Let’s chat about constipation. It’s a surefire ingredient to unhappiness. When I started my career as a dietitian, I was working in a hospital setting. If my patients were crabby, it was usually because they were constipated. No doubt you will feel irritable, bloated, and gassy if a good poop eludes you.
Unfortunately, I see this a lot. But just because constipation is common, doesn’t mean it’s normal. Constipation is one of your body’s check engine lights. If you’re constipated, something is off.
To set the stage, here’s an introduction to your gut. Your digestive system is nearly 30 feet long. It starts in your mouth and ends at your anus. The digestive process starts in your mouth. Here you chew and produce saliva, which helps start breaking down food. Food moves down the esophagus, into the stomach, and then small intestines. Your stomach and intestines are responsible for digesting food and nutrient absorption. Food eventually makes its way into the large intestines, where water is absorbed, waste deposited, and a few nutrients are absorbed. There are muscles along your intestinal tract that produce a wave-like motion called peristalsis. Peristalsis moves food through the remainder of your system so waste can be removed from the body.
What disrupts this process?
There are many causes of constipation. They can vary based on different lifestyle factors, illnesses, or past experiences. Some of the major factors that control you body’s ability to move waste out of your system include:
- Withholding – Avoiding the urge to go when you have to go. This can start to happen at a very early age. We are taught to hold it in school or to wait until we finish up that last email. By withholding, stools become dryer and harder to pass. Plus, you can start to train your body to hold it too.
- Insufficient electrolytes – If you aren’t getting enough potassium and magnesium, it can make it harder to go. Potassium helps muscles contract (peristalsis) and magnesium draws water into the bowel, which triggers motility.
- Poor diet – This will sound like a broken record. But if you’re not getting enough water, fiber, or fat, you’re not going to be pooping regularly. Dehydration leads to hard stools, lack of fiber leads to incomplete/small stools, and a low fat diet leads to poor stool lubrication.
- Gut bacterial imbalance – Imbalances in your gut flora can make you susceptible to constipation. Low levels of Bifidobacteria or high levels of Methanobacteria can trigger chronic constipation.
- Thyroid issues – people often associate hypothyroidism with weight gain and a slow metabolism. That’s not the only thing a sluggish thyroid can slow. It can slow down everything, including your gut motility, leading to constipation.
- Overstimulated adrenals – If you’re in a constant state of stress or overwhelm, you are putting your body in “fight or flight”. Fight or flight directly opposes “rest and digest”. Being in a state of stress, draws resources away from the digestive tract, to your muscles and brain. This causes poor digestion, upset stomach, and eventually changes to your bowel movements.
- Food Sensitivities – Food sensitivities can cause inflammation in the gut. Common constipation triggers are gluten and dairy.
- Elevated progesterone – Progesterone is a great hormone, but elevated levels can slow motility in the gut. Think of women in pregnancy, constipation is a common complaint. At the beginning of pregnancy, high levels of progesterone slow down the digestive tract, leading to constipation.
- Neurotransmitter levels – The digestive tract has it’s very own nervous system. It produces neurotransmitters like serotonin. Low levels of serotonin inhibit motility, mucus production (lubrication), and fluid balance in the gut.
- Abdominal adhesions – Abdominal adhesions are scar tissues that form after tissue damage. They can happen after abdominal surgery, with endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease, or Crohn’s disease. Adhesions cause the intestinal tissue to stick together, which can slow motility.
Ready to get to the root of your constipation? Let our team at Nutrition Dynamic help guide you. To find out how we can help, hop on a free discovery call with our team.