Let’s face it, everybody poops…hopefully. Constipation is no joke as it’s actually a common problem for many of us. Not only is it uncomfortable, but it’s also not good for your health. In the Western Medicine model, constipation is less than 3 bowel movements a week. In the natural health/holistic model, if you’re not pooping a minimum of one good poop a day, you’re constipated. **Real Talk** A good poop would be defined as a well formed (not pellets, not watery) and wipes with little tissue and effort.
Elimination is important because that’s how we rid our body of toxins. When your bowels are stuck, or sluggish, you actually “re-tox” and reabsorb the toxins sitting in the stool you cannot eliminate. This includes excess hormones like estrogen (from birth control pills) or xenoestrogens (chemical compounds similar to estrogen typically found in our environment from plastics) and everything else that was filtered through your liver (like medications).
There are many different reasons for constipation. A few include:
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome C (c is for constipation)
- Hormone imbalances
- Food intolerances
- Lack of water and fibre (poor diet)
- Lack of physical activity
- Stress and anxiety
- Some medications
- Travel or changes to routine (another form of stress on the bowels)
- Over use of laxatives
For many, a change in diet can help resolve constipation and should be the first step. This would include removing any potential allergenic and inflammatory foods from your diet such as:
*A special note on coffee. You might actually expereinece a bowel movement (BM) after having a coffee and may even rely on it to have a BM each morning but did you know a BM produced by coffee is a chemically induced bowel movement? It just stimulates the bowels to move rather than allowing them to move on their own. If you’re dehydrated, coffee can make your constipation worse since it’s a diuretic and further depletes water from the body. If you can’t give up the coffee, try Dandy Blend or Four Sigmatic mushroom coffee. Each are coffee alternatives with beneficial properties. Dandy Blend is made with dandelion and chicory and actually supports the liver. Four Sigmatic is a mushroom blend full of antioxidants. Both are caffiene free.
Adding more water and fibre to your diet will help relieve constipation. The natural movement of our intestines is called peristalsis. Drinking warm water in the morning naturally encourages peristalsis which pushes along the stool. You can add fresh ginger or lemon to the water if you don’t want it to be plain.
Fibre rich foods like vegetables (and fruits!) are a simple way to increase fibre intake and a much better option than the fibre supplements at your pharmacy. The below are excellent additions for fibre.
- Chia seeds
- Ground flax seeds
- Sweet potatoes
- Cauliflower (also supports the liver and detoxification)
- Broccoli (also supports the liver and detoxification)
If you’re concerned about the additional fibre causing further issues (especially if you’re not used to eating lots of fibre) you can consider a digestive enzyme. Cellulose is the indigestible fibre of plants so purchasing a digestive enzyme that contains cellulase will help. I love Enzymedica digestive enzymes. I’ve used them before with great results.
In addition to diet changes, there are natural supplements that help relieve constipation if things still aren’t moving.
- Prebiotics (provided you know you don’t have an overgrowth of bad bacteria as this can actually fuel them)
- Magnesium (bisgycinate or citrate if it’s really bad)
- Salus Manna-Fig syrup (excellent for children due to it’s natural sweetness)
- Cleanse More by Renew Life (personal experience says this is great while travelling)
There are also many supplements available at your pharmacy but those I would avoid and here’s why:
- Restoralax: while this might be your over-the-counter go-to, it’s a petroleum derived product. Derived from ethylene glycol (which is also found in anti-freeze) it works to draw water into the colon to soften stool. The other thing that does this? Drinking more water (especially warm water) and magnesium.
- Metamucil: I linked it above but this blog post sheds lights on why this is not a great choice
- Senna: should be used with caution. You can find this at a natural health food store as a tincture, capsule or tea. Senna is a flowering plant in the legume family that works by stimulating peristalsis. One issue here is anything that stimulates, can become harmful over time. The bowels can become lazy and depend upon the stimulant to work. The other concern is when Senna is purchased as Senokot. Senokot has additives (no longer just the pure herb) and comes with a list of side effects that include vomitting and stomach pain.
- Cascara: should be used with caution. Cascara is from the fruit of the coffee plant and acts as a stimulant the same way Senna (or coffee) would. The same information as Senna would apply here.
Another way to help encourage your bowels to move is physical activity. Exercise is beneficial for so many reasons one of which, is naturally encouraging peristalsis. Another way to help encourage your bowels to move is the way you actually sit when you eliminate. Your knees need to be at navel level or higher to actually push the stool up, across and down the colon. Toilets don’t allow for this position so keeping a small stool in the bathroom to put your feet on can help**. You can also stack a few towels under your feet. It might sound weird but before we had modern plumbing, and taking a look at Indigenous populations, squatting is a very natural position for elimination. Using a stool or towels somewhat replicates this position while you are seated.
**if you’re experiencing constipation or forceful bowel movements
As always, this information is my opinion based on my knowledge. You should discuss your concerns with your primary care provider (Doctor, Naturopath, Functional Medicine Doctor etc).