We know talking about poop is taboo; It isn’t exactly sexy, but we all poop! Having normal bowel movements, at least three or more per week, is essential for maintaining the body’s internal balance, known as homeostasis. “Going to the bathroom” allows us to rid our body of wastes and toxins that have built up after eating, and emerging research is showing a strong correlation between a healthy gut and mental health. While everyone’s poop schedule is different, and your body usually knows when it needs to pass waste, sometimes lifestyle changes, diet, lack of sleep, and stress lead to constipation. Syndromes such as IBS-C, SIBO, and other digestive issues can also lead to becoming backed up. Constipation happens when fecal matter hardens in the colon, becoming dry and stuck in the large intestine. Medically, constipation is defined by fewer than three bowel movements per week, hard, dry, or lumpy stools, difficulty or pain when passing stools, and a feeling that not all stool has passed. Does this sound like you? Well, you’re not alone. Constipation affects 20% of the United States population, more specifically targeting women, and leads to eight million doctor visits per year!
The frequency of constipation is different from person to person, but it’s known to have detrimental effects on emotional and mental health, ability to do physical activity, and quality of life. For many of us, a normal bathroom routine helps us shape our days; Some of us go right when we wake up or just before bed, and normally have a feeling of being emptied out. A normal functioning colon will usually keep to this same rhythm, but can sometimes be disrupted. Some known causes of constipation are dehydration, stress, lack of exercise, and fiber deficiency. Foods high in sugar and fat, over-eating, and some prescription medications can also lead to passing fewer stools. Oftentimes, constipation is accompanied by bloating, gas pains or passing gas, and extreme discomfort in the abdominal area. Is this sounding familiar? Not to worry; There are plenty of science-backed, natural remedies to relieve constipation, right from your own home.
The first step to constipation relief is to drink more water! Water makes up 60% of the human body, and is necessary for many of our body’s processes, from making energy from food to digestion. When we aren’t drinking enough, or when we are losing more water than we are taking in, our body pulls water from anywhere it can, and oftentimes this includes the colon. Studies have shown that drinking carbonated water (but not soda or sugary drinks!) can aid the body in getting things moving again. A disclaimer: those with IBS may find that their symptoms worsen with the carbonation. In this case, just stick to tap water! Electrolyte powders can also aid in rehydration; Just make sure to look for ones without any added sugars or gums. Aim for six to eight glasses of water, or two liters, per day. Studies have found that drinking from a straw actually encourages us to drink more, so a reusable bottle with a straw, such as a Brita or Hydroflask, is a sustainable and personable option to carry with you during the day. Wherever you go, your water should be!
Secondly, move your body. We know being constipated and working out seem to oppose each other. However, research shows that even a short fifteen walk has major benefits in stimulating the muscles of the intestinal tract. Low intensity workouts such as yoga and pilates, and even ten minutes of stretching have the same effect. Pro tip: Youtube search ‘Yoga for digestion’ and wait for the hundreds of videos to show up. Many yoga poses aim to restore balance in the gut, and specific poses, such as downward-facing dog and child’s pose can be extremely beneficial in soothing the walls of the intestines, helping to gently move stool along.
Getting enough fiber is important for keeping our gut microbiome healthy and for keeping us regular by moving our waste throughout the GI tract. A 2016 study found that 77% of people with chronic constipation benefited from supplementing with fiber. Many of our favorite household foods contain fiber, which is found in two forms: soluble and insoluble. Eating a well-balanced, whole food diet can ensure you are getting enough fiber in your diet, with the Recommended Dietary Allowance being between 25-30 grams per day. Foods such as oats, flaxseed, chia seed, whole grains, and fruits and vegetables provide fiber that can prevent hard stools. Studies have found that non-fermentable soluble fibers, especially psyllium, are three times more effective than wheat bran for constipation. Psyllium can be found in fiber cereals and adding psyllium husk, in its powdered form, to yogurt bowls and smoothies can be a great addition to your constipation relief.
By now you’ve probably heard of probiotics,which are good bacteria that help keep your body healthy and working well. The main job of these bacteria is to help maintain a healthy balance in the body, helping us to digest food, keeping our immune response strong, and keeping bad bacteria from making us sick. Constipation can be an imbalance of these bacteria, causing discomfort, bloating, and inability to pass stools. Incorporating probiotic foods such as yogurt, kimchi, and sauerkraut as well as taking a probiotic supplement daily can help restore this balance, ridding you of your constipation and its symptoms. The bacteria in our gut feed directly off of the foods we consume, so eating more prebiotics is also important. Prebiotics are the food for bacteria from the indigestible substances that come from the carbs we eat. They too aid in keeping the gut microbiota healthy and increase frequency of bowel movements. Onions and garlic are rich in prebiotics and can be easily added to foods for extra flavor. Bananas, leeks, and chickpeas are also good sources of prebiotics. Ensuring pro and prebiotics are part of your whole food diet can reduce constipation naturally and lead to a healthy and flourishing gut.
Changes in our diet, traveling, stress, and lack of movement can all contribute to less bowel movements than normal. We know all-too-well that constipation and its symptoms can have significant effects on our day to day lives. However, following these tips and tricks can ensure the gut is functioning properly, decreasing the stress in our bodies and increasing the movement of the intestinal muscles. Pick one or two of these methods to start, and notice how your body (and your pooping schedule) changes for the better. Are you still not feeling complete relief? Schedule a free discovery call today to speak with a Naturopathic doctor to relieve your constipation, for good.
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- Christodoulides, S., et al. “Systematic Review with Meta-Analysis: Effect of Fibre Supplementation on Chronic Idiopathic Constipation in Adults.”Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics, vol. 44, no. 2, 2016, pp. 103–116., https://doi.org/10.1111/apt.13662.
- Sharma A, Rao S. Constipation: Pathophysiology and Current Therapeutic Approaches. Handb Exp Pharmacol. 2017;239:59-74. doi: 10.1007/164_2016_111. PMID: 28185025.