Constipation can have many causes and it doesn’t always present the same way in different people. Broadly speaking, constipation describes the condition of passing fewer than four bowel movements per week. A person with constipation might also strain when having bowel movements, or, they may frequently go but the stool is small, hard and/or dry.
In any case, constipation means that something has gone wrong in your digestive system – your large intestine, in particular. The digestive system is impacted by almost everything the body does. Diet plays the biggest role, but a person’s lifestyle, habits, and other medical conditions are just as influential on gut health.
It’s a misconception that constipation means a lack of bowel movements. It’s more complex than that. If you experience constipation, you’ll pass three or fewer bowel movements per week, or, you’ll pass more frequent stools that are small, dry, and hard. It is often an unpleasant, forceful, or painful experience. Those strenuous bowel movements will typically require much longer to pass.
Constipation comes with gastric discomfort. It can cause cramping, or sudden sharp pains in the abdomen. It also tends to cause fatigue, as it impedes your body’s ability to properly digest and process nutrients, and the blockage can lead to chronic dehydration. You might even experience diarrhea during constipation, as your system attempts to purge the blockage.
In general, the standard western lifestyle is especially prone to causing constipation and other digestive ailments. Why? For starters, it doesn’t tend to include prebiotic or fermented foods, like pickled vegetables or spices which are great for the gut. The common western diet repeats foods that are likely to cause constipation when eaten in excess since they are extremely acidic and dehydrating. These acidic items include animal products like dairy, poultry, eggs, and red meat, along with bread, pasta, and fatty sugary items. Other dehydrating, acidic items are alcohol and caffeine. The standard American diet is also rich in processed foods which lack bioavailable nutrients and natural fiber. Any food made with synthetic material are not designed for the gut to easily digest. They are also high in salt and hence, very dehydrating.
An acidic diet (aka, standard Western diet) will cause the body to pull calcium off of the bones in order to neutralize the blood pH and allow cells to function. The kidneys will try to get rid of this extra calcium but over time will tire out. This will eventually lead to hypercalcemia (excess calcium in the blood stream) and symptoms like constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, and eventually diverticulitis, colonic polyps, and cancer.
Constipation can be worsened by a sedentary lifestyle. Too much time spent inactive, like sitting at a desk or driving for long periods of time, prevents your body from properly digesting food. The inactivity slows your metabolism and keeps you from flexing various muscles.
To prevent or help treat constipation, be sure you’re getting regular exercise. A run, a yoga class, or anything that breaks a sweat will help to boost your metabolic rate, improve digestion, and keep your system moving. Ideally, you should plan to build up a sweat three or four times a week, or fifteen minutes a day. If you are prone to injury or have been inactive for a long period of time, consult a doctor before beginning any intense exercise training routines.
Small lifestyle changes can have a profound impact on your health. Alternating between sitting and standing, for instance, or taking five minutes every hour to get up from your desk and walk around the office, really will make a difference.
Constipation can result from a great many underlying health conditions. It can also be an early sign of diabetes, a thyroid disorder, and degenerative disorders like Parkinson’s or muscular dystrophy.
Constipation is a frequent side effect from a number of medications and supplements. Minerals like iron and calcium can cause it, in addition to antidepressants, opiates, and antipsychotics. The same is true of antacids and diuretics, predictably, since these intentionally interfere with the digestive processes.
Advanced Health views the body as one comprehensive whole, rather than a series of isolated systems and symptoms. A symptom like constipation isn’t thought of as a purely digestive ailment, but rather a response to a more general imbalance.
Constipation might be a symptom of a work-life imbalance, or even of depression. Depression, in particular, often causes fatigue and lethargy. People with depression sometimes eat less healthy foods, may not have a great thirst reflex to know to drink enough water. Constipation, then, can implicate a psychological condition, as well as a physical one.
If you’re suffering from constipation, contact Dr. Payal Bhandari MD at Advanced Health. She is an integrative functional medicine physician who specializes in complex digestive issues. She defines the root cause of the problem and provides patients with a personalized treatment plan. Dr. Bhandari’s team of healthcare practitioners are also ready to treat assist you, either by nutrition counseling, relaxation, and psychological counseling, or massage and acupuncture.
The comprehensive care practice of Dr. Payal Bhandari MD and her Advanced Health team is able to treat your condition holistically, efficiently, and professionally. Contact us today to book a consultation.