Everyone is unique when it comes to their bowel habits but if you aren’t having a bowel movement every three days you are most likely constipated. Constipation can make us feel bloated, full and cause unnecessary straining. Long term risk of constipation includes increased risk of polyps, diverticulitis, colon cancer, hemorrhoids and anal fissures.
Lots of things contribute to constipation so READ ON to learn some of the triggers and ways to combat it….
There are many triggers that can cause constipation:
- Lack of exercise
- Food sensitivities
- Gut imbalances
- Motility issues
Let’s go thru these one by one:
Diet: Yes, fiber does make a difference and we typically don’t get enough. There are two types of fiber: Soluble which is made from carbohydrates and dissolves in water and Insoluble which is plant based and doesn’t dissolve. You really want to try to get some of both. This type of fiber stays in the digestive tract and bulks up the stool to help it pass. Over the counter fiber drinks and pills are ok but be aware of all the additives and sugars. Try to find one with just fiber. Food sources of good fiber include veggies and fruits.
Exercise: Getting regular exercise helps the colon moves things out so be sure and incorporate exercise into a daily routine.
Dehydration: The typical amount of water to drink for most people is half their body weight in ounces of water. If you weigh 160 pounds then you need 80 ounces of water. If you sweat easily and are exercising then you might need more. Sometimes, drinking too much water is a problem so if you are drinking more than half your body weight in water then you need to add some electrolytes to your water once a day for repletion.
Food sensitivities: You can have a sensitivity to any food, spice, color or additive and the result be constipation. I have seen people who have had constipation for years remove offending foods and this resolve. On the flip side, if you eat something and it goes right thru you, this is not good either and even though you are eliminating you are setting yourself up for more gut imbalances. Elimination diets are the best way to tell what foods are true triggers but keep in mind if it has been long standing then you will also have to work on your gut health at the same time to resolve the issue. You can test for food sensitivities with a blood test if you need more guidance. We have this testing at our office.
Gut imbalances: Our gut has bacteria in it and they have a job to do. They help with breaking down the food particles and eliminate the rest. When the bacteria are out of balance we get many symptoms and constipation is just one of them. A multitude of issues can create constipation:
- Overgrowth of bacteria in small intestine (SIBO) or colon
- Deficiency of good bacteria in the small intestine or the colon
- Yeast overgrowth
Since so many different imbalances can contribute to constipation it is important to look at these different culprits. Sometimes just starting with a really good probiotic is all you need. I define a really good probiotic as one that has at least three strains of bacteria in the lactobacillus and bifidobacter family. You don’t want all of one or the other. I also like counts in the billions, the higher the better and I aim for greater than 50 billion for one month. If a probiotic causes any symptoms then stop and know you are now clued in that the gut flora is an issue. If you have taken numerous antibiotics in the past a month of Saccarhomyces boulardii might help. Do not take this one for more than one month though.
Pre-biotics may also be helpful in some situations. A prebiotic is a type of fiber that helps feed the gut bacteria which can improve deficiencies. I would not try these if significant bloating after eating is an issue as it may make this worse. There are prebiotic supplements available but you can also eat specific foods that have this type of fiber like chicory root, dandelion greens, artichokes, garlic, onions and leeks to name a few.
Sometimes stool analysis testing is necessary to help discern the imbalances so you know what to address. The treatment for a yeast vs bacteria vs parasite is completely different so you need a clear cut path to address.
Motility issues: When food is presented to the gi tract it is carried from one location to the next by something called peristalsis. This is literally the contraction and release of the muscle in the gi tract forcing it in a direction. Many things can happen that alter motility. This signal can be disorganized which causes the muscles to contract in opposite directions. Nerve issues can also alter the motility. Issues can happen anywhere along the GI tract and can create a variety of symptoms with constipation being one of them especially if this involves the small or large intestine. While laxatives may help this initially, be very cautious because you can become depend on them and the bowel reflexes will actually become weaker and less effective creating more of a problem. It is best to address all the other areas first before reaching for medications or laxatives for this.
Medications: So many medications have constipation as a side-effect so be sure and look at your medication list to see if there are any culprits. Anesthesia also can cause temporary constipation.
Thyroid: An underfunctioning thyroid will often have constipation as one of its symptoms so be sure and have this evaluated.
I hope this helps!!
To your health,