I know if a patient brings up constipation it’s probably something we need to investigate, with good reason. And I also know, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), one out of eight people in America suffer with constipation. High risk people tend to be women, especially those who are pregnant or who’ve just had a baby, and those who are simply getting older. (And aren’t we all getting older?)
So if you think things are not coming out the way they should (pun intended), you’re not alone. But surprisingly, there are no hard and fast rules for normal frequency, despite the common assumption that once a day is optimum. Normal here is a pretty-wide range. If you “go” as little as three times a week, or as often as twice a day, you could be just fine.
Keys are strain and pain
As I mentioned with diarrhea, constipation is another situation where I put on my detective’s hat. What I’m looking to learn is more than just a patient’s frequency. I need to know about their “experience”. As gross as this is, I always ask patients to describe their stools. I’m looking for keywords like “hard,” “dry,” “small,” “difficult,” and “painful.” If things are going the way they should, everything should pass easily.
Constipation is nothing to take lightly. If it’s chronic or long lasting it can lead to hemorrhoids, or fissures, or it can get to the point where your stools are stuck and nothing is moving. All of this means pain in varying degrees. And there can be more unpleasantness, but you get the idea.
Common culprit = prescription medications
One common culprit I find when there’s a change in bowel movements is prescription medications. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH) and the NIDDK, the most common medications blamed for constipation are:
- Antacids that contain aluminum and calcium.
- Anticonvulsants used to prevent seizures.
- Anticholinergics and antispasmodics used to treat and reduce muscle spasms in the intestines.
- Medicine to treat high blood pressure or heart disease that contains calcium channel blockers.
- Diuretics to reduce fluid build-up.
- Iron supplements.
- Medicines for Parkinson’s disease.
- Narcotics prescribed for severe pain.
- Some medicines to treat depression.
A lot of medications prescribed by physicians today are unnecessary. I always recommend treating the cause of the problem, not just the symptoms. Seek out a naturopathic physician, that will look at the causes rather than just prescribing “bandaid” treatments.
But, in the meantime, or if you cannot stop your medication, here are other things you can do.
Prevention and natural treatment = the best medicine. So I always recommend:
Bone broth. (You knew that was coming.) The healthy fats smooth things along and the collagen and gelatin in bone broth can start to heal an inflamed gut keeping your digestive system vigorous.
Increase fluid intake. The simplest way to determine your body’s fluid intake is to take your body weight, divide it in half, and that number if what you should be drinking in fluid ounces of day. So if you weigh 150 pounds, your recommended fluid intake is about 75 ounces. If you drink a lot of coffee or tea you may want to consider drinking a little more water. The upper limit on water is 100 to 128 ounces a day, maximum.
Water will not only help keep things moving, it will increase your metabolism, hydrate you so your skin looks younger, and has all kinds of other great benefits. This is something you may have to work up to, but believe me the benefits are well worth it.
Increase fiber intake. As we get older, our digestive systems need more help than they used to. It’s old fashioned, but fruits and vegetables which are high in fiber, are a wonderful preventative. And prunes (dried plums) are also a great source. You can buy prunes individually wrapped in take-along packs you can stick in your pocket or purse, just to make sure your busy day goes smoothly, if you know what I mean. Or, to make it even easier you can add this to your morning shake!
Take prebiotics and probiotics. You need the good bacteria in your inner ecosystem to thrive in your gut to keep things moving. I know I recommended prebiotics and probiotics for diarrhea, but those work here, too. You need a healthy balance in your gut and prebiotics and probiotics will do the trick.
Increase activity. Constipation is a symptom of inactivity. And we are chronic “sitters.” You may already have a phone or a watch with apps built in or easily available to monitor your activity and remind you when to get up and move around or even just stand. And many people are switching to standing desks or making a habit of standing while they are on the phone. If you can’t move around for some reason, you can also massage your own abdominal area with your hands and fingers to help get things moving.
Sometimes we need a little help. If you want to speed up the process, try Smooth Move® tea, widely available at most grocery stores and pharmacies. It’s an organic, gentle, natural laxative that will also give you a fluid boost. But, like most things, use good judgement and care when introducing something new into your diet.
Try not to ignore the urge to go. Some jobs make it difficult to get to the bathroom when you need to. The problem is, when you deny the urge long enough, it can go away. This habit is one that can lead to constipation.
Red flags, literally
Of course, if you see blood when you go, it’s time to get yourself to a doctor pronto. I’m not kidding when I say this is a red flag (excuse the pun). This might be something simple to clear up, but early detection is the key to prevention of big-ticket problems.
Eliminate problems with elimination
Now that you know what is not normal in the bathroom, don’t be afraid to team up with your doctor to eliminate problems with elimination!
Keep Thinking Big and Living BOLD!