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What can cause constipation and what to do about it

constipation causes

It doesn’t just make newborns and Grandpa grumpy—constipation is a serious digestive issue that can significantly impact your health. Conventional medicine defines constipation as having hard stools with a bowel movement fewer than three times per week, and severe constipation as less than once a week. In functional medicine, however, good elimination is having one to three healthy bowel movements per day. Although harsh laxatives can override constipation, it’s best to address the underlying causes for lasting success.

Why constipation is hard on the body

Regular bowel movements are the body’s way of eliminating toxins, metabolized hormones, and waste from your body. When you’re constipated these compounds sit idle in the intestines and are absorbed back into the bloodstream for circulation. This can sap energy, make you more cranky, hinder the ability of your body to function optimally, and increase health risks such as for heart disease.

Fecal matter sitting immobile in the digestive tract promotes an overgrowth of harmful bacteria and yeast. This creates inflammation in the gut and other digestive symptoms, such as gas, bloating, pain, allergies, and food sensitivities. Yeast overgrowths also promote itchy skin, vaginal yeast infections, fungal infections, and more.

Constipation is also uncomfortable, if not painful. It makes people feel heavy and bloated, sometimes causing abdominal cramps, hemorrhoids, or anal fissures.

Nutrition and constipation

For some people, the cause of constipation is pretty straightforward and easy to address. They simply need to eat a whole foods diet rich in fiber and stay sufficiently hydrated. For people used to eating a diet heavy in fast foods, consuming plenty of vegetables and fruit can significantly improve bowel function.

Nutritional support, such as with essential fatty acids, vitamin D, and quality vitamins and minerals, can also promote healthy bowel function.

Probiotics are another powerful tool. Many people suffer from an overgrowth of harmful bacteria and not enough beneficial bacteria in the gut, which can contribute to constipation. Often boosting beneficial bacteria with probiotics or fermented and cultured foods can support healthy elimination.

Food intolerances, leaky gut, and constipation

Sometimes the root cause of constipation requires more sleuthing. The best place to start is with gut health and hidden sources of inflammation, as constipation can be a symptom of inflammation in the gut. Finding an undiagnosed food intolerance, such as to gluten, dairy, corn, or egg, is all it takes to relieve constipation for some. For instance, many people have found eliminating gluten from their diet significantly improves gut health and bowel function. After removing inflammatory foods from your diet, you may also need to dampen gut inflammation and repair a leaky gut with the support of clinical nutrition.

Hypothyroidism and constipation

Constipation is a very common symptom of hypothyroidism, which slows down the body’s metabolism. Because conventional lab ranges to diagnose hypothyroidism are so broad, many people with low thyroid function are misdiagnosed. If you have thyroid symptoms, you should screen for hypothyroidism from a functional blood chemistry perspective, which includes evaluating for Hashimoto’s, an autoimmune thyroid disease that attacks and destroys the thyroid gland. Hashimoto’s is the most common cause of hypothyroidism today and requires autoimmune management.

Brain health and constipation

The digestive tract has a nervous system much like the brain’s, and the gut and the brain are very intimately connected. Many people suffer from an imbalance in neurotransmitters, chemicals that relay messages between neurons. These imbalances can not only affect mood, memory, and well-being, but also digestive functions and can play a role in constipation. Whenever a gut issue becomes chronic, one should take steps to investigate and support brain health.

Ask my office for support and advice in dealing with constipation.