New clients are sometimes surprised when I ask them about their bowel movements.
“I’ve never talked about, you know umm, what my ‘number two’ is like before. Are you sure you want to go there?”
Yes, I’m sure! It’s not some unusual fascination I have or a misguided attempt at an ice-breaker. I ask my clients about their bowel movements because it gives us real insights into their diet, digestion, and even their general wellness that we can’t get from any other part of our conversation. I always tell my clients, if it was important enough for me to spend +$50,000 and three years of my life learning then its certainly important enough for us to spend 10 minutes talking about during our Initial Health Consultation.
Once I get clients to trust me with this sensitive information, we talk about what’s going on and what it may all mean. Talk to a hundred people, and I’ll bet you’ve got a hundred different kinds of poop. Our diet, our microbiome, gut inflammation, maldigestion, malabsorption, the level of stress we’re under, and our toxin burden are just a few of the things that can influence how things come out the other end.
But what if your problem is that you can’t “go” because you’re struggling with constipation? What can that mean?
Let’s start by setting something straight: A healthy adult should be having at least one well-formed bowel movement per day. Going less than that, or feeling like you have to strain to evacuate your bowels can be signs of constipation.
Constipation is something that a lot of the women I consult with experience and there are a number of nutrition related factors that we investigate together. As I often like to emphasize, Functional Medicine teaches us the value of probing deeper than our symptoms so that we can uncover the root-cause. Remember that symptoms are the body’s way of communicating with us. In this case, constipation may be how your body is trying to communicate something with you, and by simply masking or suppressing the symptom, we won’t have addressed the underlying cause.
Before going any further, it’s important that you work with your doctor if you’re experiencing constipation as it can sometimes be caused by a dangerous blockage or other undiagnosed medical condition.
Other than the obvious discomfort, is there another reason we should care about constipation? Yes, absolutely! There are a number of consequences to not having regular bowel movements.
To put it simply: constipation is the enemy of detoxification.
All of the toxins we’re exposed to throughout the day have to get processed through the liver. The liver is a remarkable organ and it uses two different phases of detoxification (called Phase I and II) to handle toxins and get them ready for ‘phase 3’: elimination. If you haven’t already guessed it, phase 3 is a bowel movement. Struggling with constipation means that, even though your liver will have done its part, the toxins are just sitting in your gut where they may eventually get reabsorbed back into the body. These toxins are treated just like any other exposure and will have to go to the ‘back of the line’, so to speak, waiting to get processed by your liver all over again. Recycling toxins in this way can increase your body’s toxin burden, heighten inflammation, and deplete critical nutrients. Overtime, the cycle can make your body less effective at removing toxins and lead to some negative health consequences. Many of my clients have been surprised to learn that the liver also plays an important role in hormonal health and, by correcting their digestion, they’ve also been able to improve hormone balance.
By now I’m guessing that any skeptics of the impact that constipation has on our health have been won over and are ready to learn why some people experience this issue. These are the most common causes of constipation that I see in my practice, but they may not be your root-cause. To find out where your gut health needs TLC, make a one-on-one appointment with me today!
1. Gut Dysbiosis or SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth)
Our gut is made up of trillions of microbes. Gut dysbiosis is when beneficial bacterial strains become deplete, and/or pathogenic bacteria, yeasts, or parasites become too dominant. Often times clients with dysbiosis have a history of poor digestion or long-term pharmaceutical drug use which have shifted the makeup of the gut towards a pro-inflammatory profile.
SIBO can also be another contributing factor leading to constipation in the women I work with. As far as the small intestine goes, it should be relatively free of bacteria. Bacterial species flourishing in the small intestines can be the source of a lot of different health issues, including constipation. Clients who may suspect SIBO can order and easy at-home test kit which tests for exhaled hydrogen and methane. These gases are often used as an indicator of bacterial overgrowth in the small intestines.
Did you know that depending on your unique gut microbe composition, some commercially available probiotics can actually make constipation worse? Without trying to sound too sale-y this is one of the many benefits to working with someone trained in Functional Medicine on your wellness.
2. Low Food and/or Fiber Intake
Undereating and low fiber intake can sometimes lead to constipation. I’ll frequently use client’s food journals to learn more about their typical diet and provide feedback on where they can make changes.
3. Poor Digestion
We touched on this a tad when going over gut dysbiosis and SIBO, but just because poor digestion hasn’t yet manifested as either of those doesn’t mean that there isn’t an opportunity to increase digestive efficiency. For example, hypochlorhydria (low stomach acid) can frequently be associated with constipation, but thankfully there’s a lot that we can do to support our digestion.
4. Low Gut Motility
Gut motility is essentially the rate that your body moves food along your digestive tract. This can tie back up to SIBO as well since low motility can sometimes promote that kind of bacterial overgrowth. There are a lot of things that can impact our gut motility, including genetics, but more often what I see in my practice is chronic stress or low thyroid. Even if your doctor hasn’t diagnosed you with hypothyroid, there is often room for optimization through changes in lifestyle and diet designed to support thyroid health.
5. Leaky Gut and Food Sensitivities
Leaky gut and food sensitivities go hand in hand, because food sensitivities are a manifestation of leaky gut. So, what even is leaky gut? It’s the coined term for when your intestinal lining becomes hyper-permeable and “leaks” food particles out into your bloodstream. Your body responds, trying to protect you from those out-of-place food particles, building immune response and inflammation. Often clients who are ‘doing everything right’ and are still struggling with constipation find that they are suffering from undetected food sensitivities.
Now that we’ve covered the top potential causes of constipation, I’m going to share my top home remedies that help clients get more immediate relief while we work together on tackling the root-cause of their symptoms.
1. Add Fiber By Eating More Plant-Based Foods
My favorites include wide varieties of vegetables and fruits, beans, nuts, and seeds.
2. Supplement with Magnesium Glycinate
For a lot of my clients struggling with constipation, adding a magnesium glycinate supplement to their evening routines has been a ‘game-changer’
3. Support Gut Motility with Natural Prokinetic Agents Like Ginger or Supplements Like Iberogast
4. Eat More Warm, Cooked Foods (Versus Raw, Cold Foods)
Yes, really! Warm, cooked foods may be a little easier for our bodies to digest.
5. Eating Mindfully and Chew Food Carefully
6. Add MCT Oil to Your Diet
MCT (medium-chain triglyceride) oil is a refined coconut oil that’s liquid at room temperature. I like to add it to my morning coffee or tea latte, drizzle it on my salads, and add it to smoothies.
7. Get Active
One of my favorite ways to incorporate more movement into my day is to use a standing work desk and take frequent breaks to walk around – even if that’s just to refill my tea or use the bathroom.
8. Stay Hydrated
Drink pure, filtered-water to stay hydrated. Just don’t hydrate too close to your meal times as it can dilute gastric juices and impair digestion.
Are you suffering from constipation? Let me know if any of the insights I shared in this article were surprises to you!