...it's so common - let's explore the causes, consequences & some easy natural solutions...
We (goodMix stallholders) hear these statements ALL the time:
I only 'go' once a week - that's just how I am, it's normal for me.
I can't 'go' without this tea / this pill / my morning coffee etc.
I've never been regular, since I was a baby.
I can't 'go' when I'm at work / school / away on holidays / staying at my boyfriend's place...
Ever since I've had the kids, I've been constipated.
Ever since I went through menopause I've been constipated.
Ever since I had surgery / was injured / went on medication / had a tummy bug / took antibiotics / started shift work I've been constipated.
My new job / school is stressful - now I'm not regular....
What is it?
Constipation in one form or another is such a common health problem that it's almost considered normal. A lot of folks think an evacuation once a week is sufficient, whereas some feel out of whack after missing one of their normal 3-a-day movements. By definition, constipation is 'infrequent, hard, painful or difficult to pass bowel movements - infrequent meaning less than 3 a week'. The range in human bowel function is massive...but why? What factors contribute, & what steps can we take to improve our own bowel function?
Constipation is not an illness in itself, it's just a symptom - which can have many causes & contributing factors including the following:
- poor hydration (esp in the elderly)
- sedentary lifestyle (may be due to occupation, injury, depression etc)
- inadequate diet (unnatural processed foods, devoid of fibre & 'food for the good bugs!')
- dysbiosis (imbalance of the gut flora, often caused by poor diet & antibiotic use).
- medications (ie contraceptive pill, pain relief, antibiotics)
- structural issues (blockage of the bowel, anus etc)
- disorders of gut function ie IBS
- frequent travelling (esp effects females) & shift work, messing with the body's natural rhythms.
Here are just a few possible consequences of longterm constipation:
1) The first & most obvious side-effect is discomfort! Bloating, pain, feeling heavy & sluggish, painful movements....even headaches, depression & crankiness. Not fun.
2) Oestrogen dominance (& the associated symptoms & risks) ie polycystic ovarian syndrome, acne, heavy periods, PMS & mood swings, depression, difficulty losing weight, gallstones, fibroids, endometriosis, increased risk of some cancers (breast, cervical, uterine & prostate)....oestrogen that's meant for excretion is reabsorbed back into the bloodstream from our colon when transit time is too slow.
3) Numerous skin conditions - eczema, psoriasis, rosacea, acne etc. Gut health is strongly reflected in the skin - inflammatory & autoimmune skin conditions as well as acne can all improve greatly when the bowel is balanced, clean & functioning properly.
4) Auto-toxicity. Leaky gut leads to all kinds of stuff from the bowel ending up in the blood stream, stressing out the liver & immune system (they have plenty to do already)!
5) Autoimmunity/ leaky gut - the transit time (how long it takes food to pass from mouth to anus) greatly influences bacterial balance in our gut. If it's too slow, we can end up with a population of damaging bacteria which contribute to gut permeability (leaky gut) allowing large proteins into the blood stream & setting up immune system reactions, leading to auto-immunity (where our body tissues get attacked by our own immune system).
6) Depression & anxiety - Over 80% of our serotonin is produced in the gut. It's a natural chemical that makes you feel happy & relaxed, along with many other functions) & its production is related to our bacterial balance & transit time. Recent studies even suggest that people who eat fermented foods have lower levels of social anxiety, & that our bacteria play a role in Autism. The bowel, it's bacteria & our brains are intricately linked.
7) Halitosis (stinky breath) - your breath can smell like crap. Literally, because the crap is not moving through & escaping, the noxious gasses are rising! About 25% of halitosis cases have constipation as the root. 8) Diverticular disease (patients with diverticulosis usually have a past history of constipation.
9) Cancer. Inadequate fibre intake & constipation is directly linked to bowel cancer.
10) Obesity - Constipation affects your bacterial population - you want to optimise yours, as they can even influence your tendency towards obesity.
11) Nauseous / sick feelings in the morning. When your liver is struggling with it's workload overnight (which can be aggravated by chronic constipation & autointoxication), you'll often wake up feeling nauseous & with no appetite for breakfast.
12) Lack of appetite. If you're too full, the last thing you want is more food in the digestive tract (even though you need it for energy). Can be a problem with toddlers & young kids - as they need the constant fuel to meet demands for growth.
13) Haemorrhoids. Hard stools cause you to strain, which will cause haemorrhoids. Which can make you avoid the toilet, which can make your stools hard...& around it goes.
14) Mega colon. Where your colon gets so full it stretches to accommodate the fecal matter & takes up much more room in your abdominal cavity -making you look much larger than you really are. (You might actually still fit into a size 8)!
Here's a few of the easiest natural ways to treat constipation:
* pear juice - 1/2-1 cup daily
* prune juice as above
* psyllium husks 1-2 teaspoons daily (always take with 1 glass of liquid / teaspoon).
* herbal laxatives - cascara sagrada is a good one, or ask for a Chinese herbal formula. Remember these are all habit-forming & should only be used in desperation!
* more liquid, fibre (not all fibre is created equal) , exercise - make sure you're getting the basics right!
* magnesium supplementation - some forms work particularly well for constipation, some for the muscles etc, try magnesium oxide powder as a bowel clean out (be close to the bathroom!)
* abdominal massage & yoga - ask a qualified practitioner what you can do at home to help.
* squatting position to poo - there are purpose built toilet 'accessories' to help!
* Very helpful to use pressure / massage on the perineum - just apply firm pressure to the flat area of skin just in front of the anus when trying to 'go', it can even be helpful to massage the area - pushing up & towards the spine. This method can just shift hard masses & help to break up / make them easier to pass & also stimulate the urge to defecate.
* probiotics & fermented foods, incorporate them into your diet (pick up some sourkrout, kimchi, kombucha, kefir, yoghurt etc as part of the weekly shop)
....the best poos ever are within your reach!
...try to avoid:
antibiotic use - only if you're really really ill with an (actual) bacterial infection which seems to be beating you)! Also be aware of non - organic meat & dairy (they come with bonus antibiotics & often hormones to enhance animal growth & treat infections due to cramped & dirty living conditions).
unnecessary medication - most chemicals wreak havoc on populations of bacteria, directly or indirectly.
processed, refined foods - they'll feed the bad guys & starve the good.
gluten if sensitive - can constipate a lot of people.
sedentary lifestyle - if your work is mostly driving or typing - don't make your hobbies television & knitting - waaaay too much sitting, you've gotta move in order for your gut to move!
*don't ever ignore the urge to go - if your body is telling you something, ignoring it will always lead to trouble. The urge may go away, but the waste matter stays inside to fester & become dry & compacted! When you gotta go, you gotta go, seriously!