8 Simple Ways to Relieve Constipation
What is constipation?
Constipation occurs when digested food moves too slowly through the digestive tract. As a result, the body absorbs too much water from the stools, causing them to become hard, dry and difficult to pass. This leads to infrequent or difficult bowel movements.
Almost everyone experiences constipation at some point in their life, and most periods of constipation are temporary, self-treatable, and not serious health issues.
However, millions of people suffer from chronic constipation with many turning to laxatives to help them go regularly. And it shows with the laxative industry booming! However, laxatives do not fix the root cause of the issue, but often make your body physically dependent on the product in order to have a bowel movement AND on top of that they irritate the bowels causing more harm to your gut.
How our digestion tract is designed
Our digestion tract is designed to breakdown food we eat, absorb and utilize the nutrients, and eliminate the waste. This means that for every meal consumed, you should also be having a bowel movement to eliminate what your body did not need, along with the other bodily wastes that are constantly circulating in the body.
What do healthy bowel movements look like?
- Optimal frequency is 2-3 bowel movements/day, but an initial goal would be to have at least one comfortable and full bowel movement daily.
- Easily slide out, no straining (just like when you pee)
- Nicely formed
- Minimal smell
- 15-20 seconds spent in the the bathroom
Although bowel movements are different for each individual, if you are not having two to three comfortable bowel movements daily, your bowel transit time is most likely less than optimal.
When intestinal health is compromised and the large intestine and colon become backlogged, the body's ability to detoxify itself is affected. This leads to wastes not being eliminated in a timely fashion and toxins end up leaching back into the body, increasing your toxic load and provoking havoc to your health.
Slow bowel transit time or constipation has been linked to allergies, arthritis, depression, anxiety, high cholesterol, chronic fatigue, autoimmune disorders, fibromyalgia, back pain, and many other chronic conditions.
What causes constipation
Here are some of the most common reasons for having constipation:
- Low water consumption (dehydration)
- Low fibre diet
- Not making the time
- rushing to get out the door
- busy at work in the morning, or
- holding it in because you do not like to go in public washrooms
- Lack of physical exercise or body movement
- Other gastrointestinal health issues
- leaky gut
- food intolerances
- antibiotics use or past use
- laxative use
- Prescription medications
8 simple Ways To Relieve Constipation
Below I have listed 8 ways to help relieve constipation so you can get in and out of the bathroom quickly, feel fresh in your mind and body AND have increased mental and physical energy for your day!
1. Drink More Water
Sufficient water intake is critical for optimal bowel movements. Water helps to flush the digestive system and move waste through in a healthy timeframe to decrease the toxic load on the body (3). Water is also necessary for bulking up fiber and pushing it through the system (Tip #2).
Remember that it is always best to drink filtered water to minimize your intake of toxins and chemicals.
2. Eat More Fiber
Accumulating evidence indicates that greater dietary fiber intake reduces risk for constipation as well as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, weight gain, and obesity (4).
The fact is conventional grain products are unrefined and loaded with sugar and other preservatives and do not provide the body a good source of fiber. A truly whole grain is comprised of four components:
- Husk (outer shell),
- Bran (protects the seed),
- Endosperm (energy for the seed), and;
- Germ (nourishment for the seed)
The husk and the bran parts of the grain provide the most fiber with the endosperm and germ providing other vital nutrients.
Try consuming 1 tsp of sprouted flaxseed powder or psyllium powder in 2 cups of water followed by another glass of water first thing in the morning or in the evening (for up to 3 days).
Not familiar with psyllium? Psyllium is derived from the husks of the seeds of Plantago ovata or Plantago isphagula and contains a high level of soluble dietary fiber.
Eat more celery, dark leafy greens, apple, pear, broccoli, chia, sprouted seeds and whole grains (in their natural whole form from when they were harvest - no processing, and only if you do not have a sensitivity to gluten or wheat).
3. Quality Probiotics
We have 100 trillion microbes in our guts. We have more bacteria in our guts than human cells! Probiotics are the living mircoorganisms that bring good bacteria into the gut. These microorganisms are essential for the health of the gut by keeping it balanced and functioning well and are vital for our overall health and well-being (5).
Eat more fermented foods including, raw sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir, picked vegetables or kimchi.
4. Prebiotics - Resistant Starch
Resistant starch and specialized plant fiber are indigestible nutrients that ferment in the large intestine and provide nourishment for the good bacteria living in the large intestine and colon. Unlike probiotics that provide the gut new beneficial bacteria, prebiotics act as a fertilizer for the good bacteria that is already present as well as help to improve the good-to-bad bacteria ratio in the gut (6).
Resistant starch is similar to fiber in many ways, but it has a unique substance called butyrate. Butyrate is a short-chain fatty acid that is a vital nutrient for the colon and the primary energy source for the cells along the intestinal lining of the large intestines. As a result, butyrate helps keep the colon wall healthy and prevents constipation.
Eat more whole, plant-based foods to obtain resistant starch in your diet, including chickpeas, lentils, unripe bananas, plantain, green peas, cashews, yams and potatoes.
*One tip to remember is that the longer the food is cooked and the higher the temperature means more resistant starch will be lost.
Mineral magnesium, what a gem! Magnesium helps relax the muscle of the bowel, thank-you! So if you are feeling anxious or tight inside, try eating more foods that are rich in magnesium (see list below). It is always best to buy organic to receive the optimal level of nutrition as they were likely grown in more nutrient-dense soil.
If you have chronic constipation supplementing with a specific high quality magnesium supplement, such as magnesium citrate or glycinate can also be beneficial. Get in touch if you have questions.
Eat more dark leafy greens, spinach, chard, pumpkin seeds, almonds, black beans, avocado, figs, dark chocolate, and banana.
If you feel constantly busy, overwhelmed, stressed, or feel you have very little time, this is likely impacting your bowels.
The expression, "I have butterflies in my stomach?" is an example of how interconnected our mind and gut are and how they influence each other. When we are stressed or tense by our outer life, this makes us stressed and tense inside too, including our bowels. For some it may be diarrhea and for others constipation. This means you need to feel relaxed to have healthy solid bowel movements with no straining, anxiousness or tightness.
Try taking a 6 count deep breath in and then a 6 count deep breathe out the next time your sit down on the toilet and repeat to start helping your body and bowels relax.
7. Start a Bowel Routine
If you don't make time to go to the washroom or you don't allow yourself to go in public places either for comfort or "germ issue" reasons and have become very good at holding it in, then you need to start thinking about retraining your ways.
Not answering nature's call is a poor bowel habit. By holding your bowels you are keeping all the harmful microorganisms inside of you, which creates an ideal breeding ground for pathogenic bacteria.
Bowel movements are normal, we all do it, and we all need to do it! Making time to go to the bathroom everyday is important. Eating on a regular schedule to help the body have a regulate elimination schedule is also very helpful.
So, I squat. Always. At home I use a stool to squat, which I absolutely love. When I am away from home, I squat on toilets (yes I do) or I squat right into the hole (like when I was living in Africa)! If you think about, in a lot of other countries around the world they do not have the modern designed toilet and it is actually a good thing when talking about healthy bowel elimination.
The modern day toilet is not ergonomically friendly for elimination. Hence, why you should squat. Squatting allows the colon to be a straight pipe rather than a right angle when sitting on the toilet. In the squatting position, the thighs also place pressure on the gastrointestinal tract assisting healthy elimination. Check out this video to get a visual of what the colon looks like sitting on a toilet vs. in a squatting position, as well as a good laugh! (7).
It is as easy as using a footstool (6-14 inches high) that you already have at home or any raised platform to raise your feet up and help place your colon in a healthy squatting position for elimination.
Lastly, remember to take it one step at a time, be gentle to your body and trust that it will heal when you provide it what it needs.
In health with smiles,
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Breanne Gibson, MSc., DHN, ROHP, RNCP
As a leading holistic nutritionist, lifestyle mentor, and permaculture designer, Breanne empowers high achieving and sustainably-driven leaders and entrepreneurs optimize their health and performance and design a resilient life they love so they can be living their full potential as they share their gifts with the world. Read her inspiring story, “From Peachland girl to military officer to a worldwide permaculture exploration” that lead her to where she is today.