Roughly 10 to 20 percent of the population suffer from constipation. And while constipation might be common, it’s definitely not normal and it can have severe consequences.
Having healthy digestion and eliminating waste every day (ideally twice – yes, twice – a day) is critical to your overall health. Remember, your liver flushes out toxins and dumps them into your intestines. If your digestive system isn’t working optimally, then all those toxins and waste gets reabsorbed into your body. So, it makes sense that constipation has been linked to multiple diseases, including cancer and even Parkinson’s disease, plus it actually makes you feel like crap!
Then there are the practical problems. Constipation is often uncomfortable and can lead to symptoms including bloating, irritability, lack of appetite and vomiting.
We now know so much about how to fix your gut, how to tend your inner garden (the flora in your gut), and how to reset your system, yet many of us maintain poor ways of eating and living. Like most problems, constipation is usually fixable without pharmaceutical drugs or other invasive procedures.
The first most important thing to get things moving consistently is addressing your diet, which causes most constipation. While chronic stress and antibiotic overuse can mess up your gut, a diet that is high in processed foods and sugars does great harm and promotes constipation.
Incorporating the following simple hacks will help most people get things moving:
- Eat whole, real foods in their unprocessed forms. This is the first and easiest and healthiest first step to healing. For some people, constipation can be just a temporary side-effect of the transition from eating processed food, sugar and refined carbohydrates to eating real, whole foods. In the first few weeks of any new eating plan, especially if that diet is a radical change from how you were eating before, it’s normal for your body to need some time to adjust. Give it a few weeks and always fill half your place with a variety of vegetables.
- You need lots of fibre. Back in the day, as hunter-gatherer, we humans ate 100 to 150 grams of fibre a day. Today most modern humans are lucky if they get 8 grams daily. Fibre comes from plant foods. Besides eating lots of colourful fruits and vegetables, I like “super fibres” like ground flax seed. Try adding 2 tablespoons a day to your smoothies or salads for an easy fibre boost. Nuts, seeds and some beans also contain high amounts of quality fibre; however, remember that beans are high in lectins and can cause insulin spikes – so go easy if you are prone to blood sugar imbalances. You’ll also want to avoid foods that cause constipation. According to Dr Mark Hyman, dairy tops this list, and gluten is a close second. I challenge you to give those up for at least four weeks and see how your digestion and overall health improve.
- And here’s a surprising fact: Low-fat diets can contribute greatly to constipation, despite still being touted as healthy. A clinical study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition put 11 men on a high-fat diet for two weeks and found that, when compared to a low-fat diet, a high-fat diet accelerated gastric emptying.
- Incorporate lots of smart healthy fat sources include wild fatty fish like sardines and salmon, olive oil (which lubricates the digestive system) and avocados.
- One of the best “laxatives” is MCT oil. You can put it in your coffee (which, by the way, also helps you go) or use it in your smoothies and salad dressings or alternatively, simply have a tablespoon of MCT oil every morning.
- Another BIG constipation culprit is magnesium deficiency. We don’t eat enough of this underrated mineral (magnesium-rich foods include nuts, beans and greens), plus things like chronic stress, too much caffeine and sugar and toxic overload often deplete magnesium levels. Even if you eat plenty of magnesium-rich foods, you probably need to supplement to get optimal levels. Dr Mark Hyman prescribes 200 mg to 1,000 mg of magnesium citrate daily. Gradually increase the dose until you go once or twice a day. If you take too much, you will get loose stools. If that happens, back off a bit.
- Vitamin C is another great poop inducer. You can take 2,000 to 4,000 mg or more a day, along with magnesium supplementation. The same principle applies here: If you begin to get loose stools, just back off a bit.
- Many patients are often deficient in healthy gut bugs, which is why I also recommend adding probiotics.
- Exercise is a great laxative. So move your body everyday to help move those bowels.
- And lastly – don’t forget water: Hydration is critical, so drink at least 6 to 8 glasses of water each day.
Simply put, to optimize bowel function:
- Eat a whole foods, high-fiber diet similar to the Art of Undieting eating plan.
- Add 2 tablespoons of ground flax seeds to your daily diet.
- Eat more good fats and try MCT oil.
- Supplement with magnesium, vitamin C and probiotics.
- Drink 6 to 8 glasses of water a day
- Exercise daily
If you’re still struggling after using the above tips, then consider having your thyroid looked at. An often-overlooked culprit is a sluggish thyroid, which affects 1 in 5 women and 1 in 10 men (about half of whom are not diagnosed or not treated properly). And there could be other underlying problems that a Functional Medicine practitioner could help address.
Need help implementing these changes? I invite you to join the next Art of Undieting 8-week Challenge or simply watch the MasterClass on the 10 secrets to the Art of Undieting to learn more.