Constipation is so prevalent today that the average person who is constipated doesn’t even know that they are. Some people think not going number 2 every day is normal and not such a big deal. Some people think that going every couple days is acceptable. The problem is we should not be so misinformed about such an important bodily function as moving the bowels. Our body has to get rid of the wastes or things get backed up and cause problems. We all know what happens when a pipe in our kitchen sink or bathroom gets clogged, don’t we? It’s a real problem, not to mention often rather expensive and time consuming to fix. Am I right? It’s no different with our colon staying clear of build up, we need to move our bowels daily and not just any ole poo will do. It’s important that it comes out a certain way (see chart below). It is imperative to not go more than 24 hours, 36 at the most without moving your bowels. Otherwise, this can cause a lot of problems. Many doctors tell us it is normal if we don’t go every day – it may be ‘normal’, meaning common, but that does mean it’s optimal or adequate. In the chart below you can see a succession of types of bowel movements – there may be variations on these, but this should give a good picture of what starts out with serious constipation to the extreme opposite of diarrhea, with number 4 being optimal. If you aren’t normally passing number 4 style stools then you should consider working on your overall digestive health.
There are many reasons why one can struggle with constipation. Constipation can be a result of a need for healthier bile flow, as bile stimulates peristalsis in the colon. Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride says that constipation is always a sign of deficient gut flora. The beneficial bacteria that normally populate the bowel play a crucial role in proper stool formation and elimination. A sluggish colon indicates that wastes are sitting inside your colon too long. Poor transit time can increase the risk of colon disease. Why? We need enough good bile flow from the gallbladder and the liver to emulsify our fats and help them give the bowel its natural incentive to produce bowel movements. The longer the wastes sit in the colon, the more concentrated the bile acids become. Concentrated bile acids irritate the lining of the colon. Hormones that have been broken down by the body are also excreted via our feces. If the stool sits in the colon for too long, these hormones are reabsorbed into the blood stream, increasing the risk for estrogen-dependent cancers. Mucus can also build up during constipation, the irritated mucus membranes and bowel wall can get clogged so much so that the feces can hardly pass through. In addition the thyroid regulates a number of functions and keeps them normal by releasing the hormone thyroxine into the body. When the thyroid is under active, all the bodily functions are slowed. Slowed digestion obviously can lead to constipation.
Constipation also increases the workload of the other excretory organs – the skin, the kidneys, the lymphatic system and the lungs. These other organs and systems become hyperactive, overworked, and eventually worn out. Cellular metabolism thus becomes sluggish, repair and growth are delayed, the ability to eliminate waste materials compromised and the body becomes less energetic. The cells instead of being alive and vibrant, become inactive and dull. The result is a decline in functional ability, beginning with the physiologically weakest organs, glands, tissues and systems of the body.
How to Resolve Chronic Constipation
It’s critical to instill a lifestyle that promotes healthy bowel function. Starting with proper hydration, exercise, properly prepared nutrient dense diet, getting adequate fats and fiber, a GAPS/Paleo template is great. This is a good starting point because the foods that typically cause digestive upset are excluded on these eating plans. I personally consume a modified GAPS/Paleo type of diet and do quite well with it. Regardless, your first line of attack to resolve constipation lies in your lifestyle and diet, the foundations to your overall health. A properly prepared nutrient dense diet comprised of real whole foods, pastured/grass fed meats, good fats, nothing processed/refined, fresh organic produce and hopefully properly fermented and cultured foods is absolutely key as it helps to support all the possible dysfunctions associated with constipation.
- Hydration – it is critical to stay adequately hydrated. Since the colon removes water from the chyme (the mostly digested food matter that passes from the small intestine into the colon) before it becomes feces, it’s important to consider that if you are not hydrated the stool may sit in the colon longer just to suck out every last bit of water. If you have hard to pass stools, or #1-3 on the Bristol Stool chart, make sure hydration is ruled out as a cause of your constipation. Water is the most important nutrient for your body, are you getting enough? Try drinking 2 glasses of water each morning first thing, add some lemon or have a mug of warm or hot lemon water first thing. This will stimulate the liver and help to get things going. Read more here, here and here on the subject of hydration.
- Fiber -According to a Researcher Dr. Dennis Burkitt the large amount of fiber found in traditional diets was crucial for health maintenance. Today we only consume about 14 to 15 grams of fiber a day, when we really should be getting 25 to 30 grams daily. A large part of the bulk of our stool is from undigested fiber. We actually need fiber because the bifido bacteria present in our colon ferment them to become short chain fatty acids that feed our colon cells. I do not recommend taking fiber supplements as they can be very hard on the gut. I recommend you make sure you are getting adequate fiber in the diet through fresh or cooked vegetables, fruit and some starchier carbs, such as winter squash, carrots and sweet potatoes and properly prepared legumes (if they are tolerated). If you can tolerate grains and have worked to heal your gut those could be included so long as they are properly prepared and not an overwhelming percentage of the diet. About 15-20 percent of the overall diet should be starchy, but only for those who have healed their gut and have stable blood sugar. Also, if your gut is up to it, you can try 1 tsp. of coarsely ground flax seeds or chia seeds in an 8 ounce glass of water, let it sit for a couple of minutes before drinking. Drink first thing in the am or before bed. Slowly increase as needed, but stick to no more than 1 tablespoon per day. This is a good support, but not necessarily something you should use solely. The goal is to get enough good fiber in the diet when possible.
- Exercise – keeps the lymphatic system flowing helping to keep toxins from accumulating. Exercise also helps to keep the muscles in the body toned, the heart toned to circulate blood properly, and the arteries and veins contracting to help the blood fight gravity and get to the brain tissues. Exercise is also great for stress management, and since digestion only happens in parasympathetic mode ( a relaxed state of the body), it would behoove us to use exercise to help us get to that state. Never over do it though, I see far too many people pushing themselves beyond what their bodies should bear.
- A Properly Prepared Nutrient Dense Diet- this includes plenty of good fats, along with properly fermented and cultured foods. Both are critical to the health of the bowel. Aim to consume something fermented/cultured with every meal. To learn how to properly ferment foods at home check out this eBook; ‘Lisa’s Counter Culture: Pickles & Other Well Bred Foods‘, along with this online ecourse; Lactofermentation by Cooking Traditional Foods. This is an-Easy-to-Follow Course Showing You Everything You Need to Know About Fermenting Your Own Foods – and Getting Your Kids to Help You!
- Probiotics - we need a good array of healthy bacteria in our our bodies. We need prebiotics to feed the probiotics, and we need both transient and native strains of probiotics. The transient go in, do their job and leave with the stool. The native work to repopulate the gut and actually remain in the body. I can recommend a few good types of probiotics; BioKult contains both transient and native thought mostly transient and very little native, BioDoph 7 Plus is a good transient, and PreScript Assist is an excellent native soil based probiotic, both contain prebiotics.
- Chewing your food and not eating in a rush- it’s important to realize that adequately chewing one’s food is the first mechanical aspect of digestion that we actually have total control of. When we take the time to eat in a relaxed state and chew our food properly we are starting the digestive process off right. Rushed eating and partly chewed foods makes digestion a strain on the body, setting up for digestive dysfunction from the north on through the southernmost aspects of digestion, resulting in compromised bowel movements. Read this post here for more on this subject.
Deeper Issues Causing Constipation
Rule out food sensitivities – Check for lactose intolerance (dairy can be very constipating in people that have this). Consider doing an elimination diet to rule out the top allergens, gluten, soy, corn, peanuts. Often those who are celiac or gluten sensitive can also not tolerate the proteins found in other grains and pseudo grains. A time of removing these foods to heal may be necessary.
A sluggish liver or gallbladder- remember earlier I mentioned the importance of bile flow, since bile stimulates peristalsis of the colon. Consider drinking lemon water daily, some type of liver detox tea that is mild, though be sure to read the contraindications on the label first. Also, I personally love beet kvass for liver/gallbladder support, it’s a powerful intestinal mover. Drink 4 ounces before bed or first thing in the am. Additionally, I like this product- Beta TCP by Biotics, it helps to support normal cholesterol to bile acid conversion and healthy bile flow. It contains digestive and antioxidant enzymes, vitamin C, taurine and organic beet concentrate.
Hypothyroidism – consider getting some full spectrum thyroid panels done to rule out thyroid issues or find out if they may be a contributing factor to difficulty with maintaining healthy bowels. I like the info on Stop The Thyroid Madness, as well as Dr. Kharrazzian’s book; ‘Why Do I Still Have Thyroid Symptoms? When My Lab Tests Are Normal.’
Medications -consider what medications you are on that could be adding to your constipation issues. Do some research on the contraindications that come along with your meds. and the side affects, you may surprised how they are adding to your bodies burden.
Hypo-chlorhydria/ Low Stomach Acid – I’ve written more about this here. Not having adequate stomach acid means you will not be able to fully digest the food in the stomach, this maldigested food gets passed on further affecting the digestive tract as it goes. It’s a critical first place to look in digestion to start to resolve any dysfunction that can occur as a result. I recommend doing the test mentioned in the above linked post with Hydrozyme, then once you find your dose, utilize a bigger dose HCL product like Betaine.
Quick Fix Constipation Tips
Magnesium – One of the fastest ways to open the bowel is with liquid magnesium. Magnesium draws water to the bowel and relaxes the bowel muscles; the result is a loose stool. Aqua Mag-Cl from Biotics Research is a great option, each teaspoon is 200 mg of magnesium. Make sure to take it in some juice or something tasty as it has strong flavor. The average American diet only contains 40% or less of the FDA’s requirement for magnesium. And really, the FDA’s level is just enough to avoid a major disease this is not considering optimal health levels. Another good option is Mg-Zyme, it’s 100 mg of magnesium per tablet, start by taking 400 mg per day and increase slowly until a loose but well formed stool occurs. It’s important to know that magnesium is very relaxing to the body, so be sure to spread your dose out throughout the day and take any larger amounts at night. It should also help you sleep a bit better too.
Vitamin C Flush – I wrote more about how to actually do a vitamin C flush, here. It’s a quick way to open up a sluggish bowel, though you may be surprised how much vitamin C it takes. I can recommend Mixed Ascorbate Powder by Biotics Research, it’s gluten free and purified to contain no corn proteins making it allergy free.
Enemas – I can only recommend an enema with the disclaimer that your bowel pH needs to be maintained. I don’t recommend using enemas that will alter the pH of your colon over time. If you do use any enema other than water or a probiotic infused one you will need to replenish your colon with good bacteria through probiotic capsule suppositories or a rectal implant with some form of probiotics whether it be a capsule or some healthy kefir grains that have been raised anaerobically in raw milk. Read more here on how to do an enema, and here for a testimonial.
NOTE – There are some herbal types of laxative like products out on the market. I personally have used a tea called ‘Smooth Move’ in the past. It works, BUT I do not recommend it’s use, especially if you are working to heal your gut. The herbs in this products work to force the bowel to go into spasm causing a dumping effect. This is not what you want even though it may work to get things out, it comes with some risk to your overall bowel health.
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Lydia Joy Shatney is a certified Nutritional Therapist Practitioner through the Nutritional Therapy Association. Additionally, she is the chapter leader for the Weston A. Price Foundation in Delaware County, Pa. (Find the group here on Facebook). Lydia is also a member of the Nourished Living Network. Lydia founded Divine Health in March of 2010. You can find Lydia on Facebook, Twitter & Pinterest.
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