Did you know that Constipation is the #1 digestive complaint in the US? In 2010, there were 48,459 hospitalizations for constipation, up from 21,000 in 1997. Wow! The medical establishment defines constipation as fewer than 3 bowel movements a week. Many in the medical and scientific community disagree and consider moving our bowels at least once a day normal. Put me in that camp. If I only went 3x a week I’d be miserable! Besides, I eat 3x a day, I want the left overs out, not packed in my 100 degree colon, rotting.
So many of my clients deal with constipation that I thought I’d devote a whole Post to what normal poop is, and how you too, can be a normal pooper. For all my clients with diarrhea or any type of Colitis, the situation is different, but the solutions are the same.
What we all need and want is to be NORMAL, right? Drugs don’t make us normal, drugs often make situations worse in the long term.
Normal poop comes from normal digestion. Normal digestion comes from Real Whole Food, good sleep, exercise, and stress management. Same things that cause Normal Weight and great health. Let’s break that down, but first, a little science about our gut.
We eat food, and it goes to the stomach, where enormous amounts of stomach acid should be present. That stomach acid, aka HCl, stimulates the protein digesting enzyme Pepsin, kills pathogens, and triggers digestive enzymes and bile. What depletes the necessary amounts of stomach acid? OTC and prescription drugs, stress hormones, sugar, grains, and chemicals; aka, the American Diet and Lifestyle.
Next, the food, now known as “chyme”, goes to the Small Intestine to become tiny molecules that can be absorbed somewhere in the 20 or so feet of the small intestinal tract.
Finally, undigested fibers, resistant starch, and sloughed off cells, and a teeny bit of water, move into the Large Intestine. The first part of the large intestine, the ascending colon, goes “upwards”, then it goes across, then down. It’s between 5 and 8 feet long. We should have hundreds of trillions of beneficial bacteria in our large intestine, and they have MAJOR jobs to do, here’s a few: make B and K vitamins that go on to nourish other body parts, make fatty acids that go on to nourish other body parts, they make serotonin and dopamine for our brain, and they compromise the largest component of our Immune System.
Those bacteria also, via their fermenting of the fibers, make poop.
Our large intestine, where the constipation ( or diarrhea ) happens, is responsible for our immunity, our mood, our heart health, our metabolism, and I could go on and on. Bottom line (pun intended), it matters that we keep it in great health.
Digestive disorders aren’t a signal to take medications, they’re a shout out from our body that we’re messing up, and need to correct the situation. Our body wants to be normal, and healthy.
How do we become normal? The above list: Real Whole Food, Good Sleep, Exercise, and Stress Management.
1) Real Whole Food (RWF)- Our digestive system literally falls apart in the face of the Standard American Diet (SAD). White flours, sugars, grains, trans / hydrogenated fats, and toxic chemicals wreck havoc from our mouth to our butt. There’s not one thing in that list that promotes or nourishes anything good in our gut, all those substances do the opposite: ruin stomach acidity, cause leaky gut, destroy beneficial bacteria and feed pathogenic bacteria.
Parents – this is happening to our kids when we let them eat crap. Skinniness is NOT indicative of health, ever. Quit telling yourself that a little McD’s or frozen pizza doesn’t matter, because it does. Every bite matters.
RWF in the context of remedying constipation: if high fiber and a ton of water ( along with laxatives ) have been your fix, ask yourself this: How’s that working for you? Because everyone I work with STILL has constipation despite YEARS of that plan.
It’s time for a new plan.
Back off the fiber supplements; sometimes they work initially, eventually though, they make stool drier and bulkier, which makes them even harder to pass. Just like GERD meds, laxatives are ONLY supposed to be used occasionally, and briefly. To quote one of the best scientists I know of on this subject ( resource at end of Post ): ..”herbal laxatives are actually contributing to constipation and colorectal damage because they irritate the intestinal mucosa, damage the nerve endings, kill intestinal bacteria, cause painful cramping, and may provoke severe diarrhea.” and “Cleansing” with insoluble fiber, such as bran, is even more dangerous, because undigested fiber keeps piling up on top of already impacted, hardened stools. This may lead to obstruction, fecal impaction, and other complications, such as diverticular disease, megacolon, prolapsed hemorrhoids, or colon perforation — which is a mostly lethal condition.”
What does work? Fat’s essential, here’s why. Fat is the ONLY nutrient we eat that stimulates the expression of BILE into the small intestine. Bile not only breaks down fatty acids ( so we can use them – and YES, we need those fatty acids to make ourselves! ), but bile stimulates the intestines to contract and move. Low fat/no fat diets, or diets that have crappy fat like trans and hydrogenated? They screw up the process God intended. It’s that simple.
Cholesterol’s also vitally important. The cells that line our whole digestive tract, including the large intestine, have incredibly fast turn over times. Cholesterol is a major component of EVERY SINGLE CELL IN OUR BODY. It’s also an anti-oxidant that our body uses to repair damage. Eat a SAD and there’s a lot of damage. Good cholesterol from healthy fats is broken down and used to make our digestion normal, as in, a good poop every day.
Finally, you know my RWF list: a TON of vegetables, clean meats, healthy fats, some fruits, some nuts and seeds ( for constipation and diarrhea: a tablespoon of flax seed, chia seed, and hemp are ideal), and some real, whole fat dairy – if you digest it well. These foods contain the nutrients that our body uses to be NORMAL. A normal, healthy body is a body that’s a normal, healthy weight.
2) Good sleep. Our body is a beehive of activity when we sleep, that’s when Repair and House Cleaning happen best. It matters that we get to sleep BEFORE midnight; the hours before midnight, and also between 12 and 3 are crucial. Our body runs on a Circadian Rhythm whether we honor it or not. If we don’t give our body the sleep it needs, we’ll suffer the consequences.
In addition to repair and upkeep, when we’re lying prone our gut has the best chance at moving our waste UP the first part of the large intestine. That’s why so many people go to the bathroom in the morning.
3) Exercise. No, exercise doesn’t make up poop. Exercise makes us NORMAL. Our body needs and wants the physical stress that exercise causes. Exercise doesn’t make us thin either, like I always say in my classes, ” it’s just a few hundred calories, we’d burn the same amount walking, cleaning the house, or working in the garden.” Our body was created for movement, and not moving is the “new smoking”. Several recent studies have conclusively linked inactivity and sitting too much with increases in colon, endometrial, and lung cancer.
4) Stress Management. Excess flight-fight hormones aren’t good for anything, ever. While a little jolt of cortisol here and there can cause diarrhea in some, chronic excess cortisol messes everything up. Here’s why: if our brain perceives stress-danger, then “living” becomes the priority. Not pooping, not digesting, not making sex hormones, not all the normal things we’re supposed to be doing. When excess cortisol or adrenaline or any of the other stress hormones are in the blood, the body is in a survival mode, which is very different from a everyday normal mode.
One more BIG CAUSE of constipation:
5) Drugs. Both OTC and prescription meds come with a long list of side effects, and “causes constipation” is a common one. Pain killers, mood drugs, ANTIBIOTICS, cold medications, cholesterol drugs, etc etc, they’re a pill for a symptom that just causes MORE symptoms… constipation ( and diarrhea ) are a symptom that we’re doing something wrong.
If constipation or any gut issue is your problem, get in touch with me. You’re fixable, no matter how long you’ve been dealing with it. Here’s some great resources so you can learn more: