Constipation is an issue that many people deal with but no one wants to talk about.

That heavy bound up feeling can start to play on your emotions and constipation can cause toxins to re-enter the bloodstream.

It is estimated that more than 15% of the U.S. population deals with chronic constipation. -Dr. Mercola

The reasons for constipation vary greatly and can’t be narrowed down by a single factor.  Sometimes several factors are contributing to the constipation.

Pain killers and prescription drugs play a huge roll in constipation. Over the counter NSAID’s are very hard on the digestive system and can cause ulcers and erode away the colon, leading to leaky gut syndrome. Over the counter medications should never be taken on an ongoing basis. Talk to your doctor before stopping any prescription medications, your doctor needs to know about your constipation.

Dehydration can lead to constipation. In fact 75% of the feces is composed of water, while only 25% is attributed to solids. (1)  The human body relies heavily on water for daily functions and digestion takes a lot of water. If constipation is an issue, drinking extra water is an easy way to rule out dehydration.

Americans spend three-quarters of a billion dollars every year on laxatives, according to the American Gastroenterological Association

Thyroid issues greatly affect the stool. Hypothyroidism slows down the contractions that push food through the bowels. Think of the thyroid like a gas peddle for the body’s metabolism. When thyroid hormone is low or not being utilized properly, slow digestion and motility can result. Other symptoms of hypothyroidism include, feeling cold, hair loss, brain fog, feeling like your in slow motion, slow heart rate and weight gain.

Food changes or lack of fiber in your meals can be a cause of constipation.  With the popularity of processed foods, fewer people are consuming real vegetables. Your body needs bulk fiber to bind and push food through the colon.  Aim for 50mg to 100mg of fiber per day with healthy food choices like raw fruits and vegetables.

Stress and anxiety can turn on the fight or flight process in the body, halting digestion. When your body thinks it’s in danger, digestion is not top on the list. Your brain and gut have a strong connection and some even nickname the gut your “second brain” Many neurotransmitters are located and created in the bowels. When you are stressed the colon is stressed.  Finding an outlet for stress and deep breathing can turn off that fight or flight mechanism in the body which relaxes the bowels and aids in digestion.

Bad gut bacteria can produce gas which can be toxic to our system. Gas from the bacteria disrupts nerve function, slowing down the contractions in the bowels and damaging digestion. It is estimated that 90% of people with IBS or Crohn’s disease have unbalanced gut bacteria. (2)  Adding in healthy bacteria can help recolonize the gut and lead to healthier stools.  Consider adding in a daily probiotic if your having trouble getting things moving. For more information on bad gut bacteria see this article on SIBO.

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Exercise speeds up the metabolism and many people find relief from hard bound up stools when they add activity to their daily lives. Even adding a walk around the block or a bike ride may be enough activity to get things moving. The bowels are muscular and any added activity will stimulate these muscles.

Vitamins, especially Iron can pull water from the colon causing constipation. Taking a multivitamin containing iron may be the cause of hard stools. Taking your vitamin a meal increases the chances of it absorbing and being broken down properly, reducing hard stools.

I want to mention that laxatives may temporarily seem to fix your constipation issues but it is only a bandaid over a larger problem. It’s important to examine WHY your body is making hard stools or things seem to be stalled. You can not and should not depend on laxatives. They force your body to expel waste and your food may not even be digested yet. This can lead to vitamin deficiencies and dehydration.

Starting with the basics such as adding exercise, water and fiber should improve normal constipation. If you still deal with it after adding in these things you may want to look deeper into some digestive issues such as SIBO/IBS or thyroid problems. The information here should be enough to get you moving in the right direction.