Few people like to talk about their poop with others. Most people who do like it are four years old and only like to talk about poop when it isn’t about their poop. But in the health world, we get used to talking about bowel movements, stool consistency and the problems that come with it. That’s because we really realize how important it is to have a good quality bowel movement. If you suffer from chronic constipation or diarrhea, you also may realize how big of a deal it is when things start to go right! It feels like a major accomplishment to have a “normal” BM instead of “the usual”.
Chronic constipation can cause malabsorption of nutrients. Constipation indicates that digestion is too slow can also lead to increased absorption of toxins as a result of the stool spending too much time in the digestive tract, allowing things like pesticides to absorb into the body. It may also not be broken down well due to low hydrochloric acid or lack of enzymes or improper or missing good bacteria in the gut.
A lack of hydrochloric acid. I talk about this one a lot because it is very common. We are all stressed and undernourished and many of us are dehydrated. A low sodium or no salt diet, stress, lack of important minerals and stress can all attribute to this common condition and lead to the improper break down of our food and subsequent constipation. For ways to increase your HCL, click here.
Dehydration. Not drinking enough water can prevent moisture from allowing the stool to become passable. As you can imagine, this can cause passing to become like pushing a rock through sidewalk crack.
Too much Protein. Too much protein can cause you to use up and reduce the amount of hydrochloric acid in your stomach. This can lead to constipation. For information on increasing your hydrochloric acid content in your stomach, see this article on gut health basics which includes a section on increasing hydrochloric acid.
Not enough fiber. Let’s face it: fiber is there to make us poop. and without it, there is nothing to push the stool through your system. See below for specific foods used to solve this problem.
Not enough fat in your diet. Low fat diets, like dehydration, can cause a lack of lubrication in our system and this can make it difficult for our stool to move through our digestive tract. For this reason, olive oil is often used as a home remedy for constipation.
Bacteria/Microbiome imbalance. We read a lot about our gut microbiomes these days and a good sign that yours is imbalanced is the quality of your bathroom breaks. The good bacteria helps you go and the bad bacteria makes it difficult. A good probiotic designed for digestive and colon health may be a good idea if you are lacking this. Also, see below for foods to help this part of your GI tract to be at its best.
Food Sensitivities. Any type of gastric or digestive upset can be caused by food sensitivities. Constipation (and many other types of GI disturbance) is common in those with celiac, dairy sensitivity, and other foods that cause distress and inflammation to the body and their digestive tract. (3) Whether you are celiac or just have food sensitivities (common in the chronic illness and autoimmune world) it is critical to identify and remove these foods and repair any damage they may have done to the digestive tract. Although there is disagreement about which tests are accurate and available (I still hear of patients being told a test is not available that the next doctor offers), this can usually be identified by an elimination protocol such as AIP. A test is recommended if that is an option for you, but there are some options regarding ways to test for sensitivities. (Click here for my article on identifying food sensitivities on a budget) Some of these methods are more reliable than others but that doesn’t mean that the less reliable methods have no use, in my opinion and experience.
Hypothyroidism. This can cause problems eliminating and is underdiagnosed. (3) Eating foods that support the thyroid may be helpful such as seaweeds, selenium rich foods (eat these away from vitamin c to increase absorption), coconut oil, fish, and fresh fruits and vegetables. (4)In order to support the thyroid, you may want to also support the adrenals. Adrenal Fatigue is infamous for throwing the thyroid out of balance (even if the thyroid is in “normal” ranges, it may not be thriving) and can cause symptoms of low thyroid including fatigue, sparse eyebrows, weight gain, low body temperature and mood swings.
Autoimmune Disease. (3) While this may mean that you are prone to constipation, it does not mean there is nothing you can do about it. Healing the gut is integral in treating, managing and sometimes reversing autoimmune disease and the gut related symptoms that go with this. Autoimmune can also come with a host of cofactors including an increased need for vitamin c, magnesium and fruits and vegetables- all of which may help you be more regular. These things are also integral in feeling better and healing your body.
things to make you go.
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Acupressure. This is something you can try yourself. Using the fingers of the person constipated as a measurement tool, press three fingers’ width down from the bellybutton. This will indicate a spot that when pressed may make a person be able to “go”. (1)
Magnesium. Particularly magnesium citrate or magnesium oxide. Both are used for constipation as opposed to other forms as these are less absorbed and will require smaller doses to get the job done. This drink mix (only the unflavored is AIP) easily added to juice or tea, is by far the most popular form that is often used on adults and children alike. However, chronic constipation may be a sign of a magnesium deficiency or a high need for magnesium intake. Talk with your functional health coach or doctor to see if this could be a reason why you are having slow bowels. If this is suspected, then you may need a more absorbable formula- and a higher dose.
Vitamin C. Like magnesium, Vitamin C also has what is called a “bowel tolerance” meaning that it makes you go to the bathroom. Vitamin C does this because it has a detoxification effect and in order to expel the toxins (usually metals) it causes you to poop.
Natural laxative foods. High fiber foods, prunes, hot water in lemon, fresh celery juice on an empty stomach, psyllium husk (the active ingredient in Metamucil can also be bought by itself and used in recipes- but is NOT AIP) can all help things to get moving. Other popular ones are apples, beets (I find these especially helpful) and dried apricots. Rhubarb and molasses are also recommended as a home remedy (5). It has also been recommended to use aloe as a stimulant to the digestive system to stimulate digestion and therefore, elimination. This last one comes with a warning, however. A stimulant may cause cramping (6).
If fiber rich foods help you to go then that is great. But if you find that one helps you to poop better than another food with equal fiber, then may I remind you that fiber is not the only “active ingredient” in these vegetables. They also contain important minerals that encourage things along. If one of these foods work better than another, I encourage you to consider that your body may be lacking a nutrient necessary for good digestion. As for a lack of fiber, this is often the case with children, who tend to not eat enough fruits and vegetables.
Fermented foods. Foods like sauerkraut, pickled vegetables, kombucha (watch the sugar content), coconut aminos, fish sauce, and apple cider vinegar all are great foods to help you rebuild your gut flora and rebalance you little “helpers” (the good bacteria) in your favor.(2)
Limit or eliminate sugar and grains. These foods can prevent you from having a great poop. Sugar feeds the “bad” bacteria and can cause an imbalance in your microbiome and grains can prevent you from consuming the 6 to 9 cups you of vegetables you should be consuming to make sure you have the nutrition and fiber to make things work. (2) Grains also can feed the “bad” bacteria, especially when we eat processed, refined grains such as crackers, pasta and bread. Also, if you have gut problems, grains can keep you from healing your gut. This is especially true for gluten containing grains such as wheat, rye, and barley.
Get a stool for your feet. This stool can lead to a better stool. Pun intended, this can help things move along better. The squatty potty can lead you to one that is best known for being the right height for this use.