It’s said that up to 20% of Americans are struggling with constipation. Chronic constipation is one of the most common gastroenterological diagnoses in clinical practice. If you are not experiencing bowel movements consistently, regularly, or completing them, then your body is not detoxing properly. This is because the colon is one of the key detox pathways in our body (it’s actually number 1) and one of the ways that our body removes excess toxins, hormones, and waste. If we are not pooping, our body’s toxic load can increase and can show up as headaches, hormonal changes, skin issues, liver dysfunction, sub-optimal mental health (like anger and irritability), and more.
To that end, our bathroom habits are our bodies telling us what is going on inside when something isn’t right. The good news is that understanding the root cause of constipation and looking to natural remedies can make reaching for laxatives something you’ll think twice about.
So, what is normal?
You should be pooping at least twice a day in formed bowel movements. It’s important to never ignore constipation because it can create a breeding ground for bacteria and other pathogens, which can make for other digestive issues and health problems.
What are the symptoms of constipation?
Constipation can cause abdominal discomfort, bloating, irritability, pain, and sometimes more severe conditions like fecal impaction and other effects on both your mental and physical health.
What are the major causes of constipation?
Outside of the more obvious drivers of constipation, like not eating enough fiber (fruits and vegetables) or consuming enough water, there are a number of root causes of constipation. These include:
- Imbalanced intestinal flora (gut dysbiosis): When you have an imbalanced gut microbiome, it can contribute to constipation.
- A number of nutrient deficiencies are linked to constipation in medical literature, including vitamin C, vitamin E, magnesium, potassium, and fiber. Deficiencies can lead to reduced gut motility and appropriate levels can help stimulate peristalsis and bowel function. A study showed that constipation was connected to children that had lower levels of vitamin C, folate, and magnesium and diets with fewer 'plant-foods.'
- Excess iron, vitamin D, and calcium can cause constipation, as well as excess metals like lead.
- Anatomical issues involved with pelvic floor dysfunction. If the pelvic floor is too tight or too loose, constipation can occur.
- Intestinal nervous system disorders can stop the gut from getting signals from the nerves and brain to release the bowels.
- Hypothyroidism/sluggish thyroid. If the thyroid gland doesn't produce enough hormones to regulate cellular metabolism, constipation can form as a result.
- Diabetes can also contribute to constipation, affecting how the brain signals the gut through nerves.
- Ketogenic diet and low carb diets have been connected to constipation.
- Anaerobic Imbalance
- Sympathetic dominance. When the body is in a state of 'fight or flight' rather than 'rest or digest' then the body will not be able to digest food properly and allow it to leave the body.
- Side effects of pharmaceutical medications. Many can slow the motility of the colon and also cause constipation by altering electrolyte balance. This is particularly relevant to anticholinergics and pain medications, as well as medications for neurological disorders like Parkinson's disease.
- Parasites are often one of the routes people look into last. Parasites can cause 'unexplained' constipation.
- Candidiasis overgrowth
- Toxicities in the body/high toxic load
- Gallbladder issues
Solutions to Constipation
- Water. This seems obvious, but understanding the concept of cellular hydration is really important. Read more on cellular hydration here and why I think it's overlooked. Make sure you are also adding electrolytes and minerals into your diet. My favorite brands are the LMNT electrolytes and the Quinton Isotonic Vials (I take half of one every morning!).
- Acidity can also keep you constipated, so check that you are drinking high-quality, filtered water with a pH that works for your body. I went on my own personal journey to discover that alkaline water doesn't work for my body. Work out what works for you.
- I swear by Pure Therapro RX Leaky Gut Defense. This is one of my favorite products. It helps leaky gut and digestion. It's also great if you are on antibiotics.
- I love MSM for helping with constipation too. This is another reason why I am so, so excited to launch my new product holi (radiance), soon!
- Get your mineral and vitamin levels in balance. If you are looking to keep your bowels moving, magnesium and vitamin C have both been shown to promote bowel evacuation. My magnesium of choice is Bioptimizers Magnesium, which is a combination of 7 magnesiums. Plus, magnesium citrate has a laxative effect. I also use magnesium citrate gummies (these are like a treat for me!).
- Probiotics are critical for getting your gut health under control and keeping things moving. Getting on a good, high-quality spore-based probiotic is a great place to start. In terms of probiotics, those containing Bifidobacterium lactis (B. lactis HN019) are said to may shorten intestinal transit time. Also, probiotics with B. lactis and Lactobacillus casei positively affect those suffering from chronic constipation.
- Prunes are great because they are high in fiber. But don’t eat too many because they really high in sugar.
- Food and nutrition is also an important way to optimize bowel function. Try to focus on eating a whole-food, high-fiber diet. Add 2 tablespoons of organic ground flax seeds to your daily diet, and focus on eating more good fats. Psyllium husk, cod liver oil, pectin, aloe vera, and MCT oil are great supplements for boosting bowel movements.
- Triphala is a great ayurvedic remedy. It combines three plants native to India (the Indian gooseberry, the black myrobalan, and the belleric myrobalan).
- Cut out foods that can worsen constipation, such as empty-calorie foods, fried foods, alcohol, pasteurized dairy products, refined flour, and caffeine.
- If you think that your constipation is related to your nervous system, look into vagus nerve exercises or try the Sensate Vagus Nerve Device.
- Daily exercise is important, too, to keep everything moving!
- And finally, Smooth Move Tea can help in the short term.
Feel like you’ve tried everything and can’t seem to kick constipation? It’s important to look for underlying stealth infections, viruses, or toxicities with a functional health practitioner and consider looking at an emotional root cause. Chronic constipation can often be rooted in unresolved trauma around a fear of letting go, resentment, holding onto past memories, self-sabotage, and more.
Want to take things one step further? The newest and emerging strategies around constipation involve a fecal microbiota transplant (yes, really) as well as biofeedback therapy, sacral nerve stimulation, and interferential therapy.
With so many messages that our body sends us, looking into the root cause behind what is driving slow bowel motility is such an important place to start. I hope that this has been helpful.
***THESE STATEMENTS HAVE NOT BEEN APPROVED OR REGULATED BY THE FDA. WE ARE NOT DOCTORS, THEREFORE ALWAYS CONSULT WITH YOUR DOCTOR FIRST***