If you’ve ever been constipated, you’ll know how uncomfortable (and embarrassing) it can be.
Like most people, you’ve probably googled how to treat your symptoms. But the most important part of treating constipation is understanding the cause.
Most often, being unable to “do number twos” is related to your diet and lifestyle. First, let’s look at some of the most common causes of constipation.
Lack of fibre
Fibre plays a big part in bowel regularity. Also known as ‘roughage’, fibre is a type of plant matter that can’t be broken down by your body.
There are two types of fibre: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fibre acts like a sponge, absorbing fluid and making your stools softer. This allows your body to move waste out of your digestive tract more easily. Insoluble fibre adds bulk to your stool, which stimulates peristalsis (the wave-like movements of your intestines).
Lack of fluids
Dehydration is a major factor in constipation. Your large intestine requires a lot of water to move waste along, and if you aren’t drinking enough, it will soak that water up from food waste instead. The less water in your gut, the drier your stools will be – and the harder to move.
Lack of exercise
Insufficient physical activity and a sedentary lifestyle can slow down bowel movements. Exercise promotes the flow of blood to the intestines, which stimulates smooth muscle contraction. This is why sitting down all day in an office or long periods of travel can also affect your regularity.
So, what if you’re eating a healthy diet with plenty of fibre, drinking enough water, and exercising daily – but still getting constipated?
It could be that you’re suffering from one of the lesser-known causes of constipation: the ones that are more difficult to diagnose.
The Other Causes of Constipation
An underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) means that your body isn’t producing enough thyroid hormone. This can slow down many of your body’s systems, including digestive function and elimination pathways. If your colon function is too slow or weak, it won’t be able to eliminate stools properly.
Ingesting, inhaling, or touching lead can lead to lead toxicity, an environmental cause of constipation. This is more common in children who may be exposed to lead through paints or by ingesting contaminated food or water. Fortunately, the use of lead-free gasoline has dramatically reduced lead poisoning in recent years, but other environmental sources include fishing weights, vinyl miniblinds, curtain weights, and electric cables.
As well as constipation, symptoms of lead toxicity include severe abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhoea.
Small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)
SIBO occurs when certain types of ‘bad’ bacteria grow out of control in the small intestine. They ferment and produce hydrogen, causing bloating and gas. This gas, in turn, can slow down stool transit time, leading to constipation. Research has also shown that the higher the methane gas elevation, the more severe constipation becomes.
Worse still, chronic constipation allows more bacteria to grow in the small intestine, which then causes more methane and more constipation.
Gluten or dairy intolerance
Gluten and dairy products are key contributors to bowel issues. Coeliac disease and gluten intolerance are often associated with diarrhoea, but both can also cause constipation. One study showed that 13% of people with coeliac disease had constipation while 15% had both constipation and diarrhoea. Another 27% had ‘standard’ diarrhoea.
Wheat allergy, celiac disease, and gluten sensitivity are three separate conditions that can all be triggered by eating gliadin, the protein in wheat. Gluten causes an inflammatory reaction in the small intestine which can damage the gut lining, impairing your body’s ability to absorb nutrients. Along with constipation, these conditions can also cause abdominal pain, bloating, nausea, and diarrhoea.
Dairy intolerance is usually caused by an inability to digest lactose, the sugar in milk. When lactose is fermented by bacteria in your intestines, it can produce methane gas. This methane gas slows down the time it takes food to travel through the gut, leading to constipation.
Other foods that are implicated in constipation include processed grains, red meat, fried foods, and fruits such as persimmons or plums.
How to Treat Constipation Naturally
Most short-term incidents of constipation can be traced back to a certain food or a change to your routine, such as travel. However, chronic constipation suggests that something else may be to blame.
Because chronic constipation can have so many different causes, there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to treatment. That’s why a comprehensive consultation with a naturopath like me is so important. I’ll investigate your entire health history, along with your current diet and lifestyle. Where necessary, I’ll recommend that you undergo testing to rule out possible health conditions that may be contributing to your constipation.
Once we’ve identified a cause (and there could be more than one!), I’ll put together a holistic treatment plan to manage your symptoms and get you ‘regular’ again! Book in for a 20 minute chat today!