Updated: Sep 25, 2019
Do you struggle with going to the bathroom? Do you find that sometimes you go for days without pooping? Then you have constipation - and we need to get you moving so that what the body doesn't want inside it, can actually get out. Otherwise you may end up with more undesirable symptoms on top of a tender tummy.
"One in 10 children will seek medical attention for this problem, accounting for 3-5% of all visits to a paediatrician. It is also a common complaint in adults, particularly women. Up to one in five adults report that they have constipation. It increases with advancing age, particularly in those over 65 years of age" - GESA
The definition of constipation
Three or less bowel motions per week
Lumpy or hard stools 25% of the time
Incomplete evacuation – the feeling that you’re not quite done 25% of the time – or more
Hard stoolStraining during 25% of bowel motions
Sensation of ano-rectal obstruction or blockage for at least 25% of bowel motions
Manual manoeuvres to facilitate at least 25% of bowel motions
Constipation can also be subjective. There can be an associated feeling of fullness and / or discomfort– with little relief after doing a number two.
Associated symptoms may include:
Lower abdominal pain
Gas / farting
Remember, the best outcome for your bowels to mov can be expected when your system
Onset of disease
Transit time is slow in constipation
The transit time refers to the length of time that the food you eat goes through the digestion process to the poop that you excrete. The average transit time for individuals without digestive issues and in good health is 12-24hours.
The slower the transit time, the longer your body is having to deal with the toxins produced through the fermentation process in the large intestine.
If you're not sure whether you’re fast or slow, here’s a way to test it….
You can use activated charcoal tablets and chlorella tablets as these all change the colour of your stool.
Start with charcoal. Take up to 6 tablets. Record the time you ingested it and the time you see the colour change to black. If you don’t see any change until 24hours later then you are a slow digester and could be constipated.
Next try the chlorella (about 10 tablets or so) and watch for the change in colour to bright, dark green.
If severely constipated, then the colour of the stool will not change until 72-96 hours after ingestion.
Ideally, you need to be pooping AT LEAST once per day (but of course we don’t want diarrhoea either)
What causes constipation?
There’s lots of reason why you may be feeling a little ‘backed up’ shall we say. Always, it depends largely on the individual.
Poor nutrition/ diet
Absence of or low secretion of digestive enzymes
Low stomach acid
The gut microbiome (gut bacteria)
Nervous system inhibition (dysfunction of the vagus nerve)
Nervous system overload (stress)
Medication (including antacids, PPI’s, iron supplements, anti-biotics)
Infections (yeast, bacterial overgrowth)
Leaky gut (intestinal hyper-permeability)
Other health conditions or disease
Medications that can exacerbate
Supplements that can exacerbate
Calcium (over 200mg per day)
Laxatives (including over use of herbal ones)
Eliminate refined foods, sugars, caffeine, alcohol, and swap out dairy products
Increase intake of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains (if tolerated) and water
Stewed or soaked prunes, 1 to 3 a day, have a slightly laxative effect
Warm lemon water or 1 x teaspoon in apple cider vinegar taken before meals stimulates digestion
Include fibre BUT start low and go slow
Bitter foods such as radicchio, endive, barley and dandelion stimulate digestive function.
Water and herbal teas
Certain herbal blends can help support evacuation and elimination of toxins. One of my all time favourites is Happy Bowels from Ovvio Organics. It's a wonderful and easy way to start your day and is blended with a naturopathic blend of herbs to help keep your bowels happy!
Water is needed to help soften the stool in order to stimulate peristalsis and promote a full evacuation of the bowels. Depending on your level of activity and exercise, you may need up to 3 litres per day.
Eat smaller, more frequent meals and avoid overeating at one sitting.
Take time to eat in a relaxed atmosphere, breathing slowly
Chew your food thoroughly
Drink fluids 15mins away from eating.
Gentle massaging of the abdomen in a clockwise direction can help move colon contents along the gut
Castor oil packs to the abdomen may be useful in resolving constipation. Used externally, castor oil is a powerful anti-inflammatory. Apply oil directly to skin, and cover with a clean, soft cloth (e.g., flannel) and plastic wrap. Place a heat source (hot water bottle or heating pad) over the pack and let sit for 30 to 60 minutes. For best results, use three consecutive days in one week.
Contrast hydrotherapy may help to tone and strengthen bowel function. Alternating hot and cold applications brings nutrients to the site and diffuses metabolic waste from inflammation. The overall effect may be decreased inflammation, pain relief, and enhanced function. Apply hot and cold towels to the abdomen. Alternate 3 minutes hot with 1 minute cold. Repeat three times to complete one set. Do two to three sets/day.
Stool test analysis through Bioscreen or NutriPath.
Is there bacteria undergrowth?
Is there candida or yeast overgrowth?
Is there a parasite?
Are absorption factors and issue?
Correcting constipation – let’s get things moving!
A typical treatment plan for constipation usually involves:
Health consultation - health history and plan
Food and symptom diary (what goes in and how do you feel)
Stool or breath test analysis (gut microbiome)
Blood tests (markers + baseline)
Herbal medicine (liver, digestive, anti-microbial, anti-bacteria etc)
Other therapies eg acupuncture, colonics, physio
**A quick note for those mums-to-be. It's not uncommon for constipation to arise in pregnancy. In addition to seeking advice from your healthcare practitioner, you may also find some of these tips useful from Mom Loves Best
Remember, the best outcome for your bowels to move can be expected when
You commit to your health
You commit to your treatment
You make the dietary changes
You take the supplements as prescribed
You modify your lifestyle
You build a scaffold of support around you
You empower yourself with knowledge
As always, this is not medical advice but a general resource for you. Please consult your qualified natural healthcare practitioner for individualised health care.
Note: *There are dietary considerations for gastrointestinal conditions and disease so if this is you, I recommend you book a consultation with me or with your naturopath/nutritionist for your variations