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Constipation


What Is It?

In conventional medical circles, it is considered normal to have a bowel movement as infrequently as three times a week. In contrast, most holistic practitioners would consider the normal range of bowel movements to be one to three per day. The thinking is that three movements are ideal because we generally eat three meals daily. Ideally, when food enters the stomach, a nerve impulse is sent to the colon prompting it to contract and release its contents. This gastrocolic reflex, when functioning properly, would cause us to empty our colons after each meal.

Many people have just one bowel movement per day and think this is normal. A daily bowel movement may still be considered constipation especially when taking into consideration the amount of feces eliminated in the bowel movement. A daily bowel movement of approximately one and a half feet, which is about the size of the left side of the colon, would be considered normal by natural health practitioners. This may be broken up into two to three movements per day or, sometimes, in just one bowel movement.

What Causes It?

There are many possible causes of constipation, ranging from simple to complex. Among them are: (read more)

ss_const_woman-556x371• Insufficient fiber in the diet

• Too much fat in the diet and too many refined foods

• Side effects of some medications (antidepressants; tranquilizers; painkillers that contain codeine, morphine or opium; some blood pressure and heart medications)

• Lack of exercise

• Life changes

• Travel (especially changing time zones)

• Pregnancy (hormonal and mechanical problems presented)

• Excessive use of laxatives or enemas (can damage nerve cells in the bowel interfering with its ability to contract)

• Ignoring the urge to defecate

• Surgery (such as hysterectomy or back surgery that may result in severance of nerves in the bowel)

• Dehydration

• Extreme stress/depression

• Magnesium deficiency

• Deficiency of peristalsis-inducing nutrients: vitamin B5, vitamin C, choline and arginine

• Prolonged bed rest

• Lack of sleep

• Advanced age

• Spinal cord injury

• Insufficient levels of digestive enzymes

Constipation is common in diseases such as:

• Parkinson’s disease

• Autoimmune diseases such as lupus and diabetes

• Glucose intolerance

• Hypercalcemia (too much calcium in the blood)

• Hemorrhoids and anal fissures (produce spasms of the anal sphincter muscle, delaying bowel movements)

• Scleroderma and other neuromuscular disorders

• Multiple sclerosis

• Kidney failure

• Stroke

• Colon cancer

• Dysbiosis (imbalance in bowel bacteria, where bad bacteria outnumber the good)

• Food allergies

• Parasites

• Hypothyroidism

• Neurologic injuries such as spinal cord injuries

• Liver disease

Thyroid function is particularly important with regard to constipation. If the body were a car, then the thyroid would be considered the spark plug. If it is sluggish, eliminations will also be sluggish. Many people today have what has been called “subclinical hypothyroidism.” This means that their depressed thyroid activity does not show up on standardized tests.

Subclinical hypothyroidism occurs in up to 20 percent of women. Alternative laboratory tests may be employed by progressive physicians to detect such thyroid problems. Some may test for and treat Wilson’s thyroid syndrome, characterized by chronically low body temperature. Identifying and treating a sluggish thyroid is important.

A slow gut transit time (the time it takes for food to pass through the gastrointestinal tract—from mouth through rectum) is an underlying factor in many cases of constipation. The optimal transit time is 24 to 30 hours or less. However, in the U.S., the normal transit time can be 48 hours or more.

Another possible cause of constipation has to do with the position we assume when having a bowel movement. In Western “civilized” cultures, we sit on a toilet, whereas in more primitive cultures the squatting posture is used. Actually, the squatting posture makes a good deal more physiological sense in terms of bowel stimulation and support achieved when the thighs come in contact with the abdominal wall.

Constipation is much more common in Western cultures than elsewhere, also due to our sedentary lifestyles and consumption of processed foods. Fiber (indigestible complex plant carbohydrates found in fruits, vegetables and whole grains) is removed from most processed foods because it decreases shelf life.

Chronic constipation is the top gastrointestinal complaint in the United States. According to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, more than four million Americans have frequent constipation. It affects people of all ages, but older adults are five times more likely than younger people to have the problem. Constipation-Chart_new-556x315

Indigenous cultures that have a high intake of dietary fiber invariably enjoy superior intestinal health and are virtually free of the diseases of modern civilization.

High intake of dietary fiber has many benefits for constipated individuals including:

• Decrease of transit time of stools

• Decrease of absorption of toxins from stools

• Bulking and softening of stools

• Increasing frequency, quantity and quality of bowel movements

• The type of fiber should be plant and seed based

With constipation, a wide range of symptoms may be experienced. These could include:

• Abdominal discomfort/fullness

• Rectal discomfort

• Bloating

• Nausea

• Loss of appetite

• Headache

• Lower back pain

• General feeling of malaise

When bowel transit time is slow, waste is not promptly eliminated from the body. It will consequently create prolonged bacterial fermentation of the retained fecal material which can produce harmful or poisonous chemicals. As toxins are reabsorbed into the body, the risk of developing colon diseases and other health problems increases. Excessive bowel transit time means increased exposure to waste and toxins. These toxins stress the gallbladder, pancreas and liver giving rise to fatigue and headaches.

Toxins created in the constipated bowel damage digestive enzymes in the intestinal wall and cause digestive problems and nutrient deficiencies. The walls of the colon can weaken and herniate, giving rise to diverticulosis. Besides diverticulosis, the excessive bowel transit time associated with constipation can contribute to such bowel disorders as irritable bowel syndrome and colitis.

In addition, studies suggest that constipation may indirectly cause estrogen to be reabsorbed. With slow transit times, a low-fiber diet and low concentrations of beneficial Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria, there will be reabsorption of estrogen. Elevated estrogen can give rise to many female problems including breast, ovarian and uterine cancer.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms?

With constipation, a wide range of symptoms may be experienced. These could include: (read more)

• Abdominal discomfort/fullness

• Rectal discomfort

• Bloating

• Nausea

• Loss of appetite

• Headache

• Lower back pain

• General feeling of malaise

When bowel transit time is slow, waste is not promptly eliminated from the body. It will consequently create prolonged bacterial fermentation of the retained fecal material which can produce harmful or poisonous chemicals. As toxins are reabsorbed into the body, the risk of developing colon diseases and other health problems increases. Excessive bowel transit time means increased exposure to waste and toxins. These toxins stress the gallbladder, pancreas and liver giving rise to fatigue and headaches.

Toxins created in the constipated bowel damage digestive enzymes in the intestinal wall and cause digestive problems and nutrient deficiencies. The walls of the colon can weaken and herniate, giving rise to diverticulosis. Besides diverticulosis, the excessive bowel transit time associated with constipation can contribute to such bowel disorders as irritable bowel syndrome and colitis.

In addition, studies suggest that constipation may indirectly cause estrogen to be reabsorbed. With slow transit times, a low-fiber diet and low concentrations of beneficial Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria, there will be reabsorption of estrogen. Elevated estrogen can give rise to many female problems including breast, ovarian and uterine cancer.

 


Brenda's Better Way
brendasbottomline

If you are not having at least one bowel movement every day, you are constipated. If you are having one bowel movement each day, and it is not one and a half feet long you are still constipated. If you are not eliminating one and a half feet of feces per day (the length of the descending colon), you are not getting enough dietary fiber in your diet. This comes as no surprise, as the average intake of dietary fiber in the US is 12 to 15 grams. I recommend at least 35 grams daily for optimal health. bristolstoolchartIt may be helpful to review the Bristol Stool Chart to determine your own unique situation.

Chronic constipation can lead to so many health problems. Take my own story, for example. As a result of chronic antibiotic usage in childhood, I became constipated. The first consequence of this constipation was migraine headaches in elementary school. In high school it had progressed to chronic fatigue. All of this stemmed from my chronic constipation. If I had only known then what I do now!

The underlying causes of constipation are numerous, and can be complex. The cause could be dehydration, lack of fiber, lack of beneficial bacteria, lack of B vitamins, certain medications, chronic stress or genetics, to name a few.

My hope is that you will get to the bottom of the problem without having to resort to long-term laxative use that can worsen the problem and lead to dependence. Think of it as an investigative journey with a destination of good health. The following recommendations will help you on your way.

Rule out and/or treat underlying issues and causes for chronic constipation mentioned earlier in this chapter.

Recommended Testing

• Comprehensive stool analysis (CSA)

• Food sensitivity test

Diet

• Follow the Skinny Gut Diet Eating Plan.

• If Candida is an underlying cause, follow the Get Lean Phase of the Skinny Gut Diet to help reduce carbohydrates until at least bowel elimination is regular. Then if weight is not an issue, follow the Stay Lean Phase of the Skinny Gut Diet for maintenance.

• Drink half your body weight in ounces of water daily. (Example: 140 pounds would be 70 ounces of water daily.)

• Limit beverages that have high tannin content, such as red wine and tea, as these can contribute to constipation.

Lifestyle

• Make time to go to the bathroom, even if it means getting up earlier in the morning.

• Incorporate exercise into your lifestyle. Walking, swimming and using the mini trampoline are great exercises.

Complementary Mind/Body Therapies

• Colon hydrotherapy can be extremely beneficial alone, or in conjunction with the suggestions here.

• Yoga can help strengthen the abdominal muscles and colon.

• Chiropractic spinal adjustments can be helpful in resolving constipation.

• Acupuncture could also be beneficial by stimulating the energy meridians of the colon and digestive tract.