Constipation is one of the more common complaints that I encounter in my practice. Constipation occurs when you have infrequent bowel movements, have difficulty moving your bowels or have incomplete bowel movements, any of which persist for weeks or longer.
Constipation is defined as having fewer than 3 bowel movements a week and results from your colon absorbing too much water from waste/stools. Bowel movements that result from the use of laxatives do not qualify as good bowel movements; they should be happening naturally. Three bowel movements a day indicates a well-functioning gastrointestinal system.
Your gastrointestinal system starts at the mouth and ends at the anus. Your gut microbiome (community of microorganisms, such as fungi, bacteria, and viruses, that exist in a particular environment) is the foundation for your health. A well-balanced microbiome is the key to staying healthy. 80% of your immune system is in the gut.
When you are constipated, toxins are not moving out of the gastrointestinal system in a timely manner and often toxins can be reabsorbed and you feel worse and worse. Signs of an unhealthy gut can be gas, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation.
Everything you ingest will directly affect how your gastrointestinal system functions. The gut aids in the digestion of the foods you eat, absorbs nutrients, and uses them to fuel and maintain your body. Keep in mind that your gut and your brain are directly connected, and if your gut is not right, brain symptoms can result, causing additional struggles.
There are many possible causes of constipation; however, giving your body the proper nutrients will allow it to start to correct itself, and working with a practitioner to find the root cause of the constipation will improve your quality of life.
Some of the causes of constipation are:
- Poor nutrition-not enough fiber, fruits, vegetables
- Dehydration-one should be drinking ½ their body weight in oz/day and more if exercising (the human body is 60% water, please give it some). There may be medical exceptions.
- Antibiotic use
- Antacid use
- Use of certain prescription drugs such as pain medication or NSAIDS
- Changes in your lifestyle or routine
- Ignoring the urge to move bowels
- Lack of privacy to relax in the bathroom
- Lack of exercise
- Eating too quickly and not chewing food well
- Hormonal dysfunction-hormones help balance fluids in your body
- Eating large amounts of milk, cheese, and wheat
Treatments for constipation are:
- Reduce stress and find a healthful balance
- Increase your fiber by increasing fruits, vegetables and legumes
- Increase your water intake on a daily basis-stay well hydrated when traveling
- Relieve yourself when your body is ready; don’t ignore the urge
- Exercise regularly
- Be present when eating and chew thoroughly
- Reduce or eliminate dairy and wheat
- Take appropriate supplements from a trained professional
Remember, healing the gut will take time, dedication and consistency. Your gut did not become unhealthy overnight, but it will slowly improve with lifestyle changes such as healthful eating, increasing water intake, managing stress and exercising regularly.