Most Constipation Advice is Dumb
You haven't used the bathroom in days. When you have been able to go, it's felt incomplete. Your abdomen feels distended and uncomfortable.
Wanting to solve your problem, you head to the internet. Your Google search is disappointing. Sometimes the advice is too academic: "Constipation is a transient state whereby defecation is incomplete, unsatisfactory or impossible and is characterized by blah, blah, blah..."
The natural health expert, who had constipation once when he or she was 18, only has one short-sighted solution: "Fiber, fiber, fiber! We don't get enough fiber. Our ancestors got way more fiber. Eat more fiber!"
Then, of course, there's the outlandish and downright stupid: "Take a black tourmaline stone and rub it in a counterclockwise direction over your first chakra. You're constipated because the energy in this chakra is blocked..."
I'm kidding, but only a little.
Let me give you a quick framework in which to triage your constipation issue. This has worked phenomenally well in my clinical practice. I call it the 6-F Model Of Constipation: flow, fluid, fiber, fat, flora, and fire.
Movement is critical. We're talking about moving your body here. It's one of the best ways to balance the parasympathetic and sympathetic arms of the nervous system.
Remember, sympathetic is "fight or flight" and parasympathetic is "rest and digest." Too much sympathetic and the muscular walls of your intestine will be locked up like a vice grip. When that happens, the slow and steady rhythmic pushing of contents through the intestines and colon, called peristalsis, is stopped or slowed.
Slow rhythmic movements like walking are best. They lower stress hormones, aid movement of the colon through gravity and mechanical jostling of the viscera (fancy word for intestines and other organs), and balance the sympathetic and parasympathetic activity.
Make sure you move on a regular basis, I suggest between 5 and 10 thousand steps daily.
Just like water is needed to flush your toilet and rinse debris out of your sink, it's required for the movement of feces through the colon and gut. You can't be dehydrated and expect to go to the bathroom without difficulty.
Make sure you're getting plenty of fluid, hopefully from a good quality mineral water. The common recommendation of at least eight 8-ounce servings of pure water is a good rule of thumb.
Yes, fiber provides bulk and also fuel for the bacteria living in your gut. These bacteria release compounds that can impede mucus secretion by the colon (the bad bacteria) or increase it (the good bacteria).
Fiber, though, also needs water. This is why water comes first in the 6F model. Fiber without water will bind you up further. That would be useful for diarrhea or loose stools but not for constipation. If you use fiber for constipation, it must come along with plenty of water.
When you eat fat the body will release bile, which is an emulsifier. Both the "slippery" nature of fat and the bile acids help move contents along and through the GI tract. Try one avocado per day to start. This gives plenty of fat and fiber, and it's tasty and healthy too.
The bacteria in your digestive tract are called many things, like gut bugs, microbiome, and flora. They do all kinds of wonderful things for you like making vitamins and minerals, balancing your immune system, regulating digestive secretions, and so much more. You want to have a wide diversity of bacteria in your gut. If you've been on many antibiotics in the past and/or live the standard American lifestyle of pizza, burgers, booze and soda, then I can pretty much guarantee your gut bugs suck.
Take a good quality probiotic daily. Choose one with a large diversity of bacteria in adequate numbers.
When you eat, there's a coordinated action of digestive function from the mouth all the way to the anus. The saliva you swallow from chewing has a role in producing digestive secretions of the stomach, like hydrochloric acid and pepsin. These produce the right PH so when the stomach contents make it to the duodenum (upper small intestines), other enzymes are signaled to be released from the pancreas (proteases, lipases, amylases, etc).
By the way, those who get good effects from drinking coffee are benefiting from the bitters in the coffee, which stimulate peristalsis. This is another type of "fire" effect.
This is a very coordinated processes and anything that goes wrong presents problems further downstream, mucking up your bacterial colonies, digestive secretions, immune balance, and peristalsis.
Take a good quality digestive enzyme with the first bite of each meal, preferably one that has HCL (hydrochloric acid) in it.
Attending to these issues solve constipation in upwards of 80% of individuals. If these approaches don't work for you, there are certainly other natural approaches that can be used. Some of my favorites include magnesium and vitamin C in escalating doses until the bowels move.
Remember, laxatives could make you reliant on them. Use those "high force" measures few and far between.
- Movement leads to bowel movement. Walk more.
- Drink at least eight 8-ounce servings of pure water daily.
- Yes, eat more fiber, but only with lots of water or you'll just get backed up.
- Eat fat. An avocado a day keeps the laxatives away.
- Take a good probiotic daily.
- Things like coffee and a digestive enzyme containing HCL will help.
- If needed, take magnesium and vitamin C, but don't get reliant on traditional laxatives.