Constipation is something I frequently see in practice, and something I notice that tends to effect women, the elderly and people taking more medication more commonly. Increasingly, I am seeing more issues with young women in their teens and twenties.
Typical recommendations are to avoid constipation is to increase water and fibre, and to consume more leafy greens (again, more fibre). But what if these things aren't helping... or are making the sh*tty situation worse?
Before we get into the why and more importantly, what you can do about it, let's back it up (get it?). You will definitely want to check out my digestion post for more in depth specifics on how the digestive system works.
Constipation is defined as infrequent bowel movements that are often difficult to pass and that is lasting a few weeks or more. Many physicians consider constipation to be 3 or less bowel movements per week. On the other hand, Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic medicine consider normal frequency to be 1-3 bowel movements per day with any more or less to be abnormal.
Normal bowel movements should be easy to pass, solid, medium brown in color, with no undigested bits of food, no blood, no mucous, no straining and with only minimal wiping required. Checking your stool every day is a great way to keep tabs on how things are moving.
Constipation can usually be resolved by:
- Increasing water intake, especially warm water. I like starting the day with a large glass of warm lemon water to help support healthy digestion. Since the majority of your stool is actually made of water, dehydration can definitely make for slow going.
- Easing up on the caffeine. Coffee acts like a laxative and may create dependence. It is best minimize so your bowels can work on their own.
- Regular walks and exercise. The movement of our psoas, quadratus lumborum, and abdominal muscles can increase circulation and stimulate your colon.
- Increase dark leafy greens and other vegetables in the diet. These turn into soluble fibre and will help lubricate the colon to move.
- Add or back off on insoluble fibre like psyllium, bran and others. These fibres are important to bulk up the stool, but in too high amounts without an increase in water they can sit like a brick. Experiment to see what amount feels good for you and drink lots of fluids.
- Stress Management. When we are constantly running around, eating on the run with a million things on the brain it can be hard for our body to let go. Practice meditation, allow yourself time to sit on the toilet each day, ideally in the morning, for several minutes without interruption. Yoga, counseling, music and building in down time into your day can also help relax the body.
- Acupuncture and Massage. Both can work wonders to gently move things along without creating a dependence.
- Sparingly using laxatives. Frequent laxative can create dependence. While they are sometimes necessary, it is better support the body naturally to get moving and save these only for especially stuck times.
- Fixing your posture. Sit with a stool in front of the toilet so that your legs are elevated into a squatting position. This will help align the colon in a more natural shape for efficient elimination.
- Ruling out other causes. While constipation happens to all of us from time to time, it can also signal other medical issues.
Constipation can also signify:
- lack of exercise ("Vitamin Move")
- hypothyroidism and autoimmune thyroiditis (Hashimoto's Disease)
- Food sensitivity
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Hormonal imbalances
- Small Intestinal Bowel Overgrowth
- Hemorrhoids, fistulas
- Poor pelvic floor muscle tone (or too much muscle tone)
- Food hygiene habits
If you are experiencing frequent or long term constipation, be sure to check with your doctor or Naturopathic Doctor or pelvic floor physiotherapist to rule out the conditions listed above.
You can also book a Free 15 Minute Health Discovery Session with me to learn about your options.
In health & smooth moves,