Updated: Dec 12, 2019
What is constipation?
In a healthy body, waste travels through the digestive system in a predictable regular cycle usually taking between 6 and 24 hours to pass. Unfortunately, sometimes this waste matter passes through the large intestines too slow and the result is Constipation. Constipation can be considered: 3 or fewer bowel movements (stool) in a week and/or having hard stool; it can affect nearly everyone. The regularity of bowel movements differs amongst most individuals as they can have a bowel movement anywhere from 3 times daily to 3 times a week; however, a healthy person has 1-3 bowel movements daily.
What are the symptoms of constipation?
Symptoms of constipation include: feeling as though you still need to have a bowel movement (even after having one), hard or dry stools that are difficult to pass, straining to have a bowel movement, loss of appetite, excessive flatulence, bloated/tender abdomen, and fatigue.
What causes constipation?
Constipation is usually caused by lack of adequate dietary fiber and fluids, lack of exercise, or ignoring urges to have a bowel movement. Constipation is also common in pregnancy as the fetus puts pressure on the intestines and anal sphincter. Other root causes of constipation include certain medications, parasites, lack of good gut bacteria, colitis, laxative abuse, underactive thyroid, magnesium deficiency and a sludgy liver.
What is the naturopathic management of constipation?
Usually, constipation is not serious, and can be treated by changing lifestyle habits. Eating more fiber (20-35 g daily) and proper food combinations, drinking more liquids, getting more physically activity, and having a bowel movement as soon as the urge strikes will promote good intestinal health and reduce the risk of constipation.
Intakes to eat: fruits (pear, papaya, berries, guava, prunes, figs), vegetables (leafy greens, kale, broccoli, spinach, Brussel sprouts), whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, steel cut oats), legumes (peas, lentil, chickpeas, navy beans, black beans), nuts (almond, pistachios), and seeds (chia, flaxseeds)
It is important to also chew thoroughly and don't eat too much in one sitting, even of healthful foods. The reason being is that eating too much at once can cause a slowdown in your digestive system because it may take too much energy to break down the food.
It is also helpful to consume hot cereals or warm tea for breakfast
Intakes to Avoid: foods that are high in saturated and trans fats, and foods that are fried and processed, dairy, desserts and meals with gluten and refined sugar, unripe bananas, red meat, and processed grains.
Reduce mucus forming foods: red meat, milk, cheese, cream, butter, eggs, white bread/pasta, unripe bananas, corn products, soy products, sweet desserts, candy, coffee, soda and alcoholic beverages
Caffeine and alcohol are hard on the digestive system and dehydrate the intestinal walls.
Naturopathic supplements and herbs: psyllium husk 1 tsp (or 5g) in 10 ounces of water twice daily, 1-2 tsp of chia seeds in 10 ounces of water daily, 3-4 oz of aloe vera juice daily, 250mg of magnesium 2-4 times daily for acute constipation, and a daily probiotic with at least 20 billion active organisms
Herbs that reduce constipation and promote regularity: triphala, milk thistle, gentian root, and dandelion root.
These naturopaths work to tonify the system, improve digestion and elimination, and retain water in the colon to improve constipation.
Activity and Bowel Retraining: Exercise helps to stimulate intestinal contractions to promote a bowel movement. You don't have to run a marathon, but you should be able to perform mild to moderate aerobic exercise several times a week. for instance, a brisk walk or other activity for 30 minutes on most mornings is a goal that can be achieved.
Additional activity: dancing, jumping jacks, biking, swimming, gardening and lawn work, stretching
To retrain your bowel, sit on the toilet at the same time every day even if you don't have the urge and the best time to do this is: early in the morning, 20-40 minutes after eating or directly after an exercise.
Spend 10-15 minutes on the toilet at a time.
Be careful not to strain as that can create hemorrhoids
Breathe deeply and use your abdominal muscles while trying to relax and this will promote the stimulation of a regular bowel movement.
What are the complications of constipation?
Straining may result in hemorrhoids (inflamed, swollen blood vessels in or around the rectum), bowel obstruction, anal fissures, fecal impaction and rectal prolapse.
When should I contact my primary care provider?
Prolonged constipation or changes in bowel habits or stools may be a sign of something more serious. If constipation does not resolve after one week, or if symptoms worsen, follow up with your primary care provider immediately.
Keep in mind, constipation is not a normal body process. It is a sign that there is an imbalance within the digestive system. Most diseases begin in an unhealthy gut, so if you have a sludgy and constipated system you are only increasing your risk for more dysfunction, disease, and cancer. Follow the tips in this quick guide for optimal gut health and return to rootedvigor.org for more naturopathic tips and tools.