Constipation is a bit of a taboo subject. I mean, how often do you talk about bowel movements with your friends and family? Not very often, I bet. That being said, it’s an important subject! Constipation has been shown to increase the risk of colon cancer, diverticulitis, appendicitis, and digestive issues. Irregular bowel movements can cause an accumulation of toxins in the body, contributing to our toxic load and putting strain on the body.
What can cause constipation?
- Lack of high-fiber foods
- Dairy products
- Lack of water
- Overuse of laxatives
- Low thyroid function
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- Iron supplements
- Ignoring when we need to go
- Medication (antacids, antidepressants, blood pressure medication and many others)
Our diet is one of the most important components of a properly functioning digestive system. In a perfect world we would be having a bowel movement 3 times a day, after each meal. However, this is not a reality for most people. At the very least we should all be having 7 to 10 bowel movements a week.
Here are 7 things to help you be more regular:
- Drink more water. If we are dehydrated it is going to slow things down in our gut and make the food more condensed and solid, leading to a harder time evacuating.
- Increase your fibre intake. When it comes to ideal fibre intake on a daily basis, men should aim for a little bit more, being 30-38g, while women should aim for 21-25g. Let’s not forget the kids! 4-10 year olds should have almost the same amount as women, and for kids under 3 you should aim for 20g per day. What are fibres? Fibres are carbohydrates that are not digested by our digestive system. A lot of the time people are confused with soluble and insoluble fibre and what the difference is. Celery is a perfect example of an insoluble type of fibre. When you put celery into water, it sits and floats, absorbing very little water. It is insoluble. Oats on the other hand, are soluble. When you put oats in boiling water, they will absorb the water. Now, a lot of foods have both soluble and insoluble fibres, so there’s a bit of a criss-cross. Roughly 50% of our diet should be soluble fibre and 50% should be insoluble fibre. The goal of the soluble fibre is to slow down digestion for better absorption of minerals and nutrients. The goal of the insoluble fibre is to create bulk and help sweep through our digestive track. Both serve an important purpose. Examples of soluble fibres are: oats, nuts, beans, apples, blueberries. Examples of insoluble fibres: green pepper, cabbage, onions, the skin of apples or cucumbers, whole wheat rice, whole wheat grain, chia seeds.
- Move! Moving increases the metabolism, and moves the gut. For example, doing squats will help activate the digestive system putting pressure on the lower back and sacrum. Suffer from constipation issues? Sitting on our standard toilets (ie – knees at 90 degrees) does not help straighten the rectum or relax the puborectalis muscle that allows for complete emptying of the secum and appendix without straining. It is suggested that people who suffer from constipation keep a little stool by the toilet to bring the knees higher and closer to the chest. Does your child have constipation? Think of them sitting on a “grown-up” toilet with their leg dangling, it is not helping them. A stool could help.
- The nervous system. We basically have 2 parts to our Autonomic Nervous system. We have the Sympathetic part which is also called the “fight or flight system”. We have the Parasympathetic system which is also called the “rest or digest system”. We need balance in both to maintain health. If we are consistently sympathetic dominant, which many of us are, our body is in overdrive with the sympathetic system and then the parasympathetic system is trying to catch up on the rest and digest aspect and it’s not activating the nervous system component that needs to fire to let us digest and eliminate. The nervous system innervates every cells, tissues and organs in the body. The lumbar nerves are innervating the gut to a great extent. The thoracic nerves are innervating the stomach area. It is very important to have no misalignments in the spine (subluxations) as if there is interference in the nervous system, the messages from the brain will not get processed to the organs properly. Chiropractic adjustment help maintain proper communication between the brain and body and balance the Sympathetic and Parasympathetic systems so we can function and handle stress more efficiently.
- Add Vitamin C to your diet. Vitamin C is a water soluble vitamin and increasing our intake of vitamin C can help us evacuate more efficiently. Where do we find Vitamin C in our foods? Citrus, green peppers, broccoli, kiwis, berries, leafy greens, vegetables.
- Probiotics. Oftentimes, people don’t know what supplement to take or they eat yogurt thinking it’s enough. Unfortunately, because of pasteurization process and the sugar in the yogurt, it does not make it a great source of probiotics. We want to have probiotics with live strains of a multitude of lactobacillus and acidophilus to help our gut function properly. We do have, from a simplistic perception, good bacterias and bad bacterias, so we want to make sure we have more good bacterias than bad bacterias to facilitate proper digestion and have a strong immune system as a large percentage of our immune functions are connected with the gut.
- Prebiotics. What are prebiotics? They are foods that the good bacterias like to feed on. Some good examples of good prebiotics are garlic, artichoke, asparagus, bananas, and onions. Let’s not forget about fermented foods as well, that are fairly easy for us to make ourselves. See previous blog/video on fermented foods.
To sum it up, it’s important to have regular bowel movements so our bodies can get rid of toxins.
Quick tips to make that happen:
- Smoothies. Smoothies are great in the morning or throughout the day to get your greens and fruits in! You can blend them with the skin so you can ensure you get all the good fibres. Consider adding flax seed as well!
- Prep your vegetables and foods that have high fibre. Freeze broccoli, spinach, kale, etc., so that you can grab it when you want it and add it to your smoothies. Have a variety of these foods in your fridge as well, otherwise you won’t have easy access to them and will be less likely to eat them on a regular basis.
- Take the time to listen to your body if it’s time to go. Create a routine! Leave yourself enough time in the morning that if you usually go at around 6am, for example, make sure you aren’t on the bus at 6am.
- When not at home. I know when people travel or are not at home, they often don’t like to go in public washrooms, change you mindset on it being inappropriate or awkward as it is a normal bodily function that needs to happen and is important to your health. If you know you have a tendency to be constipated when you travel as we are often times not eating the same diet when we are away, make sure you bring your probiotics, magnesium and vitamin C with you.