Health begins in the gut, and constipation is just one of many signs that your digestive system is out of balance. A healthy bowel motion consists of waste products from digestion, bacteria, undigested food particles, salt, bacteria, toxins and other compounds. The colon is a key organ of detoxification and elimination which is critical to the function of almost every other system in the body.
Imagine if you didn’t empty your garbage bin regularly; waste would overflow into the surrounding room, scraps could putrefy and release unpleasant odours and gases, and undesirable creatures would be attracted to the mess. A similar analogy can be applied to the bowels. If wastes are not removed effectively and efficiently, they can putrefy, damage the integrity of the lining of the gut, and cause recycling of some toxins back into the body creating an increased workload on other organs such as the liver.
Constipation is by definition, infrequent or incomplete bowel motions. Constipation can mean hard, dry and small bowel movements or bowel motions occurring less than three times per week. If your bowel motions do not fit this checklist for what is considered normal and healthy, then you may be constipated and need to become a “poo detective” to make some changes.
Healthy Poo Checklist:
✓ You empty your bowels 1 to 2 times daily.
✓ No straining.
✓ No pain.
✓ Smooth, sausage-shaped log or a few smaller pieces.
✓ Takes no longer than 10 minutes to complete.
✓ Brown to dark brown in colour. (Red or black stools require medical attention)
✓ Consistent in its characteristics from day to day.
While constipation may be caused by irritable bowel syndrome or some gastrointestinal infections, it is most commonly caused by a lack of water intake and low fibre intake.
Constipation can also be caused by the overuse of laxatives, leading to a “lazy bowel”. The bowel walls have muscles which contract and relax rhythmically to move bowel contents along. If they are not looked after correctly, just like the other muscles in your body, they too can lose tone and become weakened, leading to constipation.
Some natural ways to relieve constipation include:
Water in adequate amounts is critical to healthy bowel motions. You want to aim for roughly 8 glasses of filtered water every day.
Fibre is the indigestible part of plants that can act as an intestinal broom. Insoluble fibre draws water to itself as it passes through the bowel, softening and bulking the stool supporting regular bowel motions. Resistant starches also fall in the fibre category and are essential for supporting healthy microbial balance in the digestive tract. Eating approximately three handfuls of vegetables with your main meals and including nuts, seeds and legumes are all good ways to get enough fibre in your daily intake. Partially hydrolysed guar gum is a water-soluble fibre that shows promising results in clinical studies for improving the frequency of bowel motions, reducing straining, and reducing abdominal discomfort.
Good Gut Bacteria are critical to our health. They have many important functions in the body, including assisting in digestion and breakdown of foods, absorption of nutrients, production of energy, vitamins and other important compounds for the body. To help support a healthy gut colony or microbiome, including fermented foods in your diet such as yoghurt, saeurkraut, kombucha, kimchi or pickles. Foods containing resistant starches such as bananas, onion, garlic, jerusalem artichoke, asparagus can also help to feed the microbes in your gut, creating a healthy environment in which for them to flourish.
Rest and digest. We often underestimate the importance of chewing our food properly, and taking time away from work to switch our body into digestion mode. Eating consciously and mindfully allows your body to send the right signals to the stomach to break food down properly, pass it successfully through the digestive tract, trigger nutrient absorption and healthy waste elimination. Eating at work or on the go detracts from these messages getting through to your digestive tract, slowing the whole process down.
Your naturopath and acupuncturist can also assist you to resolve constipation by discovering the underlying causes and creating a specific treatment plan to suit your unique circumstances. Our toolbox includes herbs, nutrients, and functional foods to enhance the overall digestive process, allowing for an adequate breakdown of foods, optimal absorption of nutrients and effective elimination of toxins. The goal of treatment is to return the bowel to natural healthy function and avoid the use of laxatives.