your life can significantly reduce symptoms.
Modern toilets position our body in a way that causes a “choking” of the rectum and hence making it difficult for stool to be eliminated. Squatting, however, removes this problem and allows for a relaxation of the muscles around the rectum. This facilitates bowel movements. Don’t worry though, you won’t have to start going in the bushes! A simple solution would be to either use a stool that you can place your legs on as a form of “squatty potty” while you sit on the toilet.
If you are someone who doesn’t eat a lot of green leafy vegetables, or is on specific medications that cause nutrient depletions, then you are most likely deficient in nutrients such as magnesium. Magnesium is a mineral that helps muscles relax, helps our liver detoxify toxins, helps us make energy out of the food we eat, and much more. Because it helps muscles relax, it will improve transit time and in turn increase the frequency of bowel movements. Though, this may also cause blood pressure to decrease, so please consult your healthcare provider before starting this supplement!
Probiotics are another supplement that I usually prescribe to my patients for constipation. Especially if their GI issues started after antibiotic use. The type of bacteria in the gut will affect whether you experience constipation or diarrhea. This is why you get diarrhea with chronic antibiotic use! Having a balance between the “good” and “bad” gut bacteria is important for good GI health. Quality of probiotic supplements is important depending on your health background, so make sure to consult your ND before supplementing!
And there you have it! If you have been experiencing constipation, it is a good idea to try the basics before moving onto more invasive techniques. Though it is important to note that constipation can be a sign of something more serious internally such as a thyroid problem or a growth obstructing the bowels, so please consult your healthcare professional before self-diagnosing and treating!