The Ins and Outs of Constipation
What is constipation?
Unfortunately there is no simple or true definition of constipation. You may have constipation if you have fewer than three bowel movements in a week or if stool is hard, dry, painful, or difficult to pass. Some people with constipation lack energy and feel full or bloated. Some people define constipation as having less than one bowel movement daily.
However, the bowel is a very sensitive organ and bowel habits can differ from day to day and person to person. The types and amount of foods you eat, amount of dietary fibre, how much you exercise, stress level, inherited digestive disorders and level of hydration are some of the most common factors that affect your bowel habits.
At one time or another, almost everyone will experience constipation. In most cases, it lasts only for a short time and is not serious. However, long term constipation can cause serious short and long term health effects. The sooner you address your regularity the better your overall health will be. Constipation is neither comfortable nor is it safe to hold in and re-circulate toxins in your body. This puts stress on every other organ and system in your body.
What is a healthy bowel movement?
Before we address what constipation is, let's identify what a healthy normal bowel movement experience is. Healthy babies, animals and adults not subjected to the refined foods of civilization (i.e. aboriginal peoples) have bowel movements shortly after each meal is eaten. So, assuming there is sufficient fibre and water available to the colon, one characteristic is a bowel movement shortly after a meal is eaten. Once you feel the urge to eliminate, a trip to the toilet should be easy and take no more than 10 seconds. The stool will be long (C or S shaped), large in diameter (2-3"), light brown in colour, without any offensive odour and should float. When the toilet is flushed, the stool immediately begins breaking apart by the action of water movement. This is commonly experienced in cultures where people live more naturally and eat a predominantly plant based diet.
What causes constipation?
To understand what causes constipation it helps to be familiar with the anatomy and function of the large intestine. We as humans have quite a long digestive tract. Our small intestine is nearly 20 feet in length and the large intestine is about as long as you are tall 5-6 feet. This is how we differ from true carnivores, who have very short digestive tracts. Food will take a lot longer to pass through our system then a household cat or even a lion. Therefore we need to pay particular attention to what we eat.
The large intestine removes most of the water from stool putting it back into the body for hydration. Stool is then changed from liquid into solid waste. Our large intestine is a strong muscle innervated with the nervous system. By steady muscle contraction called peristalsis stool moves along the bowel to the sigmoid colon where you receive the signal in the rectum that you have to have a bowel movement.
Constipation occurs when stool passes through the large intestine too slowly. When stool stays in the large intestine too long, the intestine removes too much water, and the stool becomes hard and dry like little pebbles. Lacking in size from both water and fiber, the pellets are unable to create a signal in the sigmoid to produce a bowel movement. Overtime both the signals and muscles in the bowel weaken and become lazy. Occasional constipation then becomes chronic constipation.
Lifestyle habits that may cause constipation include:
- Changing your normal diet, exercise, or travel habits
- Ignoring the urge to have a bowel movement (ongoing)
- Experiencing a lot of stress
- Eating a low-fiber diet (less than 30g daily)
- Not drinking enough water or herbal tea
- Taking calcium or iron supplements
- Taking medicines such as painkillers with codeine; diuretics, also known as water pills, medicine for depression, and some antacids
- High protein diet
- Lack of sleep (less than 8 hours)
- Drinking coffee or pop daily and caffeine energy drinks
- Internalizing your emotions and stress (emotional constipation)
- Fear and anxiety especially with washrooms
- Regular use of herbal or pharmaceutical laxatives (twice a month or more)
Some medical conditions that may cause constipation include:
- Pregnancy or having recently given birth
- Problems with the muscles and nerves in the intestine, rectum, or anus
- Irritable bowel syndrome, a condition in which the nerves that control the muscles in the intestine do not function correctly; the intestine becomes sensitive to food, stool, gas, and stress
- Diabetes a condition in which a person has high blood sugar, also called hyperglycemia, because the body cannot use blood glucose or blood sugar, for energy
- Hypothyroidism, a condition in which the thyroid gland does not produce enough hormone to meet the body's needs and many of the body's functions slow down
- Hypoglycemia resulting in sugar binges or refined sugary snack foods
- Anorexia or Bulemia
What tests are done to find the causes of constipation?
To find out why you have constipation, your doctor may perform a complete physical examination. The doctor may also order one or more tests if a serious problem is suspected as the cause of constipation.
- Sigmoidoscopy The doctor puts a thin, flexible tube called a sigmoidoscope into the rectum. This scope can show the last third of your large intestine.
- Colonoscopy The doctor looks at the entire large intestine with a long, flexible tube with a camera that shows images on a TV screen. The tube is like a sigmoidoscope but longer. You receive anaesthetic to help you sleep during a colonoscopy.
- Colorectal transit time study For this test, you swallow small capsules that can be seen on an x ray as they move through the large intestine and anus.
- Anorectal function test The doctor inserts a small balloon into the anus to see if you are able to push it out.
- Defecography test, The doctor inserts a soft paste into the rectum. The doctor asks you to push out the paste while an x-ray machine takes pictures of the rectum and anus.
What can I do about constipation?
You can take several steps to prevent and relieve constipation.
1. Eat more fiber.
Fiber helps form soft, bulky stools and is found in many vegetables, fruits, and grains. Be sure to add fiber to your diet a little at a time so your body gets used to it, and you must also increase your water consumption. Limit or eliminate foods that have little or no fiber such as pizza, ice cream, cheese, meat, snacks like chips, and processed foods such as instant mashed potatoes or frozen dinners.
Some High-fibre Foods:
|Fruits||Vegetables||Breads, Cereals and Beans|
Your may also choose to take fibre pills or powder to help soften and bulk up the stool. You can buy fibre products in a pharmacy or grocery store without a prescription. Some fibre products are flavoured while others are not. Be sure and take the fibre with plenty of water as directed. It is best to get your fibre from a whole food source. I would recommend 1-2tsp of ground flax in a 1/2 cup of applesauce each evening on an empty stomach with water.
Some people have gas and bloating at first when taking extra fibre. This is because the bowel is not used to it and it also helps to feed good bacteria. Go slowly, drink more water and give it a few days. Let your doctor know if you are having problems that do not go away after a few days. Do not rely on powdered fibre as your only source, use whole foods.
2. Drink plenty of water and other liquids such as fruit and vegetable juices and clear soups.
Liquids have little effect on stool form; however, drinking enough fluids is important because dehydration can cause constipation. Try not to drink liquids that contain caffeine or alcohol if you feel thirsty or dehydrated. These are actually quite dehydrating for the body.
3. Get enough exercise.
Regular exercise helps your digestive system stay active and healthy. Exercising 20 to 30 minutes every day may help relieve constipation. A good half hour walk after your lunch or dinner meal can really enhance digestion, decrease stress and provide vital oxygen to increase your energy. Make exercise part of your daily routine. Replace a bad habit with a good one.
4. Visit the restroom when you feel the urge to have a bowel movement. Allow yourself enough time to relax.
Sometimes people feel so hurried that they don't pay attention to their body's needs. Make sure you visit the restroom when you feel the urge to have a bowel movement. If you usually have a bowel movement at a certain time of day, visit the restroom around that time. Reading a book or magazine in the restroom can help you relax. If you cannot have a bowel movement within 10 minutes, get up and return the next time you get the urge. Do not stress about the toilet, this is the time to relax. Also at home have a stool in your bathroom to put your feet up; this helps put the bowel in the proper position for elimination.
5. Check with your doctor about any medicines you take.
Some medicines can cause constipation. Be sure to ask your doctor if any medicines you are taking could cause constipation. Or look up the side effects on the internet for your medication from the manufacturer's site. Your doctor may not always have that information.
6. Follow the guidance of your Certified Colon Hydrotherapist
Colon hydrotherapy, colonics or colon irrigation has been used for centuries as a way to strengthen the bowel and eliminate any residue fecal matter. Historically this method was used in Egyptian times to restore health and vitality and is used for the same reasons today. At Colon Hydro Care we use a state of the art spa system, the Angel of Water to safely and gently remove old fecal matter and cleanse the colon. Colon hydrotherapy uses purified water to hydrate the bowel and stimulate the bowel to eliminate hardened fecal matter along the digestive tract. By stimulating the peristalsis, colon hydrotherapy can help to retrain and strengthen the tone of the bowel. Over time this will increase your natural eliminations and help your body to prevent toxicity. Colonics are a natural, relaxing and effective way to relieve constipation and address some of the underlying causes mentioned above.
Points to remember
If you are not moving your bowels once a day or more, you are typically experiencing constipation. Many lifestyle and medical issues can lead to constipation. If you eat 3 meals a day, you should have 3 bowel movements daily, over a year that is 1,095 bowel movements. If you eat 3 meals a day and only have 1 bowel movement daily each year you are not having 703 bowel movements. That stool stays in the bowel and accumulates as toxins and stress on your body; now multiply that by the number of years you have experienced this. A scary thought for sure. By addressing the dietary and lifestyle (fibre rich diet and adequate water intake) contributors to constipation you can regain both regularity and health. Colon hydrotherapy can help remove the hardened fecal matter, allowing for larger more healthy bowel movements and regularity. Colonics also help to improve the strength and tone of your bowel muscle. Colonics are an effective and natural therapy, combined with a healthy diet colonics help you regain your health and vitality. The health of your body and mind are at stake. Don't let constipation rule your bowel, take action to restore and strengthen your health from the inside out.