Many of my patients struggle with constipation and other bathroom issues. Sometimes they are too embarrassed to admit their problem until it becomes too painful to bear.
Unfortunately, they aren’t alone. Researchers find roughly 12 to 19 percent of the population (about 63 million people) struggles with constipation.
Healthy digestion and eliminating waste once or twice daily is critical to overall health. Constipation contributes to multiple diseases, plus it makes us feel like you-know-what.
That makes sense when we consider that our liver flushes out toxins and dumps them into our intestines. If they don’t leave our body, they get reabsorbed and ugly things happen.
Besides the health repercussions, constipation is often uncomfortable and can lead to miserable symptoms like bloating, irritability, lack of appetite, and vomiting.
Eliminating once or twice a week is not regular. We now know so much about how to fix our gut, how to tend to our inner garden, and how to reset a system, yet many of us maintain poor ways of eating and living. Like most problems, constipation is usually fixable without pharmaceutical drugs or other invasive procedures.
Foremost, we want to address our diet, which drives most constipation. While chronic stress and the overuse of antibiotics can mess up our gut, a diet high in processed foods and sugar does more harm in promoting constipation.
More specifically, I’ve found these seven strategies work wonders to get things moving “down there” for most patients.
- Eat real food. When we eat whole, real foods in their unprocessed forms, we take the first step to healing our gut and overall health. Oftentimes, constipation and other problems take care of themselves when we eat plenty of vegetables, fruit, non-gluten whole grains, nuts, seeds, and other plant foods.
- Increase fiber. As hunter-gatherer humans, we ate 100 to 150 grams of fiber a day. Today, most modern humans are lucky if they get eight grams daily. Besides eating lots of colorful fruits and vegetables, adding two tablespoons of ground flaxseed into smoothies or salads provides an easy fiber boost. Nuts, seeds, and beans also contain high amounts of quality fiber.
- Avoid constipating foods. Dairy tops the list, while gluten is a close second. Give those up for at least three weeks and see if digestion and overall health improve.
- Eat quality fats. One clinical study put 11 men on a high-fat diet for two weeks and found that compared to a low-fat diet, a high-fat diet accelerated gastric emptying. Smart, healthy fat sources include wild fatty fish like sardines and salmon, olive oil (which lubricates the digestive system), and avocado. MCT oil, which we can add into coffee, smoothies, and salad dressings, makes a great healthy fat “laxative.”
- Focus on these three nutrients. Magnesium deficiencies can make us constipated. Focus on magnesium-rich foods like nuts, beans, and greens, and supplement with 200 mg to 1,000 mg of magnesium citrate. Vitamin C is another great poop-inducer. Try 2,000 to 4,000 mg or more a day. If supplementing with magnesium or vitamin C creates loose stools, back off a bit. Many patients are often deficient in healthy gut bugs, so probiotics can also help with constipation.
- Move to get moving. Moving our body helps move our bowels. Exercise—whether that looks like burst training, yoga, or vigorous walking—makes a great laxative.
- Drink more water. Hydration is critical, so drink at least six to eight glasses of water a day.
For most patients, these simple strategies get things moving nicely. Occasionally underlying problems like a sluggish thyroid, which affects one in five women and one in 10 men (about half of whom are not diagnosed or not properly treated), contributes to constipation. In those cases, please see a functional practitioner.
If you’ve struggled with constipation, what worked (and didn’t work) for you? Share your strategies below or on my Facebook page.
Author: Dr. Mark Hyman
Image: We Are Social/Flickr
Editor: Emily Bartran