Poo Matters: What You Need to Know about Constipation
Yep. Today we are going to be talking about poop and what some underlying causes of constipation are.
The truth is, we often think imbalance in the diet is to blame when we’re suffering from constipation. It’s true in most circumstances, but we should not forget that there are other factors that play a role.
Let’s understand first why the gut is so important and then how the gut works to have a bowel movement.
Your gut is where you take all the good stuff you eat and drink and transform it into the many building blocks your body needs to make energy, think clearly, sleep well, maintain a healthy weight, build muscle, and clear out toxins that need clearing out daily so you can thrive. It’s also where 80% or more of your immune system lives.
It is my passion is to work with people like you whose health symptoms–like low energy, gut/digestive issues, excess weight, mood imbalance, chronic infections, and skin & sleep problems–are getting in the way of you living life fully and with a sense of freedom in your body. I help you to regain your health so you can feel great and free to enjoy life fully.
Nothing will spoil your day like being “backed up” and holding onto waste in your intestines. You don’t feel well physically or mentally when you’re constipated. Let’s take a closer look at what is going in in there.
After you eat, food travels from your stomach to the small intestines or small bowel. After nutrients are absorbed in your small bowel, your body needs to expel the leftover waste. So the small bowel delivers this leftover waste to the colon or large bowel. The colon is a 5- to 6-foot muscular tube that delivers stool to the rectum, and while stool passes along this tube, fluids are removed and absorbed into your body. Your gut needs two important things to carry on this function: pressure and lubrication. Fiber from your diet, muscle tone, physical activity, and a healthy nervous system create the pressure your gut needs to propel stool forward in your digestive tract. The pressure also relaxes the lower sphincter so that stool can pass. Lubrication, on the other hand, is achieved by drinking enough water and hydrating fluids (coffee doesn’t count as it is a diuretic) and eating healthy fats (like olive oil, flax, ghee, avocado, coconut, etc). By the way, having enough hydration is also important for creating pressure.
In addition to considering your intake of fiber, fluids, and healthy fats, remember that transit time– how long the stool sits in your colon–and the amount of water absorbed from the waste also affect the consistency of your stool. These factors are affected by a number of mechanisms.
Let’s explore some of them:
Did you know that an adequate progesterone level is required to have a healthy bowel movement? Low progesterone levels can cause your colon to slow down..and the longer the stool stays in the colon, the drier it gets and the more difficult it is to pass through.
Low estrogen also slows down the digestive process. How so? Estrogen keeps cortisol, your primary stress hormone, in check. When cortisol levels rise, your body’s digestive process is impaired and slows down. Similar to low progesterone, this lengthens the time it takes to break down food and slows down evacuation of stool.
I’ve worked with a lot of people who have low thyroid function. In people with low thyroid, metabolism slows down (sometimes significantly!), resulting in the same effects low levels of estrogen and progesterone have on the bowel.
Butterflies in the stomach when you’re nervous happens for an obvious reason: your gut and nervous system are very much in sync. Stress affects the gut and vice versa. As I mentioned earlier, the stress hormone cortisol delays the digestive process. Adding insult to injury, the key nutrients that help you with relaxation and laxation (aka good BM’s), magnesium, potassium, and vitamin C, decrease when stress is high. Not a good combo! You need more nutrients to handle your stress, not less.
By disrupting your nutrients, imbalancing your stress hormones, and nervous system, it comes as no surprise that stress can also cause inflammation in your gut.
Your body was designed for regular physical activity. That’s why a sedentary lifestyle is precursor to a variety of conditions, including constipation. In order for the muscles of your bowel to contract properly, your body must get the exercise it needs every day. This can be as simple as walking.
This goes hand in hand with what we’ve talked about already with your nervous system and stress hormones. When you experience emotional imbalance, it can cause you stress and/or be caused by stress. Your body tends to freeze and slow down to protect you. That’s why, in traditional Chinese medicine, constipation is associated with being unable to let things go. With clients who’ve struggled with chronic constipation, exploring emotional holding patterns is an important key.
Now that you know more about what can contribute to constipation, how can you apply this to improving your digestion? What’s a baby step you can take? As they say, progress, no matter how small, is still progress! And I am rooting for you.
In the next newsletter, I will be giving you some tips and actions to fix and support constipation.
Until next time, I’m wishing you unstoppable health!