Constipation is always an uncomfortable and lingering problem for not only your physical but mental health. Inconveniently millions of people, including up to 20% of the total American adult population deal with this on a regular basis, yet fail to address the cause root of the problem.
While we understand that it’s normal to have trouble going to the bathroom every now and then, over time it can lead to a damaging impact on your gut health.
So, what is constipation?
Constipation is defined as ‘having difficulty emptying the bowels’. This usually results in the hardening of stool, as well as enduring gas and a bloated stomach. Constipation slows down the normal movement of food waste through the digestive tract.
Typically, it’s considered that if someone produces fewer than three bowel movements per week, or have hard, dry and small bowel movements that a painful and difficult to pass, then it’s most likely constipation.
What causes constipation?
Constipation is generally caused by a combination of different factors, including diet, lifestyle (how active you are) and environment (stress levels).
When constipation occurs, everything slows down in your GI tract. In some cases, there is not enough stool that is being formed therefore a delay of emptying the colon.
For our IBD and IBS buddies, your pre-existing condition could be the cause of your constipation. The abnormal digestive occurrences like constipation are often attributed to our ‘chronic’ conditions and that’s because our tracts aren’t normal, or inflamed. In fact, some people can develop ‘strictures’ which narrow the intestinal walls. But that’s okay, we explore how it can be managed a little further down.
Let’s explore all the contributing factors to your constipation…
- Poor Diet: Diets high in processed foods, sugar, white bread/pasta, alcohol unhealthy fats and crappy additives can make it harder to produce bowel movements
- Stress: High levels of stress shifts hormone and neurotransmitter production, which has a direct influence on muscle tension, inflammation, and enzyme production (the little guys that help breakdown our food).
- Limited activity: Exercise! It increases blood flow and strengthens muscles in your gut that helps move everything along.
- Certain medication: Some medication can cause frequent constipation including, antidepressants, opioids, antacids, iron supplements, narcotics etc. Read all labels to know your drug!
- Imbalanced flora: Healthy bacteria living in your GI tract are called probiotics, they help regulate your bowels. If you don’t have enough of the good guys, then ‘shit’ backs up.
- Thyroid or hormonal issues: Thyroid, PMS and anything that disturbs your hormones can cause constipation. Same with any other disease that affects the nerves in the GI tract.
- Magnesium deficiency: This electrolyte helps regulate muscle functioning which can help you relieve yourself, as you become more relaxed.
- Bad bathroom habits: Some people create unpleasant bathroom experiences for themselves. The comfort level of the toilet or their urgency to get in and out can certainly dictate their regularity.
- Irregular sleep patterns/travelling: Especially for IBD and IBS this can play a huge factor on constipation (trust me. I know all about this one).
We’d consider that you keep a diary, journal or mental note of your daily activities, including what you eat, how much exercise you’re getting and whether your fluids are up so that you can get a better understanding of what’s going on in your body! And, why you could be dealing with constipation. In the meantime, we have some suggestions to relieve yourself!
What changes can you make to ‘fix’ constipation?
There are various different routes, so that is quite a broad question. And unless you know the cause root, then most of the time you will be playing the elimination game. We will, however, endeavour to answer these questions as best as we can.
Foods that make constipation ‘better’…
High fiber foods – raw fruits, cooked vegetables, groundnuts (for those with IBD/IBS). So, prunes, figs, berries, avocado, pears, apples, sweet potatoes, broccoli, winter squash and leafy greens (only recommended for those who can tolerate leafy greens).
Warm liquids – Warm, or room temperature liquids especially consumed on an empty stomach will stimulate digestion. Try warm water with some lemon or honey.
Water – Increase your daily intake of water. Try to aim for at least 8 cups per day. The more the better. Hydration helps enormously with constipation
Foods that make constipation ‘worse’…
High calorie/low fibre foods – These foods are dairy, especially cheese, sugared foods such as cereal or bread, chips, fast food, ice cream, processed meats (salami), high sodium foods. All those naughty foods are generally naughty for a good reason.
Alcohol – Because it increases urine production and fluid loss, alcohol is never digested well either. It requires many enzymes to breakdown and can leave the body heavily tired and dehydrated. That’s why you feel crappy the next day!
Refined flours – Refined flour does not contain fibre, so it will get stuck in your gut!
Caffeine – Believe it or not, but some humans bodies tolerate caffeine differently. It can increase urine production while worsening the anxiety and constipation production.
Supplements that make constipation ‘better’…
Flaxseed oil – Generally we’d recommend flaxseeds but not for those with IBS or IBD, as it can sometimes cause irritation on the lining. Flaxseed oil helps lubricate the colon. Try 2-3 tablespoons daily.
Folic acid- Is also known as folate or vitamin B-9. It can help ease constipation by stimulating the formation of digestive aids
Vitamin C – Vitamin C pulls water into your intestines, which can help soften the stool. Be careful on the intake, however, as it can cause stomach cramps
Magnesium – Magnesium for constipation works by improving gut mobility. Add a small amount to your nightly routine and hope for the best in the morning.
Aloe Vera – This works great for some IBS/IBD humans, and can sometimes irritate. If it works for you, then great! It’s an anti-inflammatory that reduces inflammation in the colon.
Probiotic – Find a good quality or professionally recommended probiotic to add to your daily routine permanently. Not only will it improve your gut flora, but also overall wellbeing.
Lifestyle changes that make constipation ‘better’…
Exercise – Physical activity increases muscle activity in your intestines. Start doing at least 20 minutes of physical activity per day.
Reduce stress – Stress is the biggest trigger for SO MANY PROBLEMS! Yet, we don’t take it seriously. It increases cortisol levels, which creates secondary issues. Try yoga (including constipation stretches), meditation, walking outdoors, write a journal, cook in the kitchen, paint etc. Just find something that centres you and do it!
We understand that life can throw you curveballs, especially when dealing with digestive health problems. But please be proactive about your butt issues, your ‘regularity’ and consistency is so damn important to the longevity of your health.