How to relieve constipation
Our digestive system works hard to digest food, absorb nutrients and eliminate waste and toxins. When we suffer chronic constipation it can impact not only our digestive health but may lead to other health problems such as increase anxiety, low mood, immune dysregulation, poor sleep and low energy.
How often should you pass a stool?
As your digestive tract is one of the main avenues for removing waste from your body, it’s ideal to pass a stool at least once a per day. This ensures the efficient clearance of toxins from your body. Anything less than this, and you might be experiencing constipation.
The medical definition of chronic constipation is 3 months of:
· Hard or lumpy stools
· Reduced frequency of defecation (less than three bowel motions per week)
· A sensation of not passing the entire stool (i.e. a feeling of incomplete evacuation)
· Straining when passing a stool
However, under this definition, straining to pass a hard stool each day, or only passing a stool several times a week, can be viewed as ‘normal’, leading people to believe there is no problem.
Unfortunately, this is not the case. Chronic constipation increases the risk of haemorrhoids, anal fissures, faecal impaction and faecal incontinence in the short term and cognitive function, liver function, nutrient absorption and hormone imbalance in the long term.
How do you fix this?
It may seem logical to simply take a laxative to move things along. Laxatives can certainly help, however, they are not addressing the underlying dysfunction that causes constipation. Additionally, regular laxative use carries the risk of you developing a dependence on them.
Addressing the true cause of constipation requires us to examine the health of the gut, and work out why it is not functioning optimally.
The Microbiome-Constipation Connection
Your intestinal microbiome is a living colony of 38 trillion beneficial bacteria, yeasts and fungi that work synergistically to keep your gut, immune system and entire body healthy. When it comes to bowel regularity, your microbiome plays two hugely important roles:
1. Converts fibre from food into short chain fatty acids (SCFAs).
SCFAs regulate your gut motility as well as provide fuel for your gut cells, keeping your digestive system healthy. Insufficient fibre intake, or not having enough good gut bacteria, can cause low levels of SCFAs, decreasing gut motility and leading to constipation. In fact, research has shown that constipated patients have lower levels of SCFAs compared to those with diarrhoea.
2. Overgrowth of pathogenic organisms
These unwanted pathogens can trigger inflammation, and also produce gasses such as methane, which slow gut motility. Together, these negative effects can cause constipation.
In order to remedy your microbiome issues and resolve your constipation, there are two key ingredients you can call on.
Prebiotics are a type of dietary fibre that feeds good gut bacteria. Regular consumption, along with adequate water intake, can soften stools, increase the regularity of bowel motions, decrease abdominal pain, reduce straining with bowel motions, and reduce laxative use.
Prebiotics can be found in foods such as Jerusalem artichokes, asparagus, cabbage and sweet potato. Prebiotic supplements include inulin, slippery elm, psyllium husks and guar gum.
Probiotics are live, beneficial bacteria that support the health of your gut and intestinal microbiome.
The main action of probiotics is to help the beneficial organisms within your microbiome grow and flourish. This creates more good bacteria that then produce more SCFAs, which as we now know are essential for gut health and for combatting constipation. Probiotics also prevent pathogenic microbes from surviving within the gut, reduce inflammation within your digestive tract, and prevent pathogenic organisms from attaching to your gut lining.
Together, prebiotics and probiotics result in increased stool softness, improved gut motility, and the feeling of complete evacuation, whilst also reducing symptoms such as abdominal pain and bloating.
If you’re moving your bowels less than once a day, passing hard stools, straining, or experiencing a sense of incomplete evacuation, your microbiome may need support.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss how a naturopathic gut healing protocol could benefit your gut health and overall health and wellbeing.