Constipation the 6.5 billion dollar problem: 6 steps to a cheaper solution
“If there’s one thing to know about the human body; it’s this: the human body has a ringmaster. This ringmaster controls your digestion, your immunity, your brain, your weight, your health and even your happiness. This ringmaster is the gut”
― Nancy S. Mure
Constipation is a sure sign that your guts are giving you the silent treatment
As unpleasant this topic may be it is vital to the understanding of why some of us have chronically failing health. It all begins in your gut.
The inability to defecate is never a problem till it is difficult.
The medical world and the lay man’s world define this problem differently.
If you have trouble emptying the bowel on a regular basis or have to strain or feel it was inadequate or have a bloating sensation it is constipation.
The medical world looks at the irregularity of bowel movements less than 3 times a week in the last 3 months.
So when defining a problem, if the person solving the problem is unable to see it as a problem it takes a very long time to resolve. ( okay that was a tongue twister)
Let me educate you on why healthy and regular bowel movements are vital to good health.
Constipation accounts for 16% of the primary care visits in this country. The testing costs anywhere from 6.5 billion to 7.5 billion dollars.
Why is Gut Health so important?
All disease begins in the gut, fix the gut you fix the disease
We harbor in our gut trillions of bacteria that are collectively called “the microbiome”.
We have more bacteria in( lungs and intestines)and on our body ( skin) than our own cells.
10% of our caloric intake comes from this bacteria in our gut.
It affects our metabolic and energy production process and therefore our weight.
It is also implicated in the immune process and can be responsible for autoimmunity( conditions like Hashimoto’s, Rheumatoid arthritis, lupus etc.).
It protects us from serious infections.
The right bacteria can prevent irritable bowel and autoimmunity.
The gut has several enzymes that are geared to help us recover from an acute infection.
They determine our food tolerances, example: lactose intolerance.
Cancer cells express a sugar that attaches itself to cancer producing bacteria so the microbiome is potentially known to change in cancer cells and also in inflammatory cells like ulcerative colitis.
So what really causes constipation?
Not enough water and not enough fiber and whole lot of sitting and worrying all can slow the system down
There are several forms of constipation.
The 2 broad categories are :
1.Primary which means nothing from the outside of the gut is causing it.
2. Secondary which means it is due to something else.
So when we have muscle problems or nerve problems that prevent the gut from contracting and pushing out the contents it is called primary. Those conditions are medical and need to be addressed appropriately.
What we can change are the causes that we can potentially control or secondary causes.
The list is endless but I will address the most important ones here.
They can be divided into 4 broad categories:
What you eat, what you think and what you breathe can all cause disease, so self help is the best help.
Medications: 900 different medications are known to affect the bowel movements.
Metabolic hormones: Thyroid is the key among the hormones however constipation is connected to insulin and female hormones and adrenals. So we have to look at the whole picture.
Mindset: this is the toughest. When we are chronically stressed the gut bacteria does change, maybe due to what we eat and the hormonal impact of stress, however there is an intricate connection between the gut and the brain.
Early childhood issue with bowel movements do impact how the bowels move later in life.
Diet: this is by far a very important cause of gut dysfunction. the diet we eat can stimulate the production of the food for the good or symbiotic bacteria, called short chain fatty acids (SCFA). The kind of bacteria we harbor can also alter the function of the vagus nerve.( the longest nerve from the brain that is from the brain and goes to the back, spine and gut.)
How do we approach constipation:
Before we take a pill long term or processed fiber long term run down the checklist.
What medications are you on?
Are you taking high protein or high fat diet?
Are you stressed?
Do you sit all day and not drink enough water?
Were you started recently on antibiotics?
Irritable bowel diagnosis means your gut bacteria is different from normal people.
How many of your meals have plants. ( whole grains, vegetables , fruits, legumes)
Have your hormones been checked?
Taking a stalk of the medications commonly used and causing constipation:
Are you on any of these?
Hypertension medications( calcium channel blockers and water pills)
Pain medications like Ibuprofen(narcotics)
Iron, calcium supplements(always take magnesium with it)
Check the following hormones:
Adverse childhood experiences
Diet rich in protein and fat are known to cause constipation
Fiber rich diet can improve movements.
Diets that increase certain type of bacteria especially those that produce methane are known to cause less bowel movements.
6 Simple steps to overcome this inconvenient symptom:
Water is the lifeblood of our bodies, our economy, our nation and our well-being.
The need for pure water cannot be underestimated. We have to have at least 2 to 3 quarts a day .
99 % of our body in the molecular level needs water.
I have met more folks who hate water( thanks to the world of ads on juice and pop)and so trying mineral water or even soda streaming your water may be a good start.
Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking. Marcus Aurelius
Begin by assessing the fiber in your food.
If you can use an app like myfitnesspal or any other food app start with how much fiber are you consuming.
The Standard American Diet or SAD has about 3 to 10 grams.
The oldest tribe in Africa takes in about 70 to 80 grams of fiber.
Caution:Increasing fiber all of a sudden can cause bloating and pain.
Not adding enough water intake can also worsen the constipation
So increase it slowly. One meal at a time adding adequate water
Fiber Rich Foods:Fruits and vegetables do have fiber but root vegetables and whole grain also have a lot of fiber. Another big group of foods are the legumes.
Population eating whole grain, legumes , potatoes and having days of fasting all have shown to slow aging and cause less disease.
Quick home remedy: Senna tea soaked prune or raisins. Soak overnight and eat the prune or raisin in the morning for a good bowel movement.
Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated. Confucius
Sedentary lifestyle is a risk factor for constipation. Bed ridden state in the elderly,hospitalization all are risks.
Walking at least 5 minutes every hour if you have a sitting job can help alleviate this risk.
Only I can change my life. No one can do it for me. Carol Burnett
Hormones produced by our glands and those produced by the bacteria all cause changes.
Low thyroid can lead to constipation long before it is apparent.
Insulin resistance and diabetes, probably due to the diet, can cause constipation so in some patients the use of metformin a medication for blood sugars comes as a relief as it is associated with loose stools.
Increase in calcium caused by increased parathyroid hormone can also lead to constipation.
I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed. Michael Jordan
Whether it is the bacteria in the gut causing mood disorder or the brain function due to a genetic mutation that is causing mood disorder is unclear.
Gut bacteria has been clearly implicated in impacting the mood.
So addressing the balance of gut bacteria with probiotics, diet and water has been shown to improve the mood.
Bacteria in the gut:
Exact science behind this is unclear but in irritable bowel the type of bacteria present in the gut is different from those with healthy gut function.
So changing the gut bacteria with lifestyle : stress reduction and adding fiber removing sugar and adding water is known to improve mood and movement.
SIGNS of DANGER:
You can always quit, so why quit now.
Having any of these symptoms needs immediate attention not just lifestyle changes:
Acute constipation with distention
Blood in stool(painless)
Weight loss with no real change in diet
Change in the shape of the stools
Always remember your health is in your hands:
As long as you have no symptoms of any danger use this checklist before you go on any long term treatment for constipation.
Remember consistency is the formula for success or failure. It is what you do consistently that keeps you where you are or gets you where you need to be.
Here is a quick Check list for you to start your journey to good gut health:
Disclaimer: All articles penned by this author are purely educational and should not be construed as medical advice or treatment.
Probiotics drive gut microbiome triggering emotional brain signatures
Received 27 Nov 2017, Accepted 26 Mar 2018, Accepted author version posted online: 03 May 2018
Pathophysiology of Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders: A Holistic Overview a, b a c Gerald Holtmann Ayesha Shah Mark Morrison a Department of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Princess Alexandra Hospital, Woolloongabba, QLD, Australia; Faculty of Medicine and Falty of Health and Behavioural Sciences, University of Queensland, Queensland, QLD, Australia; b c Diamantina Institute, University of Queensland, Queensland, QLD, Australia