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Constipation Consternation


Occasional constipation is something everyone has experienced; it’s uncomfortable and we’re glad when it’s over. But chronic constipation can be more than an uncomfortable nuisance. It can be your body’s way of telling you that you need to make some diet and lifestyle changes—or risk further health problems in the future.


Chronic constipation, characterized by fewer than two bowel movements per week, can lead to hemorrhoids, anal fissures, fecal impaction, rectal prolapse, and possibly even an increased risk of colorectal cancers. This is why it’s so important to determine the root cause(s) of your constipation.


Find Your Constipating Culprit(s)

1.     Rule out SIBO or SIFO. An unbalanced gut microbiome, known as dysbiosis, can be a root cause of chronic constipation. Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) or small intestinal fungal overgrowth (SIFO) can both cause chronic constipation and other similar symptoms, though different tests are needed to determine which you’re suffering from. SIFO requires a small bowel aspirate to collect fluid from the small intestine, while SIBO can be diagnosed by a less invasive breath test known as Hydrogen Breath Testing. Beyond resolving constipation issues, correctly identifying and treating these conditions can also help prevent leaky gut.

2.     Determine your nutritional nemeses. If an underlying intestinal condition isn’t to blame, a less than nutritious diet might be. Some of the worst culprits include:

·       Processed grains and baked goods

·       Lack of fibrous foods

·       Vitamin/mineral deficiency

·       High-lactose dairy, like cheese, milk, and ice cream

·       Fast or fried foods

·       Red meat

·       Alcohol and caffeine

3.     Sus out other factors. In addition to diet, other factors include overuse of over-the-counter laxatives, dehydration, lack of exercise, poor or irregular sleep, some prescription medications, opioid painkillers, NSAIDs like ibuprofen and naproxen, antidepressants, calcium-containing antacids, calcium-channel blockers, iron supplements, and diphenhydramine (Benadryl). While going off some of these medications may not be possible, knowing your constipating culprit(s) is important in aiding prevention. Being female or an older adult can also make you more likely to suffer from chronic constipation.

 

Natural Ways You Can Ease/Prevent Constipation

Once you have a handle on what might be backing you up, you can begin making dietary and lifestyle changes to help get things moving again.

1.     Eat real, unprocessed whole foods. In addition to cutting out the processed junk and limiting alcohol and caffeine, you should focus on eating a variety of whole foods with an emphasis on fiber. This includes veggies like carrots, broccoli, and green peas; fruit such as berries, oranges, pears, and apples (with the skin on); legumes including lentils, black beans, and chickpeas; whole grains like steel-cut oats, brown rice, quinoa, and buckwheat; and healthy fats including olive oil, avocados, nuts, and seeds.

2.     Get enough natural prebiotics and probiotics. Prebiotics tend to be high-fiber foods that feed your microflora (“good” gut bacteria), while probiotics contain live “good bacteria” to help maintain or diversify your gut microbiome. Probiotics are found in fermented foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut, and kimchi, while prebiotics are especially prevalent in leafy greens, bananas, garlic, onions, and artichokes.

3.     Increase your water intake. Getting enough fluid every day helps prevent dehydration and keeps stool soft and easy to pass. On average, 64 ounces of water a day is a good goal, though if you exercise, or take certain medications, you will need more. Herbal tea can also count towards your daily fluid intake.

4.     Exercise regularly and incorporate yoga twists. Adequate exercise is key to good health—including keeping you regular. This is because the colon responds to physical activity, and both the abdominal wall and diaphragm need to be strong to effectively pass stool. Yoga twists—including forward folds, spinal twists, and revolved triangle pose—also help stimulate intestinal contractions.

5.     Practice stress management. The neurons that line your digestive tract signal your intestines to contract and digest food, and stress can cause this slow this process down drastically. Chronic stress then leads to chronic constipation—so adding yoga, breathing exercises, or meditation into your daily life can go a long way in preventing both. 

6.     Consider a supplement. While OTC laxatives aren’t the best way to get things moving again, some natural supplements are. These include aloe vera, magnesium citrate or oxide, and Triphala, a polyherbal blend of Indian gooseberry, Bibhitaki, and Haritaki—three plants used in Ayurvedic medicine. 

7.     Train yourself to poop on schedule—really! If you struggle with chronic constipation, training your body to go may help. Pick a consistent time every day to try and have a bowel movement, ideally 20 to 40 minutes after eating. Give yourself 10 to 15 minutes to try and go—without straining, of course. In time, this can teach your body to go regularly around the same time most days.  

8.     Invest in a “Squatty Potty.” This and other toilet stools are effective because they put you in the best posture for pooping by raising your knees above your hips, moving your colon into the ideal position.

9.     Try electroacupuncture. For those who suffer from chronic constipation with no known cause, research shows that electroacupuncture (wherein tiny amounts of electricity pass through acupuncture needles to certain points) may help. In one study, a third of participants saw an increase in bowel movements after 28 sessions over eight weeks.


Because there can be many factors at play, determining what’s causing your constipation can be difficult, so don’t hesitate to contact me for help. With the right tools and information, we can get you from “backed up” to back on track.

 

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