What is constipation?

Constipation can be defined as not passing a stool within 24 hours to a few days. Some say that not passing a proper stool (passing “rabbit droppings”) is classed as constipation. However, if it affects you, it isn’t pleasant and can make you feel irritated and bloated and can be the primary cause of your Acid Reflux.

Picture by Kat Smith

What causes Constipation?

There are several possibilities as to why someone is constipated. It’s not just a simple case of eating more fiber, although that will help. It may be that you are not drinking enough water, have a very poor diet, stress, and many other factors.

It helps to understand how waste moves through the body and those factors that can disrupt this movement.

Migrating Motor Complex

A rhythmic movement, known as the Migrating Motor Complex (MMC), acts like a powerful wave, sweeping through the gastrointestinal system in a regular cycle. This “housekeeping” function is vital for maintaining gut health, and interestingly, it pauses when we eat. So, the constant snacking culture might be doing us a disservice by disrupting this crucial process.

Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO)

Here’s a breakdown of what happens in SIBO:

  • Normal Scenario: The small intestine is designed for the absorption of nutrients from digested food. It has a relatively low bacterial population because excessive bacteria can interfere with this process. The large intestine, on the other hand, is teeming with bacteria that help break down undigested food particles.
  • SIBO Development: In SIBO, due to various factors, the bacterial population in the small intestine explodes. This can happen because of issues with the movement of food through the small intestine (intestinal motility), anatomical abnormalities, or even side effects of certain medications.
  • Consequences of Overgrowth: The overgrown bacteria in the small intestine start fermenting undigested carbohydrates, producing excessive gas like hydrogen and methane. This gas buildup can cause bloating, abdominal pain, and discomfort. Additionally, the overgrowth can interfere with the absorption of essential nutrients from food, leading to deficiencies.

This “distention” from the built-up gas can further impair the MMC, slowing down or even stopping peristalsis – the regular muscular contractions that propel waste products forward. This sets the stage for a vicious cycle: constipation leads to SIBO, which then impairs the MMC, further worsening constipation.

Understanding this intricate relationship between the MMC, SIBO, and gut health highlights the importance of mindful eating habits and addressing underlying digestive issues. By supporting the MMC’s natural rhythm and promoting healthy gut bacteria, we can take a proactive approach toward maintaining optimal gut health and preventing the development of related complications.

How to relieve Constipation

If you are currently constipated and you want to know how to fix your constipation, there are a number of things you can try. Here is what worked for me:

  • Increase water intake: by far the most under rated action that can be taken, drink more water. Water is used by the body to help get rid of waste. You may find that increasing your water intake may resolve your issue without doing anything else.
  • Stop Eating! Not completely of course but fasting in a 16/8 pattern can help relieve constipation. This triggers the MMC (discussed above) helping to sweep waste through the gastrointestinal tract.
  • Fibre: without question, most of the modern western diet is devoid of natural fiber. So increase your fruit and vegetable intake to bring about the natural movement of waste through your body.

Here is a list of some natural laxatives:

  1. Lin Seeds or Flaxseeds – Natures laxative. Put 1 tablespoon of seeds in a glass and fill with water. Leave until the water soaks through and you can see that it has formed a jelly like substance in the water. This usually takes about 10-15 minutes. Drink the whole thing, seeds and all. Repeat this 3 times a day until you get a bowel movement. Ensure you are drinking of plenty of water in addition to this during the day. Once you have had a movement, you can reduce to once a day to help regularize your movements.
  2. Senna Tea – The senna plant leaves are a natural laxative. There are compounds in the plant that are irritating to the bowel so be careful not to overuse. However, when used irregularly to handle the most challenging constipation situations it can be helpful.
  3. Psyllium Husk – Can be bought in powder form or flakes and can be added to any food or drink. It has no taste or texture and is very easy to use.

There are lots of other options available but by far the best option is prevention. Of course there can be other reasons why you are constipated outside of your diet such as medications and hormonal changes (especially for women), but there is a lot you can do to improve your rate of movement through the digestive tract.

Preventing constipation – Simple Tips to Prevent Constipation

Here are some simple strategies to incorporate into your daily routine:

  • Fiber Up: Fill your plate with fiber-rich fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. They add bulk to stool and promote regularity.
  • Hydrate Right: Drink plenty of fluids, especially water, throughout the day. This keeps stool soft and prevents dehydration, a constipation culprit.
  • Move Your Body: Regular exercise gets your digestive system moving and helps things work efficiently.
  • Listen to Your Body: Answer the call of nature! Don’t ignore the urge to go to the bathroom, as delaying can make stool harder to pass.
  • Fasting Power: Consider incorporating a 16/8 fasting routine into your day. Fasting can help improve gut motility and potentially reduce constipation. 
  • De-Stress Digest: Chronic stress can disrupt digestion. Practice relaxation techniques like deep breathing, meditation, or yoga to manage stress and promote gut health.

Remember: If constipation persists, consult a doctor to rule out any underlying conditions.