What is Constipation and Why Is It a Problem?
Constipation is not the most exciting health topic! Still, it's essential to understand as the side effects of improper bowel evacuation can be quite detrimental to a person's health.
Constipation is defined as infrequent bowel motions that are hard, dry and difficult to pass. It is either from a known cause or idiopathic, which is an unknown cause. Most medical sites that discuss Constipation are referring to chronic Constipation and don't offer any advice for people that only pass a bowel motion every 2 or 3 days. Ideally, going to the toilet daily is the best recipe, to remove toxic build-up and lay the foundations for health.
Symptoms of Constipation
- A reduced need or desire to open the bowels
- Dry, hard stools, which can be painful to pass
- Straining to pass a bowel motion
- Sitting on the toilet 10-15 minutes or longer trying to pass a bowel motion
- A feeling that the bowels haven't fully emptied
- Abdominal bloating
- Abdominal pain or cramps
Causes of Constipation?
Many different factors can cause Constipation and what causes Constipation in one person, may not be the trigger in another.
- Dehydration is a common cause of Constipation. When the by-product of food passed from the small intestine into the colon, it is full of liquid. The colon reabsorbs a lot of this liquid, thus forming a stool, that glides smoothly along the large intestine. Constipation occurs when a person is not adequately hydrated. The brain registers the dire need for fluids, so it tells the colon to absorb as much liquid as possible. The fluid reuptake results in the stool becoming dry and thus harder to move through the intestinal tract.
- A lack of dietary fibre is commonly associated with Constipation. Fibre has multiple health benefits. In the case of Constipation it adds bulk to the stool, by absorbing water and creating a gel-like substance. Both of these fibre functions assist the stool in gliding through the colon, to be easily eliminated from the body. Constipation foods, which are foods void of fibre, include; white flour products, sugar-rich foods, fried foods and refined carbohydrates such as white rice. Foods high in fibre include; fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, herbs, legumes, pulses, beans and whole-grains such as brown rice. For some people fibre causes idiopathic Constipation. Conditions such as; Dysbiosis (an imbalance in beneficial gut bacteria), intestinal inflammation and possibly food allergies, can all be underlying factors that contribute to fibre induced Constipation. Thankfully once these issues have been addressed, fibre generally doesn't cause Constipation.
- Dysbiosis is an imbalance between good and harmful bacteria in the intestinal tract. When there are too many harmful organisms present in the intestines, the healthy bacteria struggle to maintain balance. Dysbiosis can lead to toxicity and inflammation, which dries out the faeces. Harmful organisms reduce intestinal muscle contractions, slows the faeces transit time through the colon and increases water reabsorption from the stool, all of which contribute to Constipation.
- Food allergies or sensitivities can often be an underlying cause of Constipation. Food allergies set off an immunological response that increases intestinal inflammation and nerve irritation. This results in a breakdown of messages to the colon muscles, to move the faeces through the intestines.
- A sedentary lifestyle and a lack of exercise - movement and exercise help alleviate Constipation by reducing the time taken for the stool to pass through the colon. It also limits the amount of water being re-absorbed from the faeces. Exercise helps to stimulate peristalsis, the natural contractions of the intestinal muscles, which moves the stools through the colon.
- Ignoring the urge to pass a stool - over time, resisting the urge to go will weaken the stimulus from the nerves and brain that tell you when you need to poop. A reduction in this stimulus ultimately increases the transit time the faeces hangs around in the intestines, which sooner or later leads to Constipation.
- Chronic or long-term stress up-regulates the Sympathetic Nervous System. This shunts blood away from the digestive tract and slows the whole digestive process, including the movement of the stool through the colon. Stress also depletes magnesium and this may lead to spasms in the intestinal muscles and a narrowing of the colon, which reduces the ability of the faeces to move through the large intestine, resulting in Constipation.
- Pregnancy can cause Constipation, in nearly 50% of all pregnancies. The hormone progesterone dramatically elevates to facilitate a healthy pregnancy; this relaxes the bowels and allows food to hang around a little longer. The upside of this being that more nutrients can be absorbed, which is good for baby and mum. However, the downside of this can result in Constipation, if the faeces hang around for too long and cause traffic jams. Additionally, the growing child and uterus can press on the colon, restricting the movement of faeces, resulting in Constipation.
- Laxatives can cause Constipation. They work by artificially stimulating, or irritating, the nerves of the colon. This causes the intestinal muscles to contract, eliminating the faeces out of the body. Excessive amounts and long-term use of laxatives can damage intestinal nerves and weaken the intestinal muscles, so the colon is unable to function normally. Unfortunately, a sufferer may become dependent on higher and higher doses of a laxative to keep the colon working effectively.
- Certain medical drugs have side effects that include Constipation. The Constipation causing medicines include; non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, anti-histamines, Tricyclic antidepressants, medicines for urinary incontinence, Blood pressure medications, Opioid pain relievers and anti-nausea medications. If you suffer from Constipation and take these types of medical drugs, speak to your medical doctor to discuss an alternative.
- Iron supplements can cause Constipation, in particular, the form of iron called ferrous sulphate. Other types of iron such as; iron citrate, iron glycinate and iron chelate don't seem to cause Constipation problems like ferrous sulphate.
- Health ailments such as; diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, diverticulitis, colon cancer, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis or a stroke can all contribute to Constipation.
Side Effects of Constipation
The side effects of Constipation can affect everyone differently. Some people suffer from multiple symptoms and others only a few.
- Faecal impaction – occurs when the lower part of the colon and rectum become jam-packed with faeces and peristalsis, the movement of wastes through the colon, fails to empty the bowels.
- Faecal incontinence – sounds scary, and it is. People who suffer from faecal impaction can also suffer from involuntary dribbling of faeces, which causes a messy and embarrassing situation.
- Haemorrhoids – are common in people who suffer from Constipation, as they are continually straining to open their bowels. Straining places extra pressure on the blood vessels of the rectum, resulting in bleeding and their protrusion out of the anus.
- Rectal prolapse – Unfortunately all the straining on the rectum that Constipation causes, can result in a section of rectal lining protruding out of the anus.
- Urinary incontinence – Constipation, the double incontinence whammy! Not only does Constipation cause faecal incontinence, but the constant straining weakens the pelvic floor muscles making involuntary passing urine more likely, especially when coughing, laughing or sneezing.
- Leaky Gut Syndrome - chronic Constipation leads to a breakdown in the intestinal tight gap junction proteins, which leads to a condition called Leaky Gut Syndrome or Intestinal Permeability. Leaky Gut Syndrome allows undigested food, toxins, bacteria by-products and in severe cases, faeces, to cross over from the intestines and enter the bloodstream.
- Headaches - can go hand in hand with Constipation as the body is unable to remove the toxins effectively. These toxins are reabsorbed back into the bloodstream, placing a more significant load on the liver. A classic sign of poor liver function is headaches and migraines. This type of headache is commonly referred to as a Gastrointestinal Headache.
- Acne, skin rashes, hives, boils and inflamed skin - Like headaches, when toxins are reabsorbed back into the bloodstream, the liver tries to eliminate them. Usually the liver removes the majority of the toxins via the intestines and kidneys. If this doesn't happen effectively, the next major elimination organ the body utilises is the skin. If a person has Constipation, then the likelihood of acne, boils, hives, rashes and itchy and inflamed skin dramatically increases.
- Loss of appetite - Constipation can lead to uncomfortable bloating, which causes a sense of fullness and a reduced desire to eat.
- Bad breath - unfortunately Constipation causes a backlog of faeces in the intestinal tract. For some people this causes gases to rise back up and result in an unpleasant smelling breath.
- Weight gain - can occur in a Constipated person for two reasons. Firstly, the backlog of faeces adds additional weight to the scales. Look at it this way...if you eat three meals a day and poop every three days, that's a lot of food going in, but not much coming out! Secondly, the toxins reabsorbed back into the bloodstream alter thyroid function, impede thermogenesis (fat burning) and lower the metabolic rate, all of which cause the body to store fat.
- Brain fog - is driven by Constipation and the toxins that are reabsorbed back into the bloodstream. These toxins cross the blood-brain barrier creating brain inflammation and nerve irritation. This toxic overload can result in confusion, forgetfulness, poor concentration, a reduced ability to focus, diminished memory recall, a reduction in learning capabilities and mental clarity.
- Depression and Anxiety - studies have shown that the prevalence of depression and anxiety is more common in sufferers of chronic Constipation.
- Elevated cholesterol - regular bowel motions are essential to remove excess cholesterol. Studies have shown higher cholesterol and heart disease risk factors, among sufferers of Constipation.
Simple At-Home Constipation Test
Even though a person may empty their bowels daily, they may still be Constipated or have a backlog of faeces in the intestinal tract. A simple and easy way to find out how long it takes for food to pass through the digestive tract, is to eat a cob of corn and monitor how long it takes before the corn appears in the faeces. If you notice the corn within 24 hours, everything is fine, but if it takes longer than 24 hours, it can indicate the bowels aren't removing the faeces very effectively and you may need to look at some of the Constipation treatments below.
How to Treat Constipation Naturally
Natural treatment of Constipation depends on the cause. Below are some recommendations that can offer assistance;
- Drink at least 2 litres of water a day, more if the weather is hot or you're exercising and sweating excessively. Tea, coffee and alcohol are diuretics, which means they increase urine output and are best avoided altogether. Herbal teas and freshly squeezed juices can substitute for water.
- Increase your daily fibre intake! It's recommended that we aim for 30g of fibre per day, which doubles the average amount found in the western diet. Fibre is abundant in all fruits, vegetables, herbs, legumes, pulses, beans, nuts, seeds and whole-grains. Sugar, white flour products, dairy and animal proteins don't contain fibre. If you find it challenging to reach your daily fibre goal, Intestinal Maintain can help. It's a fibre rich, intestinal health-promoting powder, that is ideal for adding to smoothies, cereals and soups.
- Rebalancing the gut flora is an essential step in helping to bring back intestinal balance and to eliminate Constipation. Probiotics are individual bacteria, that help boost levels of the good guys in the gut. At the same time, Prebiotic's are extraordinary fibres, found in the plant kingdom, that provide nourishment for all of the beneficial gut bacteria. Sometimes probiotics and prebiotic's are not strong enough to eliminate the harmful organisms by themselves. This is where specific anti-microbial herbs such as; garlic, cloves, rosemary, thyme and barberry are required. These herbs work together with the pre and probiotics to reduce the toxic load of the harmful organisms and to improve Constipation. We use and recommend the Beneficial Bacteria Health Pack, to help rebalance the good bacteria and eliminate the bad.
- Natural enemas and herbal laxatives such as, cascara sagrada, senna, ginger and dandelion root may offer relief from Constipation, while also treating the underlying causes.
- Exercise improves bowel motility, with as little as 20 minutes per day. People suffering from Constipation have reduced bowel mobility, so every bit of exercise helps move the faeces along the dark corridor and out the other side.
- Talk to a Healthcare Professional and get specialised treatment - here at the Vitality and Wellness Centre we offer a range of consultation options to help sufferers of Constipation get to the bottom (bad pun) of their problem. Patients can visit us in person at our Clinic or alternatively have a consultation via Skype or Phone from the comfort of their home or office. Book a Consultation today.
Hopefully this article, '14 Common Side Effects of Constipation' has given you an insight into Constipation and what you can do yourself to improve gut health and eliminate Constipation for good. Please remember you can contact us (or your healthcare professional) for a consultation if needed, to treat this or any other health issue. We're here to help you in any way we can!
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The information provided in this blog '14 Common Side Effects of Constipation' is of a general nature and intended for educational purposes only. We make no claims to diagnose, treat, prevent, alleviate or cure illnesses or diseases with any information or product stated. With any health issue, we suggest you consult your healthcare professional before undertaking any health treatment.
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