One of the most common problems I see in my practice is constipation. Whether you’re dealing with low-level, chronic constipation or acute, more painful constipation, it’s not a fun thing to deal with and it has a huge impact on our health. Before we even get into the how’s and why’s of constipation, let’s define what is normal when it comes to bowel movements and what is not.
- Pooping 1-3x/day
- 1-2 long, smooth pieces, shaped like a banana
- Easy to pass
- Pooping less than 1x/day
- Small, hard pieces (rabbit poop) or cracked and lumpy
- Hard to pass
An easy test you can do to see whether you’re eliminating waste frequently enough is to do a transit time test. Eat 1/2 c. beets, 1/2 c. corn kernels, or 1 tbsp. sesame seeds away from other food and then wait to see when it reappears. The time should ideally be 12-36 hours. More than that and you’re heading toward constipation.
What Does My Poop Mean to Me?
So what if it’s not bothering me? Why does it matter that I’m “regular”? Stool is called elimination for a reason; it’s eliminating waste from your body that you don’t need and that could cause you harm. When we aren’t eliminating at least daily, we aren’t detoxifying the waste products our bodies create as well as other exogenous toxins.
One example of this is detoxifying hormones such as estrogen. When we are constipated, hormones that are ready to be passed in our stool have time to de-conjugate and can be reabsorbed and recirculated in our bodies. If this is happening repeatedly, this can lead to excess estrogen, causing a whole lot of unpleasant and life-disrupting symptoms (think PMS).
What Causes Constipation?
Constipation can be caused by a variety of factors, but here are the most common:
- Slow motility due to lowered metabolism
- Gut dysbiosis: Certain high levels of opportunistic bacteria (the ones we want low or no levels of) can cause constipation.
- Low fiber intake: Fiber bulks our stool and helps to escort everything out. A diet low in fiber, particularly fruits and vegetables, may leave you constipated.
- Not enough water: water softens the stool and if your body is dehydrated, it will pull water from the intestines to use for other, more important tasks.
- Not enough exercise: Just like a walk gets you moving, it gets your bowels moving too. Stay active to keep your digestive system active!
- Certain prescription drugs: If you are on certain pharmaceuticals, it can constipate you. Make sure you know the side-effects of what you’re taking.
How Can I Relieve Constipation?
It’s really important to address the root cause when it comes to constipation, but I’ll list both root cause-related changes as well as some more immediate fixes to give you relief.
Lifestyle and Root Cause Changes:
- Increase your fiber intake, particularly insoluble fiber, like leafy greens. Insoluble fiber increases transit time, so non-starchy veggies are your friend here, but all fiber will help with constipation. I suggest tracking your food for a short window of time in the app Cronometer and seeing what your typical fiber intake is. For women, we should be getting at least 25 grams a day, but shooting for close to 50 grams is even better!
- Increase your hydration. Without enough water, your body will pull water where it can find it; one place being your intestines. This can contribute to constipation, so drink up and get more fruits and veggies into you diet – a kill two birds with one stone situation!
- Increase your movement. Plan in a walk or some exercise into your day. As I said earlier, when you move your body, you move your digestive process.
- Gut health testing. I use a test called the GI Map in my practice that can reveal overgrowths of constipation-causing bacteria, parasites or fungus. Reversing gut dysbiosis through diet, lifestyle and targeted supplementation can often relieve chronic constipation.
- Add in fermented foods and a probiotic. More beneficial bacteria helps to normalize your bowel function and will make you more regular.
Supplementation and more immediate solutions:
- Add psyllium seed husks (this is a good brand), ground flaxseeds, chia seeds, or hemp seeds. These add bulk and moisture to the stool, allowing it to pass more easily. If you try this, start slowly so as to not cause loose stools from a sudden introduction of fiber. For psyllium seed husks, work up to 1 tsp. per day, and for flax, chia, or hemp, work up to 1-2 tbsp. per day.
- Supplement with magnesium. By increasing your vegetable intake, you will naturally be getting more magnesium, but supplementing can also be really helpful. Magnesium helps to relax the muscles and, therefore, regulates peristalsis of the intestines. I recommend 300-450 mg daily for most people, and for constipation, I recommend magnesium citrate (this is a good one). Magnesium oxide can create more of a laxative effect, so read the labels before you start taking something!
- Take digestive enzymes. Improving digestion through more functional support can help with constipation.
- Try senna tea, like Smooth Move by Traditional Medicinals. This is for very short-term use, but 1 cup of this before bedtime when very constipated should do the trick.
- 1 grated raw beet or carrot per day. Raw beets and carrots have a certain type of fiber that is especially supportive to colon health and supports detoxification.
- Aloe vera juice. Drink 2 oz. 3x/day. This has the benefit of healing your intestinal lining while increasing bowel transit time. Look for juice without any preservatives.