What causes constipation?
Digestive issues are a concern for many women. Considering that the gut is where our vitality is built (nutrient absorption and waste elimination), it's no wonder that there are many different causes of constipation, the most common of which is not having enough fibre in your daily diet. Some other possible causes include thyroid problems, diabetes, certain medications, increasing age, misalignments within the Ileocaecal and Houston valves, and not enough physical activity.
Other factors that contribute to constipation
Dairy. Cow’s milk and dairy products can contribute to sluggish bowels.
Gluten. Foods high in gluten can cause constipation, especially if you have a gluten intolerance. Gluten can cause inflammation and poor nutrient absorption.
Medications. Aluminium-containing antacids, high blood pressure medications, antidepressants, anti-seizure medication, opioids like codeine and morphine, antihistamines like Clarityne and Zyrtec, iron supplements, and anti-nausea medications can contribute to constipation.
Stress. High stress can cause habits of tension within the digestive system to reduce in function (reduced digestive enzyme production and tension) resulting in slow bowel movements. Stress-lowering techniques such as meditation can be helpful to ease the tension in the body when practiced consistently.
- A poor diet consisting of processed foods high in fat and sugar. This type of diet depletes the intestines of dietary fibre that helps promote healthy bowel movements. Consider following the 8 week program to get you back on track with your digestive health.
Dehydration. Not drinking enough water and having too many drinks high in caffeine and sugar can make stools slow and dry contributing further to constipation.
Digestive issues. Disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), anal fissures or haemorrhoids, intestinal obstructions, and pelvic floor problems can also lead to constipation. Understanding your bowel motions is a great place to start analysing what is going on for you.
Tips to relieve constipation naturally
1. Increase healthy fats in your daily diet to lubricate the bowels.
Olive oil, flaxseed oil, hemp seed oil, nuts, and avocados all contain healthy fats which can help lubricate the intestines and ease up symptoms.
2. Consume more fibre.
Fibre helps to hydrate and produce bulk-formed stools on top of other health benefits for motility and mobility of the bowels.
3. Snack on some prunes.
Prunes contain a phenolic compound which activates the intestinal contraction that helps you move your bowels. One prune has roughly 1 gram of fibre and the recommended serving for constipation relief is three prunes.
4. Eat a fig.
Figs contain almost 2 grams of fibre each, so 2-3 per serving may be helpful and often don’t cause as much bloating as prunes.
5. Add seeds to your diet.
Flax seeds, chia seeds and sesame seeds are excellent. These seeds contain “mucilage,” a gummy compound that coats your digestive system for smoother bowel movements. The oily composition of the seeds moisturises the intestinal tract and helps with bowel movement.
Seeds are also packed with fibre. One tablespoon of flaxseed contains almost 3 grams of fibre. Flaxseed is also high in magnesium. I suggest soaking any nuts and seeds overnight to help with the digestive process and add water to the fibre.
6. Increase your magnesium intake.
Magnesium is crucial for muscle health and peristalsis (the movement of food along the digestive tract). Leafy greens, nuts, seeds, and fish are all excellent sources of magnesium.
If you need to supplement, magnesium citrate is the cheapest and most popular magnesium supplement. It is easily absorbed by the body and helps with relaxation, anxiety, and muscle cramping. This form of magnesium also has a mild laxative effect and can aid with constipation. An Epsom salt bath (magnesium sulfate) at night may also help with constipation, ensuring that you soak for at least 20-30 minutes for the best absorption.
7. Take probiotics and prebiotics regularly.
These help to balance the microbes in the digestive tract.
8. Some herbs can be helpful with constipation.
When taken as herbal teas daily, certain herbs may assist in relieving digestive issues and promoting bowel health. Fenugreek, Senna, Peppermint, Ginger, Licorice and and Dandelion are tasty suggestions.
9. Psyllium works wonders as a bulk-forming fibre.
It absorbs the liquid in the stools and increases the ‘bulk’, making it easier to pass through.
10. Consider using Aloe Vera which has a soothing effect on the bowels and contains Anthraquinones or natural laxatives which may further help with constipation. It is excellent for helping to soften stools and moisturize the intestinal tract.
Movement increases muscle health and stimulates digestion if you have a consistent daily routine. Yoga sequences like sun-salutations can get your bowels moving.
12. Practise correct positioning when using the toilet.
Place a stool under your feet to mimic a squatting position and straighten out the rectum. When the rectum is straighter, you can empty the bowels fully. Don’t spend hours on the toilet (checking your phone) – a healthy bowel movement should take just about 2-3 minutes!
13. Have a Vitamin C flush (also known as an ascorbate flush).
Dissolve 1000mg of Vitamin C powder or capsules in a glass of water or juice. Drink or sip this over the course of a few minutes. Repeat this every hour on the hour for 2-4 hours, recording each time you take a dose and continuing until you need to use the bathroom. This is best taken on an empty stomach first thing in the morning or when you’re close to a toilet.
14. Do some abdominal massage.
Make small circles in a clockwise direction around your belly button with gentle but firm pressure. Start just above the left-hip bone then move towards the middle and release just below the left-hand ribcage, which is where your colon empties.
Fibre or laxatives: Which is better?
Keep in mind that there is a BIG difference between fibre and laxatives. Natural fibre acts as a bulking agent to help you have smooth and easy bowel movements and not dry, hard poop. Laxatives, on the other hand, can increase bowel movements by stimulating the large intestine to move, drawing extra water into the large intestine, and/or acting as a lubricant to help the poop slide through more easily. Occasional use of a laxative is generally not harmful; however, using them often can make you develop a dependency or have negative long-term complications.
When treating constipation, it helps to have a clear understanding of where you're at when it comes to your bowel movements. Our other article gives you a detailed description of the various types of stools. Also, please discuss all changes in your diet or medications with your doctor or practitioner. Achieving optimum digestive health is vital in finding constipation relief so I encourage you to get in touch with any of our naturopaths at Happy Healthy You.
Working to improve your overall digestive function is the first place to start to help reduce the frequency and severity of constipation issues. Observe other digestive symptoms also (reflux, belching, indigestion, bloating) as these are other signs telling you that there are other contributing factors. Often constipation can be helped through diet alone however exercise, lifestyle changes and gentle probiotic supplementation are imperative.
Sun Hwan Bae. Diets for Constipation. Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology & Nutrition. 2014 Dec; 17(4): 203–208.
Dehghani et al. The Role of Cow's Milk Allergy in Pediatric Chronic Constipation: A Randomized Clinical Trial. Iranian Journal of Pediatrics. 2012 Dec; 22(4): 468–474.