Defining Constipation: Causes, Symptoms and Natural Remedies
Defining Constipation: Causes, Symptoms and Natural Remedies
By Dr. Claire Arcidiacono, ND
Constipation is the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about. What exactly is constipation? Many people believe that having a bowel movement (or “going number two” in layman's terms) every other day or even every three days is okay. But the truth of the matter is you should have a bowel movement every day. Think of your body as your home – do you take the trash out, or do you let it sit and fester in your home? Of course you take it out! Well, moving your bowels every day is like taking out the trash, and it’s just as important to clear the trash from your body as it is from your home!
My main point here is that if you are not having a bowel movement every day, you have constipation. Another sign of constipation is having trouble with a bowel movement. Additionally, if there is pain, gas, bloating, and a “smell” associated with having a bowel movement, there is most likely what I usually term "low-grade constipation". What is low-grade constipation? Low-grade constipation is where you have a bowel movement every day, but it is either hard, small, or leaves you feeling as if you still have to go. Let’s return to the trash analogy – low-grade constipation is when you take out only part of the trash and leave some behind. To sum everything up: In order to be healthy you should have a complete, pain-free, non-smelly, non-gassy bowel movement every day.
What can cause constipation? There are many things that can factor in – lack of water, lack of fiber, low thyroid function, anxiety, cancer, and physical changes to the intestines can all affect regularity. In this article I am going to concentrate more on the “bad guys” since they are the most common, and they’re seen in many people I treat.
Bad guys are things like yeast, bad bacteria and parasites. According to research published in the Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology, people with Inflammatory Bowel Disease, which is characterized by constipation, have a higher diversity of fungus in their GI tract. In other words, there is a higher diversity of “bad guys”! The overall goal is to kill the bad guys, put the good guys back, and build up the body’s natural army – the immune system. In order to do that, the following vitamins and supplements may help.
- Magnesium Citrate: This is nature’s best stool softener. It helps to get things moving in terms of constipation, and it’s known to support brain health, lower anxiety, and help you sleep. It may also help alleviate muscle spasms and high blood pressure. Magnesium Citrate is key for relieving constipation, but it helps in a variety of other areas as well.
- Goldenseal, Berberine, Oregano, Grapefruit Seed Extract, and Caprilic Acid: These are what I like to call the “kill pill”. These will kill off yeast, bad bacteria and parasites. Some people might ask if they can simply go on the “candida diet” and achieve good results. While the diet is important, if you rely only on your diet, you won’t get the best results. When you send in the troops (probiotics) they need weapons, too – no one sends an army to war without something to kill the enemy. In this case, the “kill pill” is the weapon in the hand of the probiotics!
- Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and Saccharomyces: These are what we call the “good guys”. Now, you still need to take what I referred to as the “kill pill”, but these good guys are very important for your body. Think of your intestines as an apartment building. Somewhere along the way, bad tenants moved in. When you take the “kill pill” it will force the bad guys out. Taking a probiotic replaces the “good guys” so no more bad guys can move in. The colon is also where most of the immune system is located – according to a study in the Journal of Orthomolecular medicine, the gut flora can weigh anywhere from 4 to 6 pounds! These good guys produce anti-fungals, antibiotics and antivirals to help protect us from pathogens often found in food. In addition to being the exit to the body, it is important to understand the colon’s function. The colon absorbs water and any other nutrients that may end up there. If there are any chemicals, such as mercury, these too will be reabsorbed. This is also true for hormones such as estrogen. Good flora will actually hold, or even neutralize, different chemicals. According to a study on Gut and Psychology, two groups of people were given mercury. One group of people with healthy gut flora had only 1% absorption, compared to those on antibiotic treatments who had 95%! Now, bad bacteria and yeast will also do this, which is one reason for “die-off” (I will talk about that more later on).
- Colostrum: This is excellent for boosting the immune system. It is especially effective at raising something called SIgA. This is a fancy term that refers to the part of the immune system in the intestines. It’s what is supposed to keep everything in balance. But if you have been under stress, if you have been on certain medications, or eating a poor diet this can be lowered to insufficient levels. In fact, according to a study on gut dysbiosis, 84%of our immunity is in the gut wall! This means not only can yeast and bad bacteria grow there, but it allows for more susceptibility to colds and other health problems. Additionally, according to the same study, when the immune system is not working properly there is an increase in allergies and autoimmune issues. According to a study on mucosal immunity, this is because SIgA can inhibit pro-inflammatory immunoglobulins.
- Milk Thistle, NAC, Dandelion, Alpha Lipoic Acid, Green Tea, Spirulina, Chlorella: Why detox for constipation? Well, this doesn't help the constipation itself, it helps with something called the “die-off”. When you kill the bad guys they release certain things that can make you sick. Some of the things that are released include: alcohol, acetaldehyde, dermorphin, and deltorphin. Also, in many people, an abundance of mercury will cause the yeast to actually hoard the metals inside of themselves – so if you kill them off, it can release these toxins into your system. Besides, it’s always a good idea to cleanse out your system. It’s like going through your closets and getting rid of stuff you don't need.
- Diet: When you are killing bad guys to relieve constipation, you really need to restrict your diet – no bread, rice, pasta, white foods, sugar or juice! There are basically no sweets allowed except for unsweetened cocoa! This is a sugarless chocolate powder that can be mixed into yogurt, cottage cheese, water, soy milk, basically anything you want. I had a patient make a recipe for quinoa muffins using this! On a diet that is basically protein and veggies, this plain cocoa can be a life saver. As the bad guys die off, you will crave sweets and cocoa can really help to relieve those cravings.
All of these things help address constipation by addressing the most common cause – the bad guys. They can grow because of stress, poor diet, certain medications, or even travel. Speak to one of InVite’s professionals to determine what aspects of this protocol will be most helpful for you.
- Gut and Psychology Syndrome by Natasha McBride, Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine (2008)
- Fungi and Inflammatory Bowel Diseases: Alterations of Composition and Diversity. By Stephan J. Ott, Tanja Kuhbacher, Meike Musfeldt, Philip Rosentiel, Stephan Hellmig, Ateequr Rehman, Oliver Drews, Wilko Weichert, Kenneth Timmis, Stefan Schreiber, Scandinavian Journal of Medicine (2008)
- Mucosal Immunity and Vaccines, Holmgren J. and Czerkinsky C. (2005)
Nature Medicine 11, S45 - S53 Doi: 10.1038/nm1213