It may not be the most pleasant topic, but let’s face it: most of us have experienced constipation at one time or another, and it’s not fun.
We are tackling the bowels in my Digestion & Detoxification class, and while I will spare you most of the details of these lectures, I do think constipation is something that enough people deal with to make it a relevant blog topic. Why is this subject so important? Because bowel health is often symbolic of overall health. Diarrhea or constipation can indicate an underlying digestive issue, and as we all know, when digestion is not functioning properly, we are unable to obtain all of the necessary nutrients from our foods. This, in turn, can lead to sickness and long-term health issues, from the flu to arthritis to cancer.
In the book Dr. Jensen’s Guide to Better Bowel Care, constipation is defined as “difficult defecation; infrequent defecation, with passage of unduly hard and dry fecal material; sluggish action of the bowels.” Some of the causes of constipation can include neglecting the urge to defecate, eating a very low-fiber diet, overuse of laxatives or stool softeners, dehydration, lack of muscle tone due to sedentary lifestyle, stress and anxiety, underactive thyroid, and fatigue. Most of the time, constipation occurs as a result of a combination of two or more of these causes. However, there are some things that can be done to help get things moving again.
Nutritionally, I recommend the usual: a whole-foods based diet that includes plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables (emphasis on the vegetables) to ensure you are obtaining enough fiber and a balance of nutrients necessary for healthy digestion. Other great sources of fiber include beans, lentils, flax, oats and brown rice. Processed foods such as fast food, soda and candy, will only upset the balance of bacteria in your intestinal tract, making it more difficult to have a regular bowel movement. Drinking 1-2 glasses of room temperature or warmer water each day upon awakening will also help stimulate the bowel and get things moving for the day. This is something that is easy to do, especially once you make it a habit.
If you do begin to eliminate processed foods from your diet and increase your intake of fresh vegetables and other healthy, whole foods, you may notice not only an improvement in your bowels but also in other problem areas, such as your skin, hair, nails, headaches, energy levels, and more. Bowel movements are a means of detoxification, and when we are not eliminating regularly, those toxins build up inside of us and can cause an array of health issues.
Regular exercise is also important for regular, healthy bowels. As weird as it sounds, the muscles that help you pass a bowel need toning just like any other muscle in the body, and the only way to do this is by staying active.
For people with digestive issues, things like hydrochloric acid supplements, probiotics, or digestive enzymes can also help ease constipation. However, these are only necessary for certain people and a nutritionist can help you figure out if you’d benefit from taking them. Epsom salt baths and magnesium supplements are also known to help relieve constipation, if you’re in a pinch.
If you are someone who relies on laxatives regularly or even occasionally to ease constipation, try to make some of the dietary and other changes above, and then slowly ease yourself off of the laxatives. Getting dependent on laxatives is something you want to avoid. They disturb our mechanism of elimination, and it can sometimes take weeks or even months to get it back on track. Overuse of laxatives tends to tire the bowels, which can eventually lead to weakness and a destroyed ability to eliminate properly.
If anyone is interested, the book we read is very informative and a great resource for bowel care. It is called Dr. Jensen’s Guide to Better Bowel Care, by Dr. Bernard Jensen.
Note: For obvious reasons, I chose to omit photos from this blog post.