by: Dr. Craig A. Maxwell
In our society, we usually don’t talk about going to the bathroom. Nobody usually sits with their friends over coffee or dinner and asks them how many bowel movements they have per day.
It’s just not considered acceptable conversation in polite society! Perhaps we should discuss this topic somewhat more freely. Maybe we’d have healthier bowels if we did! So here goes….
The medical community defines constipation as having less than three formed bowel movements per week. I disagree. I believe one formed bowel movement per day is good while two to three is much better.
Causes of Chronic Constipation
If this number surprises you, you may be one of the millions of Americans suffering from chronic constipation. You may have even tried using that yogurt quite heavily advertised on TV to help regulate your digestion. When irregularity is occasional, that kind of approach can help. However, when constipation is chronic, it needs stronger treatment.
Common causes of decreased regularity are:
- Low Fiber, High-Fat Diet
This is one of the most common causes of loss of regularity. Most of my patients who present with chronic constipation eat a diet of mostly processed convenience foods such as fast food, microwavable, and canned foods. They get very little fiber-rich vegetables and fruit in their diets. Millions of people just like you are simply too busy to prepare fresh meals, or may lack the knowledge of how to do so. You may not know that there is a difference between whole food and processed food.
Processed foods are your snack cakes, cookies, crisps, canned meals, microwavable meals, fast-food burgers, sodas and the like. These foods have very little nutritional value and are loaded with chemical sweeteners, preservatives, and dyes that can cause intestinal inflammation and malabsorption of nutrients. The food may fill you up, but it doesn’t provide the energy and nourishment you need to stay healthy and regular.
Whole foods, on the other hand, do not contain preservatives or additives. These foods include fresh vegetables, fruit, beans, nuts, seeds, lean meats, poultry, and fish. Even if you feel you don’t have time to cook, a fresh salad with greens, cucumber, tomato, flax seed, and nuts is easy to make and packs easily for a healthier lunch. Baked fish and sautéed greens are a super-easy dinner fix, and an apple or banana offers a healthier alternative to those vending machine selections.
- Food Allergies
When patients present with constipation with abdominal pain, I sometimes suspect undiagnosed food allergies. Gluten intolerance is a common cause of diarrhea and constipation. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and some oats. In a person with gluten intolerance, the immune system attacks the intestines every time foods containing this protein are consumed. This can lead to intestinal inflammation and chronic constipation sometimes alternating with diarrhea.
The easiest way to tell if gluten intolerance is causing your irregularity is to do a gluten elimination diet. If your symptoms clear up during the diet and return once you reintroduce gluten, you’ve found your culprit.
Undiagnosed thyroid disease can lead to problems with regularity. In hypothyroidism, your thyroid doesn’t make enough thyroid hormones, resulting in symptoms such as inappropriate weight gain, inability to lose weight, chronic constipation, irregular menstrual cycles, infertility, easily changeable moods, hair loss, forgetfulness, loss of sex drive, sensitivity to cold, fatigue, depression, muscle tics, and coarse dry hair and skin.
You may think you drink enough liquids but how much of it comes in the form of soda, tea or juice? Soda is loaded with high fructose corn syrup that can lead to obesity and diabetes. It can also cause chronic problems with regularity. Tea can be healthy for you but it depends on the type you consume. Is it true tea or herbal tea or does it come in a fancy bottle labeled tea but containing hidden chemicals? Look at the ingredients in your favorite bottle of fruit juice. It may amaze you to see how little juice is actually in there. It’s often just a concoction of chemicals!
Our bodies are made up of 80% water. We need water for our systems to function optimally but so few of us get the amount we actually need. For my patients, I recommend 6-8 glasses of pure fresh drinking water per day. Pure coconut water hydrates fast and can be used in place of pure drinking water and sports drinks.
- Lack of Exercise
Chronic constipation can also be caused by a sedentary lifestyle. Aerobic exercise gets your heart and blood pumping and stimulates the natural contraction of your intestines. Just a 15-minute walk a day can be enough to get you moving again. You can also turn to certain Yoga positions for constipation relief. Down-facing Hero, Cobbler’s Pose, and Head-to-Knee pose are just a few of the poses you can try to help stimulate your bowels and get things moving again.
- Insufficient Gut Bacteria
Everybody is born with friendly bacteria in their gut to help crowd out foreign invaders and eliminate waste from the intestines. These days, there is a virtual epidemic of people born with low gut bacteria. A lot of this has to do with the mother’s diet as well as whether or not she chose to breast feed. Insufficient gut bacteria can also be caused by chronic alcohol consumption, overuse of NSAID pain relievers, and excessive use of antibiotics.
- Bowel Obstruction
Sometimes chronic constipation indicates that there is an intestinal blockage. If your stools are often pencil-thin, it may be a sign that an inflammatory bowel obstruction is offering little space for waste products to be removed from your body. Bowel obstructions can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Only a thorough evaluation, including a rectal examination and colonoscopy, can tell your doctor if you have a growth in your intestines.
Chronic regularity problems can also be caused by certain prescription and over-the-counter medications. Narcotic pain medications and anti-depressants are common prescription causes of constipation, while antihistamines are the number-one over-the-counter culprit. When taking these drugs, the importance of eating a high-fiber diet coupled with drinking lots of water greatly increases.
Idiopathic means ‘unknown’. In a person with idiopathic constipation, the diet looks fine and there are no drugs or lack of exercise that may be interfering with normal bowel function. The person, for whatever reason, is simply unable to evacuate their bowels as often as they should.
Health Problems Associated with Constipation
Aside from making you feel bad, chronic constipation, through having all that waste matter push against your colon walls for an extended period of time, can increase your chances of developing:
Hemorrhoids – Hemorrhoids are a common symptom of chronic constipation. If you’ve ever noticed a bit of blood on your toilet paper or in the toilet, you could have inflamed colon tissue. Use of anti-inflammatory suppositories will provide pain relief but will do nothing to address the underlying cause of your irregularity.
Diverticulosis – Patients with chronic constipation often develop small pouches in their digestive system called diverticula. These pouches can be found in the esophagus, large intestine, and small intestine though they are most commonly found in the large intestine. These are quite common after the age of 40 and often go unnoticed until inflammation occurs, leading to diverticulitis.
Diverticulitis occurs when small pouches in the intestines become inflamed or infected often causing constipation with abdominal pain, fever, nausea, and rectal bleeding. Patients with diverticulitis often respond well to dietary changes and antibiotics. However, severe cases sometimes require surgery.
Leaky Gut Syndrome (Auto-Intoxication) – Leaky gut syndrome often goes unrecognized by the conventional medical community. In patients with this health disorder, the lining of the intestines is more permeable than it should be. This allows undigested food particles to leak into the bloodstream where it can lead to food allergies, skin rashes, cognitive impairment, and neurological issues. It has even been suggested there is a strong connection between leaky gut syndrome and autism.
Colon Polyps – Colon polyps are growths that form along the surface of the colon. They can be either raised or flat and may lead to the development of colon cancer, though many polyps are found to be benign.
Colon Carcinoma – Colon cancer is another real threat to patients with chronic constipation. When your body is unable to eliminate waste products, they can collect in the colon and lead to abnormal cell growth, polyps, and other inflammatory diseases that depress your immune system and leave you more susceptible to cancer development.
Natural Laxatives to Increase Regularity
Over-the-counter stimulant laxatives are only meant to be used occasionally. Unfortunately, with chronic constipation becoming an epidemic, many people are dependent on them to have regular bowel movements. Overuse of stimulants can actually make constipation much worse over time as the body loses its natural ability to move the bowels.
One of the easiest ways to alleviate constipation is by changing your diet. This means cutting out the junk and replacing it with fiber-rich fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, lean meats, poultry, and fish.
Eating a whole-food, plant-based diet means loading up on vegetables and grains while decreasing your meat portions. In most countries, this is the way it’s done and incidents of constipation and other chronic gastrointestinal issues are farther and fewer in between.
Eating more organic yogurt, sauerkraut, cayenne pepper, and turmeric can also go a long way in improving your regularity and healing inflamed intestinal tissue.
- Milk Kefir
To address chronic constipation, I recommend making your own milk kefir. Unlike the kefir products you can purchase in the grocery store, which have been pasteurized to the point where active cultures have been destroyed, home-made milk kefir contains active cultures to get your body back in balance. To make milk kefir at home, all you need to do is purchase some grains, a couple of Mason jars, a couple of small glass jars (cleaned baby food jars work great) coffee filters, rubber bands, and organic whole milk.
You’ll put the milk kefir grains in the bottom of a clean Mason jar, pour the organic whole milk over the top of the grains and cover the top of the jar with the coffee filter, securing it with a rubber band. You’ll leave the kefir in a dark, room-temperature space for 24-36 hours, allowing it to ferment.
Once the kefir has fermented, you’ll need to strain out the grains so you can reuse them. Using a plastic strainer and a large enough bowl to catch the milk kefir in, you’ll pour the milk through the strainer and catch the grains. Then you’ll put the grains in a small glass container with a lid and pour the milk kefir back into the Mason jar. Refrigerate both. The milk kefir can be consumed plain or in put in smoothies for a blast of healthy probiotics.
Click on the upcoming link for an instructional video on how to make milk kefir at home.
The Best Natural Supplements For Constipation Relief
Sometimes dietary changes and exercise aren’t enough. Your digestive system needs healing supplements to address nutritional deficiencies and get your body back in balance. For my patients, I recommend a combination of Diamond Nutritionals’ Ultra Probiotics and Diamond Nutritionals’ Bowel Support Formula.
Let’s take a look at the ingredients in each:
- Diamond Nutritionals’ Ultra Probiotics
For my patients who suffer from constipation with abdominal pain and other inflammatory digestive problems, I recommend a blend of high-dose probiotics designed to improve regularity and digestion while decreasing inflammation.
Unlike other probiotic formulas on the market, which only contain 1 or 2 active cultures in a low-dose capsule, each packet of Diamond Nutritionals’ Ultra Probiotic contains 225 billion CFUs or colony-forming units with six unique probiotic strains designed to work in harmony with each other to provide fast, natural relief.
These strains include lactobacillus plantarum, lactobacillus acidophilus, bifidobacterium lactis, lactobacillus salivarius, lactobacillus casei, and bifidobacterium bifidum.
- Diamond Nutritionals’ Bowel Support Formula
In conjunction with a quality probiotic supplement, I also recommend Diamond Nutritionals’ Bowel Support Formula. It contains a proprietary blend of herbs and supplements designed to improve your regularity with no chance of dependency.
These ingredients include:
- Psyllium Husk Fiber – A water soluble fiber, psyllium husks absorb moisture and gently grab onto and flush waste from your intestines.
- Psyllium Seed Powder – Psyllium seeds are mucilage-covered seeds designed to increase your natural intestinal mucous while flushing your system of toxins.
- Rice Bran – Bran is an important part of any high-fiber diet and helps strengthen intestinal walls while bulking up stool and removing waste matter from the colon.
- Apple Pectin – Apple pectin is not only high in fiber, it’s also a rich source of antioxidants that helps heal a damaged gut and prevent infections from forming.
- Fig – A naturally stimulant fruit, fig helps get your intestines moving again. Fig is also another rich source of dietary fiber.
- Prune – Your grandmother drank prune juice for a reason. Now you don’t have to. The prune in this supplemental blend gives you all the benefits your body needs without the bitter taste!
Here are two case studies of patients that have had great success using my special supplement combination:
Case Study #1
57-year-old female with chronic constipation of 23 years duration. Patient stated she had been having only one to two bowel movements weekly since her last child was born 23 years prior. Review of her extensive medical records, history and testing revealed that she had visited her family physician and four gastroenterologists on numerous occasions. Her thorough testing included a cat scan of the abdomen and pelvis, three colonoscopies and extensive blood work, including a complete thyroid profile. She had been placed on eight different prescriptions over the years for constipation, none of which helped.
As thorough testing had been done, I immediately placed the patient on two natural products: Diamond Nutritionals’ Ultra Probiotics and Bowel Support Formula. I increased her fluid intake to eight glasses of filtered spring water daily, decreased the processed foods in her diet, and increased unprocessed fruits and vegetables in her diet. Upon her return visit one month later, she was having daily bowel movements for the first time in 23 years. After the first month of Diamond Nutritionals’ Ultra Probiotics (225 billion per dose), I decreased her to Diamond Nutritionals’ Probiotic Formula (20 billion per dose), while maintaining the Bowel Support Formula and she has been delighted with the results!
Case Study #2
22-year-old female college student. She is very athletic and has been eating a high fiber diet with lots of water. She has been very proactive about her health, and participates in several college sports. She had been averaging one bowel movement weekly for about one year, and was ready to get rid of the “bowling ball” feeling in her stomach. After a cat scan and extensive lab work (including a thyroid profile) came back normal, I increased her diet of unprocessed fruits and vegetables. Filtered spring water was increased to eight to ten glasses a day. Diamond Nutritionals’ Ultra Probiotic (225 Billion/Dose) and Bowel Support Formula were added. Within one week she was having daily bowel movements. After a month on the Ultra Probiotic, she was reduced to Diamond Nutritionals’ Probiotic Formula (20 billion per dose), while maintaining the Bowel Support Formula….and the “bowling ball” feeling is gone!
If you thought irregularity was normal and constipation was something you just had to live with, think again. Chronic constipation isn’t just annoying; it can lead to serious health problems down the line. Don’t live a day longer with a bloated belly and gurgling intestines. Improve your diet, exercise regularly, and add these two nutritional supplements. It’s the fastest, most effective way to healthy bowels!