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Constipation: Are You Clogged?

Jennifer was getting frustrated. No matter what she tried, she was only able to have a small hard bowel movement every 3-5 days which only offered a slight improvement in how she felt.  In between bowel movements she was horribly uncomfortable. She felt like her intestines were full of cement! She tried various laxatives as well as changing her diet to no avail. The only thing that reliably cleaned out her colon was having periodic colonics (colon hydrotherapy). But that was getting expensive and Jennifer couldn’t help but think that there was a better way for her move her bowels more naturally without an expensive treatment.

Constipation is a growing problem. There are many causes, including increased levels of stress and the Standard American Diet (SAD). The Standard American Diet is full of processed foods which contain little to no fiber. And stress stimulates the sympathetic nervous system. Our sympathetic nervous system evolved to help us run fast (fight or flight) to escape a predator, and when you are running from an attacking lion, there is no time to stop and poop, is there?  However most modern day stresses are psychological rather than escaping from an imminent danger. The problem is that our body creates an identical physiological response to outrunning a predator as it does trying to meet a deadline or commuting in traffic! So it is still difficult to poop! And with chronic stress, you will often have chronic constipation.

The intestines are a primary way the body processes and absorbs nutrients as well as eliminates waste products of metabolism.   When the bowels aren’t moving properly, the body incomplete in its detoxification of metabolic byproducts. Chronic constipation causes these toxic by-products to build up in the body. When toxic metabolites build up, one can experience skin problems, fatigue, brain fog, headaches, mood issues such as depression, irritability and apathy, muscle and joint inflammation as well as an overall malaise. And let’s not forget to mention the bloating and clogged feeling that is always causing discomfort in the gut!

Sometimes the fix is very simple. Sometimes it is a matter of forgetting to drink enough water. In that case all that you need to do is to be more conscious and mindful of hydration levels . And sometimes a little bit of electrolytes such as sodium and potassium helps the person to hold the water in their colon longer so that the stool is not so hard. When the solution is this simple, drinking more water is an amazing transformation! Most people just don’t drink enough water. One should ideally drink 64 oz of good purified water per day. Or 2/3 of your body weight in oz.

Sedentary lifestyle habits also contribute to the bowels not moving regularly. Think of it: if you are sitting in a chair all day, then your bowels are getting reduced movement and bloodflow. Peristalsis, the involuntary movement of the gut muscles slows down. If you sit all dain front of a computer and forget to drink water, or drink more soft drinks and caffeinated drinks which are diuretics (increasing urination) then you may not be moving your bowels often enough which hinders detoxification.   It comes as no surprise that “sitting is the new smoking” according to recent research studies!

Eating more water- soluble fiber (as in fruit pectin) is sometimes a quick fix for chronic constipation. Water-soluble fiber is found in most fruits and vegetables. While grains and legumes also contain fiber, some people find them to worsen to a bad case of constipation, while others find grains necessary. Increasing water, dietary fiber and moving your body can be a crucial first step to preventing constipation.

Emotional holding patterns also contribute to chronic constipation. Imagine the physical control that it takes to hold back anger, sadness and other negative emotions. Young children often hold back their stool as a method of control. If you are expending all of that extra energy to hold back emotions, it can also translate into extra tension in the abdomen or bowel area.

Sometimes the problem is bigger, deeper and more complex. There are difficult cases where drinking water, taking magnesium, eating fiber and moving the body doesn’t do enough to correct the problem. These cases may be due to SIBO (Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, undetected food allergies, Celiac disease (especially when also accompanied by bloating and stinky gas). This is the sort of case where Functional Medicine testing to uncover the root of the problem is usually necessary. I like to order the following trifecta of tests, SIBO test (Bacterial Overgrowth of the Small Intestine), a Comprehensive Stool Analysis and a Food Allergy test. And if the patient has been actively eating gluten I will also test for Celiac Disease. Once I have done the research I have a good idea about how to approach a complicated case. Sometimes the gut flora is off kilter and a great probiotic is helpful, sometimes a diet change is helpful. Sometimes the nerves in the intestines have been damaged and repair and restoration of the nervous system is indicated. This may involve prokinetics which are substances that improve peristalsis, or the involuntary movements of the small and large intestines.   Various supplements may be required to repair and restore the function of the nervous system .   Chronic gut motility problems may take several months or years to resolve.

In Jennifer’s case she had developed SIBO-C (constipation) and the protocol took over 6 months to really consistently resolve her constipation. She noticed a significant amount of improvement immediately, thankfully, so she was very motivated to continue the protocol. She is currently on a maintenance plan to help prevent a recurrence of the SIBO-C. Much of our work together was eliminating the overgrowth of bacteria using natural substances and then taking several months to heal her nerves in her GI tract.

If this sounds familiar to you, first try basic things such as making sure you are hydrated and consuming enough fiber. Also be sure that you are adequately managing your stress. Maybe add in some probiotics. If the problem is persists, you probably want to work with someone like me.   We can get to the root of the problem. If you are interested in working one on one with me, I offer a FREE 15 minute phone consult to see whether we are a good fit for each other. I can work with you whether you are local to Boulder/Denver or long distance through secure video conferencing. You can schedule either by calling my office M-F 8:30-5 at (303) 443-2206 or by scheduling online anytime using this link.

Be well and be in touch so that we can keep it moving!


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