Constipation is a touchy subject, but one that needs some attention as it’s such a common issue for so many people. I know that most of us don’t like to talk about our bowels, but there’s really nothing to be ashamed of! We all poo 🙂
Constipation can generally be defined as having less than three bowel movements per week, or having a difficult time emptying the bowels. However from a holistic perspective, if you’re not evacuating your bowels daily, you may have a problem.
Why Your Bowels Are Important
Your bowels are one of your bodies chief detox sites. Your bowels are where your body stores the metabolic wastes of the foods that you have eaten and other toxins before they are ready to be eliminated. If your body holds onto this waste for too long, your colon walls will actually begin to re-absorb the toxins that your stools contain. This is why regular elimination is so important.
If you are struggling with constipation, here are some tips to help you get things moving again:
1. Eat a high fibre diet instead of relying of fibre supplements.
It can be tempting to rely on fibre supplements to help you move your bowels each day, but doing so can actually be dangerous for your health. Consuming too much crude fibre that’s been extracted from food (like bran or psyllium husk) can actually block your bodies own ability to absorb nutrients from your food in the long run because fibre supplements will move things through your digestive tract to quickly. Many fibre supplements on the shelves these days are also laced with preservatives and artificial flavorings. Some fibre supplements also tend to be quite harsh, and can scrape or tear away at the delicate digestive tract lining when consumed repeatedly.
It’s much better to get your fibre from a wide range of plant sources like fruits, veggies, leafy greens, chia seeds, hemp seeds and flax. By getting your fibre from whole food sources, you will get a good mix of soluble and insoluble fibre combined with other important nutrients. These natural fibres will add bulk to your stools, signaling the colon walls to evacuate. Eating a diet rich in whole plant foods (and raw foods) will help to regulate your bowels and keep your body on a regimen of regular cleansing and elimination.
2. Drink enough water
If you’re not drinking adequate water during your day, it could be making you constipated. Just like your bowels need fibre in order to add bulk to your stools, they also need water. In fact, your stools are up to 75% water, with only about 25% solid matter! Without adequate water, the stools will be hard and compacted. This means that they will not be large enough to signal the colon that it is full and it’s time to eliminate. Aim for at least 1-2 litres of water/day, more if you are active. (High water content in fruits and veggies count towards your daily intake) The colon wall is lined with sensors, that are sensitive to volume. Your colon will send signals to your brain when it’s full, then the brain will signal the elimination process. That is why you want bulky stools.
3. Physical Activity
This may seem unrelated, but moving your body is imperative to having healthy bowel movements. Exercise will speed up the rate at which your food moves through your digestive tract by stimulating the wave like contractions of your entire digestive system. Movement will also help to prevent your stools from sitting in your colon for too long, which could result in your colon re-absorbing all the water present, thus creating hardened, compact stools. Aim for at least 15-20 minutes of moderate activity most days of the week. If you’re constipated, try having a glass of water and taking a walk.
You need to be catching your ZZZ’s if you want to eliminate efficiently. When you are asleep, your body is doing most of its clean up, detox and repair work. Without adequate time sleeping, your digestive tract and other organs will not run as smoothly as they should, which could result in slowed digestion, and thus, slower elimination.
5. Focused relaxation time
When you’re stressed, your body taps into the sympathetic nervous system, or the “fight or flight” response, which signals to the body that you are in danger. When this happens, your body will send much of your blood supply to the periphery of your body, namely your arms and legs. This would serve you if you needed to run away fast from something, however this is not so helpful when you want to digest food and have proper elimination.
By taking time to consciously slow down and relax, you will tap into your parasympathetic nervous system, creating the “rest and digest” response. Here, your blood supply will be returned to your internal organs, blood vessels will dilate, and peristalsis will happen much more smoothly. Taking 10-15 deep breaths with your eyes closed before you eat will go a long way to helping you have smooth running digestion. Practice expressing gratitude before and after every meal you enjoy!
3 More Ways to Support Bowel Health
1. Lemon Juice In Water – One really great tool to get your bowels moving in the morning is to have a glass of warm water with the juice of ½ to 1 whole lemon. This will cause your gallbladder to spasm, which will push bile through your liver, causing your bowels to evacuate.
2. Friendly Bacteria – Your colon houses a large percentage of friendly bacteria that are needed to properly digest your foods, as well as a myriad of other things. If you have been on an antibiotic, or have been dealing with any sort of infection, you may have too little good bacteria and too much bad bacteria. This can cause a whole host of symptoms, constipation being one of them. Taking a good probiotic can help to set your system back on track.
3. Get Rid of Gluten – Going Gluten free has helped many people get over chronic constipation issues. Gluten is one of the protein molecules that is found in grain. This protein molecule can cause some serious issues for those who are sensitive to it. If a person who is sensitive to gluten eats foods laced with it, the immune system recognizes it as a foreign invader, instead of a food. When this happens, the immune system will attack these gluten molecules, and along with them they will take out the villi or finger like projections that are lining the intestines. These finger like projections are important for nutrient absorption. Without villi, the stools cannot form properly and this can cause constipation over time. As a result, walls of the colon will not be sending the signals of fullness to the brain, creating an excess build up of stool.
Many people who are sensitive to gluten do not even know that they are sensitive until they remove it from their diets and feel the difference. If you suffer from chronic constipation, gluten may be an issue for you. I recommend that you try going without it for a 2-3 week period, and see how you feel. This can be challenging if you’re consuming a lot of processed or restaurant foods, so start checking labels and ask your server for wheat & gluten-free options.
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