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Top Tips for Constipation

by Kristen Halland, DC, DABCA

Definition of constipation according to conventional medicine: having hard stools or a bowel movement fewer than three times per week. If it's a bowel movement less than once per week, its severe constipation.

Definition of constipation according to functional medicine: sources say we need to have at least one bowel movement per day (Gottfried, n.d.) and others say up to three healthy bowel movements per day (Ruscio, 2015).

Because regular bowel movements are the body's way of getting rid of toxins and waste from the body, I agree with this statement as 1-3 bowel movements per daily should be normal / optimal.

Consistency matters too, not just frequency. Patients love w hen we're talking about bowel movements and I pull out this handy little chart called the Bristol Stool Chart. It's a medical tool designed to classify stool into seven types ranging from solid and dry to liquid with different shapes and textures. A type 3 or 4 is considered the most normal or optimal (The Bristol Stool Form Scale, n.d.).

Here's why constipation is a problem:

  • Irregular bowel movements let your hormones, like estrogen recycle through the body. You may not know that extra hormones leave the body through our feces. Estrogen overload can lead to health issues long term - such as hypothyroidism or cervical cancer (Gottfried, n.d.).
  • Chronic constipation zaps energy and makes you cranky.
  • Constipation raises your risk for heart disease (Ruscio, 2015)
  • Fecal matter sitting in the GI tract for too long promotes the growth of bad bacteria and yeast, which in turn cause symptoms like bloating, food sensitivities, skin problems, hemorrhoids, anal fissures, and other bad symptoms.
  • And oh did I forget to mention.... it's painful and uncomfortable!

Constipation can either be a symptom or the cause of one. Sometimes it's cause is really straightforward - like when the patient needs to drink enough water or consume more fiber. And those are easy to address. Sometimes it's more complex, like when we have to find un-diagnosed food intolerances or gut inflammation. Either way, what I don't want you to do is to cover up your symptoms and put a band-aid on them by using laxatives or stool softeners. There's a time to do that - but what works just as well and can actually help solve the problem is lifestyle change.

We're spending $800 million dollars a year right now on over the counter laxatives (Axe, n.d.). And you'll see studies such as a 2003 study in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology that states that long term laxative use is not a problem for the nerves, muscles, or cells of the colon and boldly states that "the risks have been overemphasized" (Wald, 2003). But then other sources such as the Mayo Clinic state that side effects of the use of stool softeners or stimulant laxatives can include nausea, diarrhea, cramping, electrolyte imbalance, and reduced absorption of nutrients or medications. They state " Take laxatives with caution.

If you're dependent on laxatives to have a bowel movement, ask your doctor

for suggestions on how to gradually withdraw from them and restore your colon's natural ability to contract" (Mayo Clinic, n.d.).

So here are some of the top tips for improving constipation - master these first:

1.Supplement with probiotics. A probiotic is basically a good bacteria in the gut and it improves transit time and stool consistency. Probiotic dosing and choosing the correct strain is highly individualized, so please ask your functional medicine practitioner to get your probiotic adjusted for your current needs. One of the families of strains called Bifidobacterium is a good choice for constipation. To get more good bacteria from foods, try sauerkraut, kim chee, or coconut kefir (Gottfried, n.d.).

Dr. Kristen's top probiotic pick is here. (But active patients have a discount through us

so please pick up your probiotics in-office, or through our ship-to-home system called Fullscript).

2. Drink enough water. Think of the intestines like a water slide - the fluids keep matter moving smoothly. According to the Institute of Medicine, adult women should drink 2.7 liters of water daily (of which 1/2 liter comes from fresh produce).

3. Manage stress. Because stress slows the colon's transit time and extra stress hormones reduce your absorption of vitamins and minerals.

4. Eat the right foods. By that I mean.... fiber which helps facilitate movement, protects the gut, helps with weight loss, and makes you feel fuller. You may need to supplement with fiber to reach the recommended 35-50 grams of fiber daily (Gottfried, n.d.) but start by eating foods like leafy green veggies, berries, freshly ground flax seed, legumes, and quinoa. Dr. Mark Hyman says that the top food you should eliminate to help constipation is DAIRY, followed by gluten (Hyman, n.d.).

5. Exercise! Remember I've mentioned in other episodes that even just walking 30 minutes, five days a week was enough activity to improve the aging process. There are yoga poses online for constipation. Just start somewhere, and please make sure you're using your body safely.

Nutritional support from vitamin d, essential fatty acids, and a quality vitamin can also help bowel function. So can other top tips like exercise, adding MCT oil or more fats in the diet, and using magnesium. These are all great suggestions and are researched! This was difficult to only start with five tips but with hydration, good nutrition, probiotics, and managing stress - you'll help the body effectively eliminate waste.

If you liked this information, please listen to the full episode on our podcast:

"Tips for Constipation + Probiotics for Weight Loss (Episode 02)" @ TheBalanceDoc.com/podcast

Dr. Kristen Halland is a chiropractor with specialty certifications in acupuncture and functional medicine nutrition. She has enjoyed serving the northwest suburbs of Chicago since 2010 from our Hoffman Estates, IL location alongside her Integrative Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, massage therapist, chiropractic colleague, and a great support team! Dr. Halland enjoys blogging about natural treatments, staying modern and accessible with virtual appointment access for her patients, and her podcast, The Nutrition & Lifestyle Review.

Resources: 

Axe, J. (n.d.). Natural constipation relief remedies: foods, supplements, and practices [Blog]. Retrieved from https://draxe.com/natural-constipation-relief-remedies/ 

Gottfried, S. (n.d.) Constipated? Get your hormones moving [Blog]. Retrieved from http://www.saragottfriedmd.com/constipated-get-your-hormones-moving/ 

Hyman, M (n.d.). Simple steps for dealing with constipation [Blog]. Retrieved from http://drhyman.com/blog/2017/01/13/simple-steps-dealing-constipation/ 

Institute of Medicine (2005). Dietary reference intakes for water, potassium, sodium, chloride, and sulfate.  Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/10925.

Mayo Clinic (n.d.) Over-the-counter laxatives for constipation: use with caution [Blog]. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/constipation/in-depth/laxatives/art-20045906?pg=1 

Ruscio, M. (2015 Mar 11).  What can cause constipation and what to do about it [Blog]. Retrieved from https://drruscio.com/what-can-cause-constipation-and-what-to-do-about-it/ 

Stienstra, K. A. (n.d.). The joy of healthy digestion [PowerPoint]. Retrieved from http://www.themaplecenter.org/files/7513/4763/7778/The_Joy_of_Healthy_Digestion2.pdf 

Wald, A. (2003). Is chronic use of stimulant laxatives harmful to the colon?  J Clin Gastroenterol. 2003 May-Jun;36(5):386-9. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12702977 

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Dr. Kristen Halland is a chiropractor with specialty certifications in acupuncture and functional medicine nutrition. She has enjoyed serving the northwest suburbs of Chicago since 2010 from our Hoffman Estates, IL location alongside her Integrative Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, massage therapist, chiropractic colleague, and a great support team! Dr. Halland enjoys blogging about natural treatments, staying modern and accessible with virtual appointment access for her patients, and her podcast, The Nutrition & Lifestyle Review.