Constipation is a symptom of something else happening in your body, either dietary, hormonal, or functional. Conditions such as hypothyroidism, Parkinson’s Disease, and Diabetes are associated with constipation.
Constipation is a subjective condition, ie. each person will have a different idea of what constipation means to them, but does have a definition of less than 3 bowel movements per week (Pinto Sanchez & Bercik, 2011), with functional constipation having the symptoms of abdominal pain, reduced bowel movements and passage of hard stools (Russo et al., 2019). There are dietary and lifestyle changes that can be made to help relieve constipation.
Chronic constipation is a rule everything else diagnosis; with all dietary, hormonal and physical conditions needing to be ruled out first, however, there is research out there to help you support a healthy bowel movement!
The first, from a naturopathic point of view, is to ensure all the elimination channels are working, such as the liver, kidney, lymphatic system, skin, and bowels. This can be done through dietary (high fiber foods), herbal (choloagues, bitters, and hepatorestorative herbs). Fiber is necessary for stool formation, and bowel health by feeding your gut flora.
Liver function and digestion are linked, with the liver provided bile which acts to stimulate movement in the intestines (while binding to toxins for elimination and helping with the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins). When you have a long bowel transit time (check out my blog about transit time HERE), this also increases the toxin load on the liver and the cycle continues (Hechtman, 2014).
Herbs that benefit the liver (teas)
*Please note that herbs interact with medications, supplements, and other herbs, and to ask your healthcare provider before using them.
- Chamomile for pain/wind
- Peppermint for pain/wind
- Dandelion for liver health, bile production and more
- Green tea for liver health
Next is water intake: we are always being told of the benefits of water, and that you should have 8 glasses a day, but did you know that water intake has been shown to be related to stool frequency? A study showed that 2.1-2.6L of water per day needed for optimal stool formation (Jason Hawrelak in (Sarris & Wardle, 2018) pg 83). (Check out my blog on hydration HERE)
Tips to increase water intake
- Put a bottle next to your bed for a morning drink
- Carry a water bottle around with you
- Have a glass of water before and after having a coffee (coffee is a diuretic, which means that you will need more water to rehydrate yourself).
On an interesting side note, some people believe that constipation arises from “holding onto something”, this “something” will be different for each person. However when discussing your bowel habits with your health practitioner, give a think to your nervous system, as there is a link between depression and slow transit time (Jason Hawrelak in (Sarris & Wardle, 2018) pg 83).
How to “let go”
- Write in a journal
- See a counselor
The last thing is position: now modern toilets are not the optimal position for defecation, with little intra-abdominal pressure when seated, however, there are platforms you can put around your toilet to lift your legs up, or certain positions to help stimulate a bowel motion (Hechtman, 2014).
So if you find your bowels are tending to the constipation side, try increasing your fiber (vegetables) and water intake, changing your sitting position on the toilet, and participating in meditation. If you do not notice a change (ie. you continue to be constipated), please go see your health professional or book in with me HERE to get a check-up! as noted above constipation is a symptom and can indicate a variety of conditions.
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References and resources
Hechtman, L. (2014). Clinical Naturopathic Medicine. Chatswood, NSW: Elsevier Australia.
Pinto Sanchez, M. I., & Bercik, P. (2011). Epidemiology and Burden of Chronic Constipation. Canadian Journal of Gastroenterology, 25(suppl b), 11B-15B. https://doi.org/10.1155/2011/125491
Russo, M., Strisciuglio, C., Scarpato, E., Bruzzese, D., Casertano, M., & Staiano, A. (2019). Functional Chronic Constipation: Rome III Criteria Versus Rome IV Criteria. Journal of Neurogastroenterology and Motility, 25(1), 123–128. https://doi.org/10.5056/jnm18035
Sarris, J., & Wardle, J. (2018). Clinical Naturopathy 2e: An evidence-based guide to practice (2nd ed.). Chatswood, NSW: Churchill Livingstone.