Let’s talk Constipation
In an ideal world, each and every day it is healthier for all of us to be passing a full mid coloured, sausage like stool. Yes, daily is what a naturopath/nutritionist likes! In the medical model, it is accepted and considered normal to pass a stool twice or three times a a week. Hard, pebble like stools where you have strained are not considered the norm in a naturopathic world. Remember the famous quote from Hippocrates, “All disease starts in the gut!” Imagine what it is like for food and fibre to be brewing in your colon for days on end? Stinky smelly stools are not the norm.
In clinic I have been finding it common for patients visiting to be suffering from constipation. So, what is going on?
In our busy schedules, working families means less time to prepare and more stressful moments where families are eating out more and having more processed foods that are low in fibre. Getting
up and being on the run is not conducive to a relaxed moment in the morning when you need to create a relaxed moment to move the bowels. Sound familiar?
If you have ‘’bowel’’ problems making sure you are drinking adequate water is essential. Often in the Winter months people forget to drink. Having adequate fibre to cleanse from both soluble and insoluble forms and moving your body daily is important.
Your thyroid governs your metabolism so if this is out of kilter or is slowed (as in hypothyroidism), it impacts and slow your ability to digest efficiently. Your gall bladder also plays a role in the whole evacuation process. Gastrointestinal diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome, chronic bowel diseases, diverticulosis & diverticulitis to name a few, impact your ability to pass a fully formed stool daily.
Here are my favourite tips to ensure you pass a happy smiley banana stool daily!
- Stay hydrated. Ensure you drink at least 2 litres of water daily. Drinking tea and coffee does not count as these are diuretics.
- A lowered intake of magnesium is known to cause constipation. Increasing good forms of magnesium in the diet along with food sources is beneficial. Food sources include: Almonds, barley, brewer’s yeast, cashews, cocoa, eggs, figs, kelp, leafy greens, legumes (soaked), molasses, parsnips, seeds.
- Minimise your processed grains. Consume seeds over grains. Highly processed flours and grains are not conducive to moving stools along. Gluten free can also be a culprit here. Gluten free products are often filled with highly processed flours with little fibre. Wheat containing gluten is known to constipate. The gluten molecule takes up or absorbs water. Remove this and replace with quinoa or soaked chia, and other seeds to minimise impaction that can occur in the bowel.
- Two servings of fruit daily. It is important to have two servings of fruit each day. Fruits with the peel left on provide valuable fibre such as plums, prunes, raisins, apricots and peaches.
- Eating your vegetables. Most Australians do not eat enough vegetables. The minimum servings for adults needs to be at least 5+ servings and for children it can be the same as for adults however smaller portions. For infants obviously this may be different.
- Lactulose – comes as a sweet-tasting liquid, and works by softening the stool and stimulating the bowel to empty. It may taste better mixed with juice or milk. It can cause smelly wind (farting). The smelly wind generally passes as the healthy gut bacteria are produced with lactulose. It is an easy way of assisting in your child’s passing a stool if they are constipated.
- Herbs – There are many herbs that can assist by stimulating gall bladder function including barberry, globe artichoke, bupleurum, dandelion root and some bitter herbs such as gentian stimulates digestive receptors through the gastrointestinal tract. Depending on the issue that is occurring, consulting a practitioner who is trained to help is important and recommended. Some of these are available as tea. See my Digest Easy tea here.
- Psyllium husk fibre is a natural fibre supplement that helps to soften stools. It is not recommended to add a lot of fibre to a diet if hydration is not maintained. This could compound the situation.
- Heavy going laxatives and herbs are not what a natural health practitioner would recommend. We are more inclined to stimulate through the gall bladder or through improving and healing digestive means. They can cause long term issues if someone becomes reliant on these. If constipation is severe it is always important to ensure that this is investigated. Hemorrhoids can lead to other complications and bowel obstruction should not be disregarded.
- Food sensitivities can be a part of the problem. Finding out the IgG responses to food via a blood draw or using the hair bio-compatibility test can also assist in finding out the food along with kitchen cleaning & laundry products and bathroom chemicals that may be contributing to your health concerns.
- Fermented foods such as kefir, plain yoghurt, sauerkraut, kim chi, kombucha (as long as not too sweet), can be useful for some. If you have histamine problems limiting these foods may be important.
- Relax and allow the moment for a bowel movement in the morning. Many people miss this opportunity in their busy lives. Reducing stress is important for many.
- Some medications can constipate and influence your stools. Opioid medicaitons like codeine, proton pump inhibitors (PPI’s) such as Nexxum decrease gastric acid so your esophagus can heal therefore slowing and impairing digestion. Discussing this again with your practitioner is important.
For young children
- As a breast-feeding mother if your infant is constipated look to what you may be eating that is potentiating this. Wheat (gluten) and dairy are the major culprits. Seek advice from a professional if you are finding if difficult to understand. Testing may be encouraged.
- Developing good bowel habits is an important aspect of health. Sometimes children may get used to ignoring the urge to produce a stool. This can happen to adults as well. If we are busy all the time the urge passes. Many young children are too busy playing and put off going to the toilet. Their stool then becomes harder and larger. Toilet time should be set aside to allow for regular, undisturbed visits.
- Sitting a child on the toilet after each meal can be useful. Having regular meal times is therefore also important. Ensuring the seat is an ideal height for the child needs to be considered. Placing the feet on a stool can assist the angle for a pleasant and easy evacuation. See images throughout.
Emptying your bowel – how it works
- Normally you will feel an urge to empty your bowels – this is from the sensors in your rectum that notice this area is full
- You go to the toilet to empty
- Your pelvic floor and anal sphincter muscles relax allowing your bowels to empty
- This process should not require straining or pushing
|Common Mistakes||What this does to your Body|
|Feeling you need to rush/hurry your time on the loo – pushing to “help” it move faster.||This tightens your anal sphincter and pelvic floor making it harder to empty.|
|Putting off the urge because you are too busy – it is best to listen to your body and go when it is telling you it needs to. Do not put off what nature intended you to do.||If you continue to delay going your bowel keeps absorbing moisture from the stool causing it to become drier and harder to pass.|
|Sitting in an upright position on the toilet.||
This is a biggie! Human bodies are designed to empty easiest in a squat position. This allows your anal sphincter and pelvic floor muscles to completely relax, increasing the ease of completely emptying your bowel.
See images below
So next time you are in a hurry and push of the inevitable or maybe you have been suffering from constipation for some time and would like to get to the bottom of it why not visit a professional who can assist. Karen Green Naturopath, Nutritionist, Herbalist – North Brisbane and Sunshine Coast
See my other blog on Your poop your pee here. Your poop your pee