If you have ever gone to the doctor with a complaint of constipation, I am sure you have been told to either take Metamucil, Dulcolax, Restoralax, or to increase your intake of bran buds, prunes, and water. Don’t get me wrong it is definitely necessary to increase your intake of fiber and water if you're not experiencing regular bowel movements, but there is often so much more going on within the body that needs to be addressed for constipation to be resolved.
I suffered from chronic constipation for what seems like my entire teenage and early adult life. I went to see every type of practitioner you could think of, I always got sent home with the same phrase, "I am sorry it looks like you just have IBS". I genuinely believed there was something wrong with me because no one seemed to be able to help me. My mom and I would spend hours and hours on end researching about different fiber and probiotic supplements. I think I tried every single fiber supplement that was on the market and they always seemed to make my digestion worse. I continuously had to resort to quick fixes so that I could continue to live my life, but my digestion got so bad that I had a very hard time finishing my last year of University.
So I am here to tell you that there are so many other reasons why you may not be going to the bathroom, aside from not eating enough fiber or drinking enough water. I am finally living symptom free of my IBS-C, I get the odd flare up from time to time, but I am proud to say I did this all on my own through food and holistic lifestyle changes. I know you can too.
Here are some of the contributing factors to constipation.
Constipation can often be an indication that there may be an imbalance between good and bad bacteria within the gut, this is often referred to as ‘dysbiosis’. Some of the most common types of dysbiosis include SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) and candida albicans. When there are pathogenic microbes growing within areas of the GI tract where they do not belong, they will feed off the human host, produce toxic by products, and disrupt the entire ecosystem inside of you.
Lack of stomach acid and digestive enzymes. The importance of stomach acid is very underrated, it is definitely not talked about enough. We need adequate levels of stomach acid to initiate bile flow and enzyme secretion - these are two of the most important functions of healthy digestion. Stomach acid is needed for the digestion of proteins into essential amino acids. We need this acidic environment to absorb minerals, such as magnesium, iron, selenium, calcium, etc. Without sufficient stomach acid, we may experience insufficient fat, protein, & carbohydrate digestion. When undigested food particles enter the small intestine, they can wreak havoc on the gut lining, contributing to gut permeability. Stomach acid is also considered a natural antibiotic, it helps to fight off pathogens that we are exposed to on a daily basis through food and water. Low stomach acid is often a major contributing factor into the development of candida albicans.
Magnesium deficiency. Magnesium helps to draw water to the bowels, which softens stool & allows it pass easier. It also plays a role in protein and carbohydrate metabolism. There are many different forms of magnesium, some forms are less absorbable than others, it would be best to consult a Nutritionist to find out which form of magnesium is best for you.
Low thyroid function. Without adequate levels of certain thyroid hormones, metabolic function and other bodily processes often get slowed down.
Stress. When our sympathetic nervous system is activated (fight or flight), our parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) is shut off, which hinders our ability to digest and absorb our food. For many including myself, it puts digestion at a stand still (hello food baby and belly bloat!).
Here are some holistic recommendations to aid constipation:
Invest in a potty stool. The potty stool helps the upper body to be slightly hinged forward and feet slightly elevated, which allows the body to be in a proper position to have a bowel movement.
Take your probiotic first thing in the morning, preferably on an empty stomach. When probiotics are taken with food this lessens the chance of the probiotic actually travelling down into the intestines where it does it work. Many probiotic strains cannot survive stomach acid, which is at an increased level when we are digesting food.
Start your morning with a hot water with lemon. Lemon helps to promote bile flow and it aids detoxification processes within the liver, thus providing a gentle stimulation.
Consume lubricating foods, such as yams / sweet potatoes, pears, peaches, prunes, cauliflower, beets, and walnuts.
Diaphragmatic breathing helps to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which brings our body into a relaxed state so that we can enjoy and digest our food.