No one likes to talk about poop (except my husband and son, who make it part of our daily conversations), but everyone does “it.” The frequency and consistency of our poops is a taboo subject, yet it can tell us so much about how the body utilizes food to turn it into the energy and nutrients we need to thrive. In my clinic there are a couple of questions that can give me a lot of insight.
How often do you poop?
What consistency is it?
Many people don’t move their bowels on a regular basis and often it is uncomfortable. While you may not consider it to be constipation, if stool isn’t moved through the system and eliminated frequently enough it can lead to a variety of health problems.
Constipation…what is it?
You usually put food into your body about 3 times daily. It makes natural sense for the excrement to move through the system on a regular basis also. It is considered normal to have 1-3 soft bowel movements daily. It should take about 12-24 hours for your food to move through, which can be determined by doing a bowel transit test. But what if this doesn’t happen? When do you turn from normal to constipated? Constipation is defined by different people different ways. Dr. Cowan, a holistic family practitioner, describes it as irregular or no stools for 2-4 days. The Rome III diagnostic criteria for constipation is having to strain, having lumpy or hard stools, incomplete evacuation, a sensation of obstruction or blockage, or having to use manual maneuvers to move bowels at least 25% of the time. Constipation may or many not include the symptoms of abdominal bloating and pain but it is often uncomfortable.
Causes for Constipation
For many people constipation is an issue of lifestyle-namely diet and exercise (surprise!). Very frequently cleaning up the diet-including more fiber from vegetables, fruits, and beans-and drinking enough fluids can go a long way in bulking up the stool and encouraging it to pass. Regular movement and exercise works to massage the bowel making peristalsis (the rhythmic movement of the intestinal muscles) easier. However, that is not the case for all. There are a plethora of other reasons that can cause constipation such as:
- Medications- including opiate meds, some anti-depressants, iron supplements, calcium channel blockers used to decrease blood pressure, and aluminum containing antacids interfere with normal bowel mobility.
- Aging – due to more reliance on packaged foods, increased amounts of medications, and less mobility
- Poor gut microbiome balance, dysbiosis, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth
- Magnesium deficiencyslows the natural rhythmic motion of the muscles in the colon.
- Hormones play a role which can become more profound in women during their menstrual cycles, pregnancy, and menopause. Also an underactive thyroid can play a role in bowel function.
- Some diseases- such as Parkinson’s disease, scleroderma, lupus, stroke, diabetes, kidney disease, multiple sclerosis, and any disease that affects the spinal cord such as spinal cord injury.
10 Ways to Relieve Constipation
- The place to start is your lifestyle. Make sure you are eating a whole food, fibrous diet, drinking fluids regularly, and moving your body. Fiber plays a big role by adding bulk to the stool while fluids such as water, herbal teas, and broth allow for lubrication as the feces moves through your colon. Great sources of fiber include legumes, such as navy beans, pinto beans, lima beans, black eyed peas. Fiber is also found in vegetables with higher amounts in Brussel sprouts, cabbage, asparagus, cauliflower, broccoli, kale, and carrots. Exercise works as a massage for your colon.
- Food sensitivities may also be a culprit. If you don’t respond to increase fiber you should be tested for food sensitivities may be contributing to your difficulty going.
- Microbial infections of bacteria, fungus, or parasites can cause constipation. Improving bowel flora and dysbiosis can provide the colon with the short-chain fatty acids (butyric acid, valerate acid, propionic acid, and acetic acid) to properly fuel the cells of the colon, keeping them strong and healthy.
- Take coconut oil, 2 tablespoons melted and mixed with water twice daily will also provide fatty acids to promote beneficial microbes in the intestines, keeping them strong and healthy.
- A flax seed drink made of 1 tablespoon freshly ground flax seeds (ground in a coffee grinder) mixed into 1-2 cups of warm water will soften the stool allowing for easier passage.
- A castor oil pack can work wonders on constipation. To make the pack put a piece of cotton or flannel cloth the size of your abdomen over a piece of plastic wrap. Drizzle a generous amount of castor oil onto the cotton/flannel. Lie on your back with the castor oil directly onto the skin. Place a heating pad on top of the castor oil to heat it up. Lay this way for about 30 minutes. The castor oil will absorb into the skin.
- Lactose intolerance may cause constipation from dairy products. If you are unsure, avoid all forms of dairy for 14-21 days to determine if your bowels adjust. If lactose intolerance is the reason for constipation, complete avoidance may be necessary.
- Add magnesium to your diet can aid in the strengthening the muscles for peristalsis, the rhythmic movement of the bowels. Magnesium can be found in foods grown in nutrient-rich soil, however for immediate magnesium doses my favorite supplement is Natural Calm. Doses may vary depending on the extent of deficiency, but starting with approximately 400mg is appropriate. But you must be careful with magnesium, as more is not better. Too much magnesium can cause diarrhea.
- Take vitamin C which can soften the stool. You can do a vitamin C flush using powdered mineral ascorbate powder by mixing 1/2 tsp with water or fruit juice and drink. Repeat this every 15 minutes until you have watery diarrhea (not just gas), then stop taking the ascorbate. Add up the amount of vitamin C it took you to reach the watery diarrhea to determine optimal dosage. From then, divide the amount by 1/2 and take in divided doses daily. Your dose may change over time.
- Take digestive enzymes which will allow for foods to be better digested which can aid in the passage of stool.
Inability to move bowels can be very uncomfortable, but it can be treated to make the day to day bathroom experience much more pleasant.
Resources: Digestive Wellness by Elizabeth Lipski, PhD, CCN, CHN
Fourfold Path to Healing by Thomas Cowan, MD