Constipation is not respected enough as to it’s potential negative effects on health in Western medicine – and our societal discomfort with even discussing this important issue is part of the problem.
The first thing to understand is that your gut is your “first brain”. Proper gut function is the very beginning of good health – and often times the font of disease. If there is a back up in the sewage system then the gut can’t function properly.
Also, the way that we “define” constipation in medicine is dead wrong. I have seen responses from MDs telling people the following… “if someone has a bowel movement every 3 days, that is normal for him or her – that’s just their own rhythm.” That would be similar to telling someone with cancer, that for him or her it is “normal” to have cancer. Nothing could be further from the truth.
What nature intended is food in; food out. Ideally, if you have 2-3 meals a day, you should have 2-3 bowel movements a day. At the very least, you should have 1 bowel movement daily.
And we all know this is how it is supposed to work. Those of us that have dogs know that we feed the dog once or twice a day and the dog poops once or twice a day. If our dog went 3 days without pooping then we’d have it to the vet. Why would we accept anything less for ourselves?
Food transit time should be somewhere between 10 and 14 hours. Anything slower than that can end up interfering with digestion and allowing for the reabsorbtion of toxins that are hanging around too long in our intestinal tract.
There are 3 areas in the diet that can positively or negatively affect constipation; water, fiber and good bacteria.
Without adequate amounts of water the stool can become too hard and slow the whole process down. You should strive to drink at least half your body weight in ounces every day. And most of this should be consumed in-between meals – drinking too much water (or anything else) while eating only works to dilute digestive juices.
Fiber is important because it adds bulk to the stool and encourages the message to your intestines to “move things along.” Fiber comes from grains, beans and legumes, fruits and vegetable. The lack of adequate fiber in the Standard American Diet (SAD) is a constant negative factor is normal bowel function. The more a food is processed the less fiber it will contain. Although there are accepted guidelines as to the amount of fiber you should get in your diet – the real number is best determined by evaluating your bowel function – more is generally better.
The dead cells of the good or friendly bacteria, as they run through their life cycle in the gut, make up about half of the bulk of stool. So when there is a lack of this, constipation is often the result. The relatively recent idea that we should live in a sterile environment continues to contribute to imbalances in our guts. Furthermore, people that have had their appendix removed may have a harder time maintaining a balanced intestinal flora. Eating fermented foods and avoiding tap water and antibiotics from meat can be helpful in maintaining a healthy biomass of good bacteria.
Lastly, hidden food sensitivities can be the cause of chronic constipation. Eliminating such common offenders as gluten, dairy, corn, soy and/or eggs might fix what has been a lifelong problem.
The biggest lifestyle issue revolves around exercise. The more you move; the more you move! Consistent exercise will helps massage the internal organs, including the digestive tract, and encourages peristalsis, the wave-like motion that constantly pushes things along.
Also to be considered are certain prescription medicines. Medicines can have a myriad of effects in the gut. Obviously, antibiotics will kill the good bacteria. Medicines that stop acid production in the stomach interfere with your ability to properly digest food – and the body doesn’t want to move undigested food along. Many pain medications can slow down the digestive tract; constipation can be the result.
Additionally, constant use of laxatives can lead to dependence and partial or complete loss of proper bowel motility.
Lastly, there are times when emotional issues show up in the body by causing constipation. Quite literally, you might ask yourself what it is that you are “holding on to” emotionally that can relate to not letting go of physical waste. Randi Botnick in our office is an excellent counselor that can help you explore this area.
There are supplements that can help alleviate constipation on it’s own and there are supplements to help treat the various underlying causes.
For various underlying causes: