Do you struggle with constipation? You’re not alone. Constipation is the most common gastrointestinal complaint, resulting in 2.5 million doctor visits annually.
Constipation is frustrating, painful and can be connected to other health issues either as a cause or as a symptom. It can create bloating, irritability, lack of appetite, incontinence and even vomiting.
People often ask, “How often should I poop a week?” Well, that’s a great question!
You should be pooping every day – ideally, twice a day. Yes, seriously. I know, I know, it’s not what your internist said. But, here’s the thing: Going to the bathroom daily is a sign of a healthy digestive tract and critical to your overall health.
Think about it this way: When you poop, your body is eliminating waste. Waste! Do you really want waste sitting in your large intestines for days on end? Absolutely not.
Plus, it’s important to recognize that your ever-important liver flushes out toxins housed in your body, and disposes of them into your intestines. If you’re not pooping daily, then all those toxins get reabsorbed into your body. Not good.
You are considered constipated if you experience:
- Straining during a bowel movement
- Hard, dry stools or stools like pellets or balls
- Incomplete evacuation, meaning you don’t feel like you’ve passed the entire stool
- Less than one normal formed, soft stool daily
There are many factors that contribute to constipation. Some are lifestyle, some are medical. Let’s take a look …
Lifestyle causes of constipation and what you can do about it:
Diet! We always start with diet: Eat more fiber. The average person eats less than 15 grams a fiber a day, yet your body requires optimally in the range of 30-40 grams a day, depending on your size. Vegetables, legumes, fruits and whole grains like oats, brown rice and quinoa will help add “bulk” to your stools (with the added benefit of feeding your gut microbiome.) Here’s an easy way to add 5 grams of fiber a day to your diet: Fiber Blend
Drink more fluid – you need fluid to help pass a bowel movement. Aim to drink half your body weight in ounces. If you weigh 150 pounds, for example, you’ll want to drink about 75 ounces of liquid – water, herbal teas, mineral water. Coffee and other caffeinated drinks don’t count. They are dehydrating and may be contributing to your constipation. And remember, as you add more fiber, you must add more liquid!
Move more – Exercise helps constipation by lowering the time it takes food to move through the large intestine. By moving through quickly, water doesn’t get reabsorbed from the stool, thus helping keep it soft and moving easily.
Reduce stress – Stress hormones affect your gut which can lead to constipation. There are lots of ways to reduce stress, such as yoga, meditation, gentle exercise, journaling, Qi Gong and Tai Chi. Try them all and find the best fit for you.
Go to the bathroom when you need to go to the bathroom – chronically suppressing the urge to poop can lead to constipation.
Stop using laxatives – laxatives decrease your colon’s ability to contract and they can actually worsen constipation.
But, sometimes we all need a little help.
Here are 4 simple ways to “get you going”:
Try our constipation recipe – Mix together 1 cup pure applesauce, 1 cup prune juice and 1 cup cooked oat bran – start with 2 tablespoons and add an additional tablespoon until you reach the point of regularity.
Take a probiotic – According to research, probiotics have been shown to increase “gut transit time” by 12.4 hours, increase the number of weekly bowel movements by 1.3, and help soften stools, making them easier to pass. Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus positively affect constipation. Our Probiotics is a blend of 7 strains of Lactobacillus and 4 strains of Bifidobacterium. Score!
Magnesium – One of the first lines of defense I typically recommend is adding magnesium citrate at bedtime. Magnesium citrate not only pulls fluid into the colon making easier to poop, but magnesium helps many sleep better and have less muscle pain. Start with 200mg and titrate up to 500mg nightly. Here’s my Magnesium Go-To.
Vitamin C – High dose Vitamin C (4-6 grams/day) can cause diarrhea, therefore, taking Vitamin C in amounts just below bowel tolerance (gas, bloating or diarrhea) can definitely improve bowel movements and regularity. Start slow with 3000 mg spread throughout the day. Then, every 2-3 days add another 1,000 mg. Once stools loosen up, maintain the dose that works for you. Plus, it’s an important antioxidant! Our Vitamin C fits the bill.
While lifestyle goes a long way in alleviating constipation, the root cause of constipation may be medical. It’s important to address the root cause of constipation. If you make the lifestyle changes but continue to need daily supplement support to poop, it’s time to take a deeper look under the hood.
Medical causes of constipation and what to do about it …
- Dybiosis and Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth – an imbalance in the gut microbiome or an overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine are often implicated in chronic constipation. Besides constipation you might be experiencing gas, bloating, burping and/or reflux.
- Food sensitivities – certain foods are known to cause constipation, such as gluten, diary, corn, soy and eggs.
- Autoimmune disorders, such as Hashimoto’s and Celiac Disease.
- Nutrient deficiencies – often associated with the first three medical causes of constipation listed here, nutrient deficiencies, such as Vitamin C, Magnesium and Fiber can contribute to difficult stooling.
- Too many antacids, and too much calcium and iron in supplements – are well-known instigators of constipation.
- Toxins, such as lead and mercury, are an oft-overlooked source of constipation.
- Neurological conditions, like Parkinson’s Disease or Multiple Sclerosis.
- Prescription medications, such as antidepressants or painkillers.
The best thing you can do for yourself is work with a functional medicine practitioner. We take a Whole Body approach, working with you to understand how all your symptoms are connected. We use “food as medicine,” assess your gut microbiome and your detox pathways. We can run the appropriate functional medicine tests based on your symptoms, if warranted. As a certified Functional Medicine Coach I can help lead the way. Click here set up an appointment, or learn more.
Meet Melissa: Melissa Rapoport is the Manager of Health Coaching and Lifestyle Programming at Blum Center for Health in Rye Brook, NY. She combines her graduate work in Developmental Psychology with her education in nutrition, health and coaching to create highly individualized programs that result in lifetime change. A contributing author to three international bestselling books, Melissa’s greatest joy is her relationship with her two daughters. To learn more about Melissa’s coaching practice at Blum Center for Health, click here.