Constipation, we’ve all been there for one reason or another. The unpleasant battle of digestion when your recent meals refuse to use the blueprint for their exit strategy: causing constipation symptoms like bloating, gas, and cramps, oh my! You are far from alone on this one!
Up to 63 million North Americans are constipated. This is a staggering number. Of course the origin of where or what the constipation is stemming from is different for many. Some people suffer from constipation from h pylori (a bacteria that infects your stomach), women suffer from constipation during pregnancy, an insurmountable amount of people deal with constipation from pain killers and other medications.
I know, right now you’re saying, “That’s great Doc, but how often should I be going? And what should I do if I’m not? If I’m not, do I have chronic constipation?” Behold, I won’t keep you waiting (unlike your colon).
How often should we go #2?
When you look at bowel movements from a physiological standpoint, they are extremely important. We expel many toxins, waste, and bacteria through our stool. This becomes even more important when we know the other ways to get rid of toxins:
- Through the skin (sweat)
- Through the lungs (exhaling), and
- Through the kidneys (urination).
We can absolutely rid toxins through these methods, but none is more efficient than the bowel movement. The liver, our main detoxification organ, breaks down toxins into slightly less harmful substances. After going through liver detox, the toxin must be eliminated rather quickly. If the toxin sits in the gut for a long period of time (constipation), then the toxins can be re-absorbed into the bloodstream. This can also become a problem with those trying a quick “detox”. When you detoxify too quickly, but are not able to expel from the body, you can feel worse than before.
So how many times should we go per day? Of course, everyone is different, has different diets, environmental exposures, and gut bacteria, so everyone has differing bowel movements. Ideally, we should go #2 at least once/day. Think of baby- after they eat, they usually go to the bathroom (not literally- you know what I mean!). After we eat, we use up what we should for energy, repair, etc and excrete the rest. Ideally, bowel movements should be well-formed (type 3 or 4 in this chart).
What about laxatives?
Americans spend over $2 million per DAY on laxatives! That’s incredible. America obviously has a constipation issue. So should you use laxatives? Laxatives should only be used as a last resort. Using laxatives frequently can inhibit or slow the body’s natural ability to have a bowel movement, making them very hard to discontinue. Laxatives can also lead to dehydration and edema if taken for too long. Laxatives can include Miralax and Milk of Magnesia.
What can help with my constipation?
Probably one of the # constipation relief solutions is magnesium. Magnesium is a well-known mineral that most Americans are deficient in due to soil quality; as many as 80% of Americans are believed to be magnesium deficient. Magnesium Citrate can increase bowel movements, slowly increase the dose until you have regular, well-formed bowel movements.
Medium- Chain Triglyceride Oil contains active ingredients derived from coconuts. This partially man-made fat is an extremely efficient fuel source for the cells in the body, especially the brain. MCT is used in the famous Bulletproof coffee, along with grassfed butter, as it boosts cognition, maintains fullness and alertness. MCT oil can also serve as a mild laxative when consumed in larger amounts.
Vitamin C is an amazing anti-oxidant. Actually, humans are one of the few mammals that cannot produce their own Vitamin C (along with apes and guinea pigs). When taken in doses throughout the day, vitamin C can help regulate bowel movements. Ideally, vitamin C doses would be just below bowel tolerance.
Great natural food sources of water are chia seeds, flax seeds, berries, avocados, and apples. Many fiber supplements contain psyllium husk or pectin.
Note- if fiber irritates your gut or aggravates your condition, you should stop and consult a functional medicine practitioner, as you may have a GI disturbance!!
It is said that everyone needs to drink 8 glasses of water per day. That is not necessarily true. A more individualized approach would be to shoot for more than ½ oz of water per pound of body weight (200 lb person needs 100 oz of water minimum per day). You can tell that you are hydrated if you urine is a very light yellow color, almost clear. Clean water is important- stick with spring water or reverse osmosis water with added minerals.
Exercise can naturally increase peristalsis. Peristalsis is the wave-like contraction of the intestines that keeps the bowels moving. Repetitive, aerobic exercise seems to work the best for peristalsis, but all exercise can have a positive effect.
Gut bacteria are essential for good health. Having a good balance can be harder today, as we are bombarded with anti-bacterial soaps, cleaners, and other personal care products. In order to maintain a healthy gut microflora, it is wise to eat probiotic rich foods like sauerkraut and kimchi, or take a high quality probiotic with multiple strains and billions of bacteria.
Every cell in our body has a thyroid receptor on it. The thyroid has many important jobs in the body, one of those being regulating bowel motility. As thyroid function slows, so does the gut function. Bowel movement become less frequent, we may develop GI infections, lose stomach acids, and can develop a leaky gut.
Humans have trillions of bacteria in their gut (actually 10x more bacteria than human cells!). And these bacteria must be in balance for optimal health. When bad bacteria overgrows, we have problems. Pathogenic (bad) bacteria can lead to issues like diarrhea, constipation, pain, gas, bloating, and much more. Overgrowth of methane-producing bacteria can lead to constipation. Also, these bacteria can disrupt peristalsis, which are the waves the move the bowels along.
Not enough fiber
Fiber is the part of food that (for the most part) is undigested and goes through the colon. Fiber actually the main fuel source for the good bacteria in your gut. Most Americans’ diets are severely deficient in fiber, as processed foods are devoid. Many Americans get an average of 15 g of fiber per day, while most new research and experts claim that an intake of 40-100g/day would be more ideal for gut, immune, and overall health.
Low stomach acid
Although we’ve been told that stomach acid is bad,(Hence Tums-don’t take them) we need proper amounts of stomach acid in order to digest our food properly, and for a healthy immune system. Good amounts of stomach acid breaks down our food, so it is easily absorbed in the small intestine. When we have insufficient stomach acid, the food we eat sits in our intestines and putrefies, as the body will hold onto it longer in order to break it down and digest. As we age, our stomach acid declines, making it even more important to optimize
Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth SIBO (methane producing bacteria)
The trillions of bacteria in our gut are mostly in our Large Intestine. Due to many factors, sometimes we accumulate bacteria in our small intestine: small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). This leads to immune dysregulation, GI symptoms, and possibly diarrhea or constipation.
Low neurotransmitters- serotonin (in gut)
Over 90% of the neurotransmitters in the body are produced in the gut. NTs like: serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine are known for mood stabilization, but they aren’t usually thought of when it comes to poop. Studies show that a decrease in serotonin can lead to constipation.
Not enough water
Dehydration is one of the most common causes of chronic constipation. So why does this affect your ability to have a bowel movement? Well, it takes water to move food through your digestive tract (from your stomach, to large intestine, to the colon). If your body is dehydrated, it utilizes water from your food waste. When this occurs it becomes difficult to poop.
These are merely the tip of the iceberg of things that can instigate the trecherous battle that between your food waste and your digestive tract, but to avoid you snoozing during this important poop discussion we’re having, here is a short list of a few other causes:
Constipation is serious business. When you are constipated, you are not properly ridding toxins. Think of what your house would look like if you accumulated trash, but never took it outside. Regulating your gut health and bowel movements is one of the most important things that you can do for your health. Implement these simple tips if you or a loved one suffers from constipation.
Note: if you still have constipation after trying these, I would advise you to see a Functional Medicine practitioner who can accurately diagnose and treat the root cause of your problem.