Constipation. It’s one of those everyday ills that can slow you down, make you feel out of sorts, and, if it goes on too long or becomes a recurring problem, can actually damage your system. Bouts of constipation, be they occasional or all too frequent, are your body’s way of telling you that all’s not well. So how to change the constipation conversation and get things moving in a more positive direction? Here’s where to start:
1) Constipation Is Communication
Ideally, elimination, or bowel movements, should be a daily affair, though an every-other-day routine is still considered to be within the normal range. If you’re a daily doer, then congratulations—they don’t call it regularity for nothing. If, however, you’re eliminating just three (or fewer) times a week and frequently feel backed up, then it’s time to get to the bottom of why your transit times are longer than the line at the DMV. The mission: to get your gut into a more frequent, regular groove.
2) Too Many Backups Can Make You Sick
When you think of constipation, you probably think, “Ugh, I can’t wait to get this out of me,” rather than, “This is damaging my insides.” But perhaps you should, as constipation can disrupt your good gut bacteria, weaken immunity, and undermine health, both physical and mental. With run-of-the-mill-type constipation, abdominal discomfort, bloating, and hard stools are typical and unpleasant, but for those with chronic constipation, more serious problems can pile on, including painful hemorrhoids, anal fissures (which may require a surgical fix), and, as a number of studies indicate, an increased colorectal cancer risk. Safe to say, the more you can keep things moving at a daily pace, the less time waste products will be lingering in your gut and the better it’ll be for your short- and long-term health.
3) Beware the Pipe-cloggers
For those with other serious health problems, the diseases themselves, as well as some of their treatments, can disrupt healthy digestion and easily trigger constipation. For the rest of us, though, common constipators like stress, lack of exercise, a low-fiber diet, or lots of processed foods can slow digestion and elimination to a crawl. Other culprits include food intolerances, dehydration, prescription meds, opioid painkillers, and even seemingly benign drugstore items like laxatives (particularly if they’re overused) and ibuprofen. Yes, it’s a minefield out there!
4) Something Holding You Back?
Another classic but often overlooked culprit that encourages constipation? Holding it in or ignoring the urge. Embarrassment over public (or excessively communal) pooping in the office loo can truly be a problem for office workers. If this sounds familiar, do your colon a favor: Don’t ignore the urge. Listen to your body and do what it wants you to do. If you just can’t quite get beyond the privacy issue, consider using the less heavily trafficked facilities, for example the restroom on a different floor of your office, at your gym, at a nearby hotel, or even at a department store. If odor is a concern, Poo-Pourri, the popular and effective essential oils–based toilet spray, does a nice job of taming unpleasant smells before they escape the bowl.
5) Keep Bowels—And Your Body—Moving
To keep constipation from gaining the upper hand, there are a number of things you can do, none of which involve a pharmaceutical assist. In addition to irrigating your innards by drinking plenty of liquids and moving more to stimulate your muscles, here are a few practices to help keep your elimination engine firing on all cylinders:
- If you want to crap, don’t eat crap: Or put more delicately, eat a healthy diet. Dump processed, slow-to-eliminate Frankenfoods, and fill up on real, whole foods. Go for organic leafy greens, colorful veggies, grass-fed meats, pastured poultry, wild (pole-caught) fish, nuts, nut butters, good fats, and low-sugar fruits. Go easy on grains, dairy, and quick-digesting carbs, which can be pipe-cloggers for some folks. Remember, digestion begins in the mouth, so what you put in it will have a huge impact on digestion’s final product and how long it sticks around.
- Squat upon your throne: For millions of years, squatting was the standard position for waste elimination, and in a number of cultures today, it still is. For most of us, though, a toilet is where the deed is done, despite its counterproductive, gut-twisting, rectum-obstructing design that makes it tougher for poop to glide out without straining. So, how to get into a more anatomically advantageous throne position? Add a simple device to the mix to elevate your knees and rest your feet upon, like the Squatty Potty; a small (one-step) step stool; an overturned bucket; or a make-your-own version.
- Train yourself to poop on schedule: Believe it or not, you can train—or retrain—yourself to poop on a schedule that’s convenient for you and good for your body. Try this step-by-step program to help get the results you’re looking for. Be it a morning, midday, or evening ritual one, give yourself and your intestines time to relax (Rome wasn’t built in a day, you know) instead of trying to hurry through your business.
- Get hands-on, healing help: As wonderful as an hour-long spa massage may be, when you’re stressed-out, pressed for time, and constipated, a quick self-fix—an abdominal massage—is the next best thing. It will help relieve constipation by stimulating the colon and aiding bowel motility to help move things along. Here’s how to do it. Other ways to get bowels moving again? Try these seven simple, poop-propelling yoga poses, or book a session or two with an acupuncturist for additional support.
- Digest this: Skip the drugstore pills and powders. Step away from the caustic laxatives and their boomerang effects that tend to create even more problems for your gut and its ability to maintain regularity. If relief from a pill is what you seek, make sure it’s one that actually supports your health.
- My first choice is always a good probiotic to help inoculate the gut with good bacteria.
- Another favorite is Magnesium citrate. It’s a mineral that’s responsible for the proper metabolic function of hundreds of enzymes in the body; it relaxes muscles and vessels—and gently eases constipation without the cramping and side effects other “natural” and/or herbal remedies can sometimes bring.
- Triphala is another option. It’s an Ayurvedic herbal formula, which is helpful with digestion and supports regular bowel movements.
- And finally, try a high-quality fiber, ideally a blend of soluble and insoluble fiber, such as Be Well Fiber. Start with less than the recommended dose, and gradually increase your daily intake to help your system adjust.
For more ideas on how to take the edge off constipation, check out our recent post “Treat Your Gut with Foam Rolling.”