Nobody likes to deal with constipation much less talk about it. Unfortunately much more is at stake than just an uncomfortable situation. Constipation affects about 14% of adults in the United States and accounts for an astonishing 3.2 million medical visits every year. As time goes on, evidence points more and more to the extreme importance of bowel health, and its critical relationship with the immune system and the brain. Proper and prompt daily elimination of waste is just as crucial as the quality of what we put into our bodies. Let’s begin a discussion about constipation by defining the true meaning of constipation.
What is Constipation?
The term constipation refers to the inability to properly move the bowels. The most common manifestation of constipation is the occurrence of hard, dry stools that are not passed in a timely manner. A healthy person should not have to strain when having a bowel movement, and they should occur naturally on a regular basis, preferably at least two times per day. There is some variance in what is considered normal from person to person, but if you are not defecating every day, I would be concerned and not settle for that as “normal” even though conventional medicine indicates that three bowel movements per week normal for many people. For most foods optimal bowel transit time is 12 to 24 hours. Many integrative practitioners and most naturopathic practitioners see a definite connection between chronic constipation and a host of unexpected health concerns, from bad breath and headaches to fatigue and a weakened immune system. The rarity of bowel movements in this culture is mainly due to the standard American diet and passive lifestyles, for the most part. In less “civilized’ parts of the world, where people eat a simple, whole foods diet, and work hard physically every day, this is not generally the case. It is considered “normal” for them to move their bowels several times a day, usually shortly after eating. Most people find that increasing the frequency of bowel movements is a huge step towards better health and well-being.
Constipation is one of the most common health complaints in the United States, affecting men, women, and children. It is a bit more common in women than in men, and this is probably due to the frequency of constipation that often accompanies pregnancy. It also seems more common in senior citizens, probably as a result of less physical activity and certain medications that are commonly handed out by geriatric doctors.
The good news is most cases of constipation can usually be reversed or prevented altogether by some very simple but effective lifestyle changes such diet, exercise, cleansing and keeping your body hydrated with purified water.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Constipation?
As mentioned above, I believe it is healthy to have at least two to three bowel movements daily. The factors typically used to evaluate whether a person is constipated or not are as follows:
- Frequency of bowel movements: Many mainstream physicians will advise that as long as you are moving your bowels at least three times weekly, you are fine. I simply do not agree. I have even heard the absurd statement that less than one a week indicates constipation! That’s just plain foolishness, and goes against the biorhythms of the body. I shudder to think about the negative health effects that can happen to a person experiencing only one bowel movement per week.
- Quality of bowel movements: Stools should ideally be soft (but not runny) and pass without effort. If your stools are hard, dry, and you find yourself straining to get them out, you do not have a healthy bowel.
- Bloating: Constipated people will often have a feeling of discomfort in their abdominal region. It’s your body’s way of telling you that something is not right within you digestive tract.
- Headaches: Some individuals, especially those who suffer from chronic constipation, may also experience headaches.
What Are the Causes of Constipation?
There are many factors that can cause constipation. Some of the more common ones include:
1) Medications: There are a multitude of prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications that can result in constipation:
- Certain antidepressants, especially tricyclics
- Antipsychotic drugs
- Iron supplements
- Calcium supplements
- Codeine and other opoids
- Blood pressure medications – Calcium blockers, Beta blockers
- Antacids containing aluminum salts
- Medications for Parkinson’s disease
- Stimulating laxatives (is the “cure” worse than the cause??)
2) Bowel imbalance: If the gut flora is out of balance in your bowel, as in too much “bad” bacteria and not enough “good” bacteria, constipation may result. A great way to avoid this concern is the regular use of a quality probiotic supplement that replenishes good bacteria to keep the bowel healthy. It is important to mention that the overuse of antibiotic drugs is a major cause of bowel imbalance.
3) Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS): This bowel disorder, also known as spastic colon, leads to many symptoms of bowel dysfunction, with constipation being one of them.
4) Hypothyroidism: Constipation is one of the side effects of an under active thyroid gland.
5) Colon or rectal cancer.
6) Depression: Constipation is often found in depressed people due to inactivity, and certain over-the-counter and prescription medications. Research has proven that there is definitely a mind-gut connection.
7) Chronic kidney failure.
8) Hypercalcemia: Excessive amounts of calcium in the blood.
9) Stress: People stressed from trauma or illness tend to have a greater likelihood of suffering from constipation.
10) Anal fissure: This condition involves a tear or crack in the lining of the anus. Anal fissures result from straining while moving the bowels. In some cases they actually cause constipation.
What Complications Can Occur From Constipation?
There are some complications that constipation can cause, with some of them being quite serious. The most common ones include:
- Hemorrhoids: Experiencing strained bowel movements can cause hemorrhoids. These painful and sometimes embarrassing ruptures of herniated tissue within or outside the anus are very troublesome. The best way to avoid them is to keep regular to avoid the straining that comes from constipation. Hemorrhoids are not usually a serious condition, but they can be difficult to get rid of once they have appeared. Once you get hemorrhoids, it is easier for you to get them again.
- Fecal Impaction: This potentially dangerous situation occurs when fecal matter becomes impacted in the bowel, and this mass of hardened stool makes it difficult or impossible to have regular and normal bowel movements. This is more common in folks who are chronically inactive, such as individuals who are bed-ridden or in a wheel chair. In severe cases, surgery or manual manipulation of the impacted material is required to remove it. Fecal impaction can be a fatal condition in some cases.
- Lazy Bowel Syndrome: This is a condition that results from the overuse of certain types of laxatives, especially of the stimulant variety. Once the body gets used to the presence of these compounds, it becomes more and more difficult to have a bowel movement without them. In essence, the bowel becomes addicted to these laxatives, and cannot operate normally without them. Laxative abuse is becoming an alarming health concern especially among those with eating disorders and those that are trying to lose weight.
- Complications due to a toxic colon: When you do not move your bowels in a prompt manner, the partially digested food and toxins that collect in your colon are more likely to leach back into your system, instead of exiting the body quickly. All this extra debris also makes it more difficult for the body to normally absorb the nutrients that we gain from food because the intestinal tract is not able to work efficiently. This situation can lead to all kinds of unhealthy situations, and eventually can cause major health concerns. You do not want decaying matter lingering in your digestive tract. Healthwise, it is nothing but trouble.
- Weakened Immune System: Since at least 70% of your immune system is in the digestive tract, constipation can weaken your immune system thereby reducing the body’s ability to fight illness and disease. Constipation also results in excessive strain on other vital elimination organs like the lymphatic system, skin, liver, kidneys and lungs. As a result of habitual constipation, these organs can become overworked and their ability to eliminate wastes from the body becomes delayed. This can lead to slower cellular metabolism and lower energy levels in the body.
What Is the Best Way to Prevent and Treat Constipation?
The most obvious and effective way to manage or avoid constipation is to eat a diet with plenty of natural fiber, get sufficient exercise, drink plenty of water every day and effectively cleanse the digestive tract at least 2-3 times yearly. It is not difficult to do, and the payoff for such simple but effective lifestyle choices is enormous. Your sense of wellness will skyrocket just from doing these four things, and constipation will be a thing of the past, in most cases, to boot.
- Digestive Tract Cleansing is the best way to not only cleanse the digestive tract but also to keep the system clean and moving. For those just beginning to cleanse, it is recommended to perform at least 3-4 back-to-back cleanses with 10-14 days in between each cleanse. I use and recommend the Optimum Wellness Cleansing Protocols both with clients and personally. One of the best natural products for constipation is Oxy-Powder® which is an oxygen-based cleanser.
- Healthy Diet. Include fresh, organic fruits and veggies in your everyday diet. Eliminate gluten from your diet. When the bacterial balance becomes unbalanced due to poor diet, stress, illness or the use of antibiotics, unfriendly bacteria can begin to take over and literally stop up the elimination process. Too much of unfriendly bacteria leads to bloating, flatulence and constipation. Long-term health implications include yeast overgrowth (candida) as well as leaky gut syndrome. This is why it is always wise to take a good probiotic every day to help repopulate gut flora. Also, make sure that you are eating enough healthy fats and oils. Dietary fat stimulates the release of bile from the gallbladder which stimulates the gastrocolic reflex. Peristaltic movement is then stimulated which results in the stimulation of defecation. Without fat in the diet there is not enough bile in the system to get the elimination process going. Get off those fat-free diets.
- Water (purified) is absolutely necessary for good bowel health as well as overall health. Drink up!
- Daily Exercise is a must. The worst enemy of bowel health is inactivity. Moving the bowels involves the coordination of many muscles and nerves. Even if you simply take a walk every day, it can make a dramatic difference in the functioning of your bowels. I highly recommend rebounding as one of the best low-impact exercises for constipation as well as lymphatic cleansing.
- Avoidance of commercial laxatives. They contain many unwanted chemicals, and frankly they just aren’t necessary most of the time. Be aware that commercial laxatives can become very habit-forming.
- Train your self: What, you say? Isn’t it a bit late for “potty training?” Well, yes and no. Some individuals have had great success regulating their bowel movements by sitting on the toilet for about 10 minutes immediately after meals. It may take a few weeks to work, but you can actually train your body to eliminate on a time schedule, so to speak. This is very similar to what happens in many “primitive” cultures.
- Never, Never postpone a bowel movement. When you get the initial urge, the moisture content of the stool is at its highest, and elimination will be easiest and most productive at this point.
Constipation and Colon Cleansing Information & Quotes by the Experts
The colon, also called the “large intestine,” is the end of the digestive tract. It is a muscular tube about 1.6 meters (5.5 feet) in length and 6.5 cm (2.5 inches) in diameter.
It is estimated that if you live 80 years and eat just 1 kilo (2.2 pounds) of food per day, you will have eaten 29,200 kilos (64,240 pounds) of food in your lifetime!
Instructions for the use of enemas are found in the Edwin Smith Papyrus from around 1700 BCE and the Elbers Papyrus in the 14th century BCE.
Approximately 100 million people in the United States suffer from constipation and that these people spend $700 million yearly on constipation-relief products.
“Infirmity and sickness, at any age, is the direct result of loading up the body with food which contains no vitality, and at the same time allowing the intestines to remain loaded with waste matter.” Dr. Norman Walker , inventor of “juicing”
“Dis-ease symptoms are an effort of the body to eliminate waste, mucus and toxemia. This system assists Nature in the most perfect and natural way. Not the dis-ease but the body is to be healed; it must be cleansed, freed from waste and foreign matter, from mucus and toxemia- accumulated since childhood.” Professor Arnold Ehret
“Every single cell in your body is covered by membranes made from the molecules of cholesterol. The intestines happen to be one of the most demanding consumers of cholesterol, because all of the cells that make up intestinal membranes get turned over (replaced) daily. The cholesterol needed to make up these cells comes from food or is synthesized by the liver as LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. Whenever you restrict food sources of cholesterol, your liver has to produce more LDL cholesterol to compensate for the deficit. On the other hand, HDL (“good”) cholesterol is the principal component of bile. The more fat you ingest, the more bile is made by the liver to digest it, and, correspondingly, the level of HDL cholesterol goes up. Thus, if you limit dietary fat and cholesterol, the “bad” goes up to kill you, and the “good” goes down, to kill you more. This phenomenon — less animal fat, more “bad” cholesterol — hasn‘t, of course, escaped the attention of statin-makers (LDL-lowering drugs such as Lipitor, Zocor, Crestor, Mevacor, Pravachol, Vytorin, etc.). No wonder they promote low-fat diets with the vengeance of John McClane — the less animal fat you consume, the higher the LDL. And that sells more statins. At this point, it shouldn‘t surprise you that constipation and diarrhea are listed among the most common side effects of statins.”
Konstantin Monastyrsky, author Fiber Menace
“Of the 22,000 operations I have personally performed, I have never found a single normal colon and of the 100,000 that were performed under my jurisdiction, not over 6 percent were normal.” John Harvey Kellog, M.D.
“If people would take care of their body and cleanse their colon and intestines, their problems would be pretty much eliminated.” Dr. George C. Crile
“I believe that a toxic elimination system is the most common cause of ill health today, and the most dangerous. Fortunately it is also treatable.” Linda Berry, D.C. and popular cleansing author
“The colon is the gateway to health or disease.” Dr. Edward F Group III, author The Green Body Cleanse
“It is my sincere belief that one of the bowel’s greatest enemies in civilized society is the ergonomic nightmare known as the toilet.” Dr. Bernard Jensen
“Prior to the 1950s it was quite common for an enema to be administered to any patient arriving at a hospital, as it sets the foundation for rejuvenation by removing toxic debris.” Dr. David Jubb
“Constipation itself is a disease, and a really “severe” one, at that, because in severe cases it burdens the system with a heavy load of filth, sometimes weighing as much as ten pounds or more. Disease as such is an abnormal, unnatural condition; even “orthodox” physicians agree on that. We should expire slowly and painlessly, when vitality is exhausted, had we not lived with disease and suffering. A physician of Berlin, whose life work was the performing of autopsies, stated that 60 per cent of all the corpses contained in the alimentary canal various foreign mater–worms and putrefied feces–and he further stated that in nearly all cases the walls of the intestines and colon were lined with a crust of hardened feces, making it evident that these organs had degenerated to a state of utter inefficiency. Progressive American physicians are rapidly awakening to the fact that retained fecal matter is one of the chief causes of disease. Autopsies are constantly revealing indescribable filthy astounding conditions. One physician publishes the following:I have found a prototype of the cause of all diseases of the human body, the foundation of premature old age and death. Surprising as it may seem, out of two hundred and eighty-four cases of autopsy held, but twenty-eight colons were found to be free from hardened feces and in a normal and healthy state. The others, as described above, were to a more or less extent incrusted with hardened, rotten, rejected food material. Many were distended to twice their natural size throughout their whole length with a small hole through the center and almost universally these last cases mentioned had regular bowel evacuations daily. Some of them contained large worms from four to six inches in length.” Pro. Arnold Ehret – author The Definite Cure of Chronic Constipation
Don’t underestimate the value of a properly functioning digestive tract. Regularity is just as much of a “habit” as is constipation. You can create consistent, desired actions on that part of your body by the choices you make every day. Healthy eating is great, but if your elimination system is consistently backed-up, many long term and short term health concerns will eventually occur. Loretta Lanphier, Naturopathic Practitioner
Constipation–this most common disease–has not decreased or improved in spite of thousands of remedies for sale on the market, and in spite of so-called medical science; simply, because the “diet of civilization” is unnatural. The human intestines are not organized at all for this unnatural food to either digest it perfectly, or to expel the unused residue.” Pro. Arnold Ehret – author The Definite Cure of Chronic Constipation
Epidemiology of constipation in the United States. Sonnenberg A. Koch TR., Dis Colon Rectum. 1989 Jan;32(1):1–8.
What are the side effects of statins; MedicineNet.com (a service of WebMD)