Natural and Effective Treatments for Constipation

Millions of Americans silently struggle with constipation. For many people, it’s a functional issue rather than a structural one. Typically, there’s nothing physically wrong with the structure of the intestines or rectum that may be “blocking” the natural bowel movement out of the body; the GI system just isn’t functioning as it should. And that’s why Functional Medicine is the optimal approach to understanding and correcting constipation. (Functional Medicine also addresses “secondary” constipation, which usually results as a side effect of medication usage).

This holistic, science-based system of wellness looks at all the connections between the GI system and other systems of the body, because nothing in our bodies functions as an island unto itself. Everything is connected: mind and body, body and microbiome, microbiome and diet, diet and inflammation, inflammation and hormones, hormones and the gut, the gut and constipation, constipation and emotions, emotions and nutrition… the human being is one whole person with many unified parts and systems. Functional Medicine practitioners like myself diagnose and treat our patients with their “balanced wholeness” as the foundation and the goal. So what’s out of balance in your body that’s causing your constipation?

There are 9 common causes of constipation:

  1. Inadequate fiber intake – fiber provides the bulk that helps move things all the way through the GI tract – the long tube from the mouth all the way to the anus. Fiber is present only in plant foods. The good thing is that there are endless sources of natural plant fibers, from sweet potatoes and kiwis to collard greens and black beans – nature is teeming with help for your constipation.
  2. Dehydration – Our bodies require a constant supply of water to keep all of our “tubes” moist and irrigated well.
  3. Dysbiosis – Imbalances in the trillions of “good” vs “bad” microorganisms in our gut can cause or exacerbate constipation and bloating. Functional Medicine stool tests can determine exactly which bacteria and yeast are in excess or deficiency in your gut, so we have a clear understanding of which (good) microbes to potentiate, and which pathogenic (bad) microbes to eradicate or balance out.
  4. Pathogenic infection – About 2 out of every 3 Americans have a hidden pathogenic infection, whether that’s a parasite, a stubborn bacteria, or a systemic yeast infection like candida albicans. These hidden infections create stress and inflammation within your body, weaken your immune system, release toxic byproducts, and disrupt your GI function. The symptoms associated with these infections are broad, ranging from headaches and fatigue to bloating and constipation. Functional Medicine laboratory stool tests can uncover your hidden infections so we can treat them quickly and effectively.
  5. Stress / HPA Dysregulation – When we’re stressed, one of the first systems to be disrupted is the GI system. Our gut is home to our “enteric nervous system,” which is often called our “second brain” because the very same nerve cells and neurotransmitters that are found in our brain are also found in our gut. We literally “feel” in our gut, which produces more serotonin than our brains. Stress slows GI motility, damages gut microflora, increases inflammation, and weakens the mucosal barrier.
  6. Nutritional Deficiencies – Sometimes a chronic deficiency of a single nutrient can cause months or years of constipation. An Organic Acids test or Comprehensive Nutritional Evaluation test can help us find out exactly where your nutrient levels are and how well your body is metabolizing foods and nutrients. With this valuable diagnostic information, I can create a supplement and diet plan to boost your deficiencies back to optimal levels.
  7. Hidden Food Sensitivities – Unlike outright food allergies, hidden food sensitivities show up hours or days after you’ve eaten the triggering food. They’re “hidden” because most people don’t recognize the food as the cause of their symptoms since the symptoms show up so much later than the time the food has been ingested. Symptoms of food sensitivities are also very broad, such as headaches, stuffy nose, itchy eyes and throat, nasal congestion, bloating, arthritis, loose stools, and of course, constipation – so it’s very hard to link these symptoms to a particular food that was eaten 12-72 hours ago. One of the best tests I’ve taken for myself and for my children was a food sensitivity test. It pinpointed foods I never would have suspected as problematic, and it enabled me to treat and heal mine and my sons’ chronic nasal congestion and histamine reactions once and for all.
  8. Inactivity / Stagnation – Lack of physical movement slows down gut motility and metabolism. Vigorous activity promotes bowel motility and revs up metabolism. We are all meant to move, sweat, and keep our muscles strong. The proper functioning of our GI system is a natural outcome of a healthy, active lifestyle.
  9. Compromised metabolism / hypothyroidism – Proper metabolism is necessary for energy production and regular bowel movements. When our metabolic processes get damaged from toxins, inflammation, and nutrient deficiencies, things shut down and slow down, and one result is constipation.
So now that you understand the common causes of constipation, what should you do? Here’s my suggestions on ACTIONABLE STEPS YOU CAN TAKE NOW:
  1. Increase your fiber intake with leafy greens, root vegetables, fruits, and legumes. Double it. Triple it. And take a break from your fiber powders. Just focus on the fresh plant foods.
  2. Increase your water intake. Shoot for 8-10 cups a day. Carry a 32-oz water bottle everywhere you go. Drink a cup of water before you go to bed, and another cup right when you wake up.
  3. Exercise 30-45 minutes, 4-5 times a week. Challenge yourself, sweat, bear weight, and take all your joints through their full range of motion. Swim, walk, jog, run, hike, yoga, pilates, zumba, interval train, dance!
  4. Schedule a Functional Medicine appointment with me so we can discuss your health history, your lifestyle, and your health complaints. Then we’ll figure out which tests are best suited for you. These tests help us get to the root cause of your constipation and any other health issues you may have. I’ll then create a personalized treatment program for you to get you on a clear path to wellness – no more laxatives, no more bloating, no more pain and discomfort. Don’t accept constipation as your normal. Regular bowel movements are absolutely attainable!