It’s not often the topic of dinner party conversation, but we all do it!
Did you go ‘number two’ today? Perhaps yesterday? How about the day before that?
In conventional medicine, the baseline requirement for regularity is three bowel movements a week, but a better indication of a truly healthy gut is having a bowel movement one to three times a day. Regular bowel movements and adequate elimination are key indicators of a properly functioning digestive system. However, almost 20% of the North Americans (around 63 million people), suffer from constipation. This results in annual medical costs of approximately $235 million.
Many accept this uncomfortable and even painful inconvenience and lack of regularity as ‘normal’ but in reality it is anything but. Your body is naturally a very efficient machine, and when your systems are slowed down it can often be the cause or result of more complex health problems.
Your elimination system is built to remove the toxins and waste from your body. When elimination is irregular, these toxins remain in your intestines and can potentially be re-absorbed into the bloodstream via a leaky gut. Furthermore, the waste in your intestines sits idle, producing bacteria that can disrupt the balance of healthy bacteria in your gut and lead to inflammation.
Although constipation is pretty clear-cut to detect, it can be caused by many different factors:
- Dehydration – Like a toilet, your internal flushing system requires adequate water to function properly.
- Lack of Fiber – Dietary fiber is not digested by your body. It travels relatively intact through the stomach and intestines, absorbing water to add bulk to stool, and supporting the movement of waste through your system.
- Disruption of the Gut Bacteria – Your digestive system is home to a wealth of different types of bacteria that help break down and absorb food and then eliminate waste. Taking antibiotics or oral contraceptives, stress, or inflammation can all disrupt the natural gut flora leading to yeast overgrowth, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth and leaky gut. These in turn can cause constipation.
- Food Sensitivities – Constipation is a common result of the digestive chaos created through food sensitivities as the body struggles to eliminate foods that cause inflammation. Although food sensitivity can be caused by a wide range of foods, gluten and dairy are the most common culprits.
- Hypothyroidism – An underactive thyroid will slow down many of your body’s systems, including elimination. For your body to eliminate waste, your colon must contract, and slow or weak colon contractions can be a symptom of hypothyroidism. Many people who have underactive thyroid function have no idea they do. It is estimated to affect up to 25 million people in North America alone.
- Autoimmune Disease – Autoimmune conditions can appear when the body is working hard to defend itself against something potentially dangerous, such as an allergen, a toxin, an infection, or even a food, and fails to differentiate between the intruder and its own tissues. This causes your immune system to attack your own organs. Autoimmune diseases can affect many different systems in your body and include neurological conditions such as Multiple Sclerosis or Parkinson’s disease, thyroid diseases such as Hashimoto’s, and multiple-system conditions such as Lupus. All of these diseases can cause constipation.
- Bowel Obstruction – A more acute cause of constipation can be an obstruction in the small or large intestine that will prevent stool from moving through. Common causes of intestinal obstructions are scar tissue or adhesions caused by abdominal surgery, hernias, tumors, Crohn’s disease (which can narrow or twist the intestine), or even cancer.
Further potential causes for constipation include not getting enough exercise, excessive stress, or regular use of painkillers. It is always best to take a comprehensive view of your health and what factors might be contributing to your elimination challenges. Once you understand what is causing your constipation you are able to effectively manage and treat it
Many are convinced that the easiest and perhaps only way to relieve their constipation is to resort to laxatives. These can be harsh on the body and are ultimately a short-term solution since they fail to address the true underlying. To truly cure constipation, the key is to identify the root cause and treat that along with the symptoms.
Treating and preventing constipation:
- Hydrate – To keep your plumbing in good working condition, make sure you drink enough water throughout the day. A good rule of thumb is to drink half of your body weight in ounces a day. This is especially important if you drink diuretics such as coffee or alcohol.
- Consume Enough Dietary Fiber – Eating foods rich in dietary fiber is a staple for regularity. Be sure to regularly (daily) eat Paleo friendly foods such as nuts, cauliflower, green beans, carrots, apples and citrus fruits to name a few.
- Avoid Inflammatory Foods – The premise of Paleo eating is an avoidance of inflammatory foods, but it still warrants reiterating. Avoid foods that are inflammatory, particularly gluten, dairy, corn, soy, and sugar. Since food sensitivity and inflammation triggers are unique to each person, it is important to follow and elimination and reintroduction protocol to determine what works and what does not for you.
- Supplement with Probiotics – If your gut balance has been disrupted, restoring your bacterial balance is key. Taking probiotic supplements which include Bifidobacterium and lactobacillus species will ensure that you have plenty of the good bacteria needed for regular bowel movements.
- Test you Thyroid – If you and your health practitioner suspect your constipation may be caused by hypothyroidism, you should have your thyroid levels (including T3, FT3, and RT3) tested. If your T3 levels are low, you will want to adopt a thyroid protocol including a high-quality supplementation, a strict Paleo diet, and potentially a prescription thyroid medication.
- Rule out Autoimmune Disease – Having your practitioner investigate your antinuclear antibodies levels. These cells typically attack your tissues instead of outside invaders. You could also test for more specific types of antibodies to help uncover any underlying autoimmune conditions. Armed with this knowledge, you can halt and even reverse signs of autoimmune disease by eliminating toxic foods, introducing restorative ingredients, and identifying environmental toxins.
- Intestinal Scope – If your constipation is accompanied by severe and constant belly pain, you could be suffering from an intestinal obstruction and you should seek medical advice immediately. Your physician may perform a scope to identify the obstruction to determine next steps.
While you are treating the root cause of your constipation, you can relieve your immediate symptoms with a magnesium citrate supplement. Magnesium plays a vital role in metabolic functions and aids bowel movements by attracting water in the intestines. It helps relax bowel spasms and is an osmotic laxative. Magnesium citrate is non-addictive and gentle.
Citrus pectin and prune powder are both safe for long term use to promote bowel regularity. Neither is habit forming and both provide food for beneficial bacteria. For relief you could make use of either or both.
There is no need to suffer through or simply accept constipation as a regular part of life. If you continue to struggle with adequate elimination, take an in-depth look at your diet, your environment, and your habits to uncover the roots of your issues which in turn will lead you to your best solution to get and keep regular!