Yes, we’re going to talk about ?. It’s important so we’re going to go there!
Constipation means something different to different people. It can mean the obvious inability to go to the bathroom at all, but being constipated can also mean only have a few bowel movements per week, having stools that are hard to pass and require straining, or having the feeling of an incomplete bowel movement. So, like many things, there is a spectrum of situations that can all be classified as symptoms of constipation. And just because it’s “normal” for you to only poop twice a week doesn’t mean that’s how it’s supposed to be. Or just because it’s “normal” for you to strain to get out little rabbit pellets doesn’t mean that’s how it’s supposed to be either!
There are a myriad of reasons for constipation and the topic deserves more than just a brief blog post but I still wanted to talk about it because this is something that affects so many people and has implications beyond just potentially making you feel bloated or sluggish. Removing waste from the body is important to do in a timely manner because it is just that – waste! When stool hangs around in the colon too long, toxins can be reabsorbed and the delicate balance of beneficial bacteria upset. The ecosystem of gut bugs living in there is so important for every aspect of your health, so keeping things moving and grooving in the bathroom is very important to that process.
Constipation is really just a symptom, not a disease in and of itself. If you are chronically constipated, that is a sign that your body is out of balance in some way and you should look to find and correct the root of that problem. Taking a laxative to just help you “go” isn’t really helping you figure out why you are constipated in the first place and may come with some side effects. Working with someone to help you address the root cause is important but I wanted to provide some safer tools for alleviating the symptom while working toward bringing balance and healing to your body.
So, here are 5 methods of relieving your chronic constipation.
1) Drink water! This was number one for my last “Top 5” blog post as well. It’s pretty much going to be in the top 5 for any issue. One of the colon’s (or large intestine) jobs is to reabsorb water. If you are not drinking enough, there is not going to be much water leftover in your stool by the time it gets there. The colon will suck out anything it can, leaving you with hard, difficult to pass stool that’s just going to hang out. You should be drinking 1/2 your body weight in ounces of water everyday.
2) Eat enough healthy fats. Dietary fats (the good kind!) help decrease inflammation, which helps keep things moving and lubricate the digestive tract. Additionally, higher fat diets have been shown to increase in bowel motility (1) and they help pull more bile into the colon, which increases motility as well. Try eating some fattier cuts of protein, increase your extra virgin olive oil on salads, or even blend some MCT oil into your coffee, smoothies, or salads dressings.
3) Increase magnesium. This important mineral is something many of us lack in adequate amounts. Not only is it depleted from our soil but we tend to eat diets that don’t include much magnesium (higher refined carbohydrate and crappy fat diets) and we use up the stores of magnesium we do have through daily life. Our bodies’ response to stress requires magnesium (and other micronutrients) and if we are not replenishing we are left without enough to help other important bodily functions. Magnesium is important for muscle relaxation (among many other things), which helps the colon to allow movements to happen more easily. My favorite form of magnesium is magnesium glycinate because it is more easily absorbed but for the sole purpose of relieving constipation, magnesium citrate will provide more laxative-like effects. If you experience loose stools when taking it, just back off until the consistency is ideal. Magnesium glycinate can still help with this because it will be providing all your cells with magnesium, you might just need to take more to reach the desired amount for increasing bowel movements.
4) Eat more OR eat less fiber. Well, that’s confusing. If you look up ways to help constipation, one of the top pieces of advice will be to increase fiber. In some cases that may very well be what you need to do (2). Fiber is indigestible and along with adequate water (and fat intake) will move through the intestines, creating bulk and help pull things through. But if your constipation is a lack of intestinal motility, eating more fiber is probably just going to make things worse. The stool is already not passing through and adding more bulk might just stop you up even more. Your chronic constipation could be a symptom of a larger issue like hypothyroidism and just adding more fiber to your diet isn’t going to have much of an impact on that. So, you can experiment a bit. Try eating more fibrous veggies and some fruit and see how your body responds. If you end up feeling more bloated and worse, then try the opposite and decrease the amount of fiber-rich foods you’re eating for a period of time.
5) Consider the possibility of an imbalance and displacement of proper bacteria in your gut. Stress, chronic diseases and conditions, and crappy diets can set the stage for an overgrowth of bad bacteria or a displacement of good bacteria where it shouldn’t really be. When too much bacteria is hanging out in the upper part of the small intestine, you can start experiencing typical IBS-type symptoms. This also goes along with #4 above because just adding more fiber to this situation is likely to exacerbate your symptoms. Bacteria in our gut feed on fiber and create gasses. If this is happening in the small intestine where it shouldn’t be, you’re going to feel bloated and probably constipated. Starving the bacteria by removing their fuel source is one part of getting rid of an overgrowth like this. Try a low-FODMAP approach for a few weeks and see if that relieves your symptoms and then one by one start adding foods back in to see how you respond. This is easier said than done so reach out to me if you would like some help in this area!
There are certainly other ways to help deal with constipation but hopefully this will give you a starting point if you’ve been struggling with this frustrating experience!
Actually, two more that I have to mention, which I guess ruins my whole “top 5” thing but oh well. Exercise and stress management. A stressed body is a tight, non-relaxed body. And lack of movement hinders intestinal motility. So go for some walks, do some yoga or stretching, or a nice bike ride or jog and you may kill two birds with one stone – help your stress levels and increase your exercise!