Constipation – it’s not normal, but it is common. Constipation is one of the most common digestive complaints experienced by women. So if this is you, you’re not alone. It’s estimated that approx. 25% of people in the world suffer with constipation, but it’s not often talked about. The side effects of constipation are also less well known.
Constipation can come in many forms. If you eat a bad diet for a few days, you could find yourself a little more sluggish than usual. However, when you go back to eating and drinking normally everything resolves. The constipation that I’m talking about here is the more chronic kind. It’s been going on for years and when that happens it becomes more of health risk.
To know if this is you there are a couple of ways to assess it. The first is the Rome III diagnostic criteria. This is the criteria your GP would use. Basically it classifies someone as being constipation when 25% of their bowel movements are associated with at least two of the following symptoms: straining; hard or lumpy stools; a sense of incomplete evacuation; a sense of anorectal obstruction; the need for manual manoeuvres; or fewer than three bowel movements per week in the previous three months, with an onset of symptoms longer than six months (1).
If that sounds complicated, another way to look at constipation is with the help of the Bristol Stool Chart – this is what I use in my clinic to assess the bowel movements of my clients. If you frequently pass stools that match Type 1 or 2 in the table below, this would generally indicate a problem with constipation and this should not be ignored.
The Bristol Stool Chart
Why should we be concerned about constipation?
Our daily bowel movement, or lack of one, can tell us much about the overall state of our health. While some people may think constipation is simply annoying, bowel movements are much more than just passing food out that we’ve eaten. We also move out any toxins that have been processed by the liver, and our used up hormones are also passed out of our system by our stool. So if we’re not pooping as much as we should be, we could also be storing up on un-wanted toxins and very reactive hormones. This can all lead many unwanted side effects from constipation.
Constipation can be the root cause of other symptoms and conditions, such as fatigue, low mood, weight gain and in some cases irregular periods or bad PMS type symptoms. This is why it’s important to have a good bowel movement each day.
So what causes constipation?
There are many causes of constipation. These range from the simple to address and fix, such as lack of hydration, good diet, movement and poor lifestyle choices. To those that require some deeper investigation such as gut dysbiosis, Intestinal Methanogen Overgrowth (IMO), parasites to name a few. What I say to my clients is that if you’ve tried all the usual fixes and nothing has worked, or at least nothing has had a long term solution, then it’s time to dive a little deeper and work with a professional to get to the root cause. Being constipated is physically and emotionally draining, but it’s also not good for your overall health either.
If you want to find out more about the root cause behind your constipation and proven strategies to get you moving
If you can’t make the live event a recording will be sent out straight after the event.
What are the health implications of long-term constipation?
Many people think of constipation as a side effect of other health complaints, and when we’re talking gut issues such as bacteria overgrowths it very well can be. But, constipation itself can also be the root cause of other symptoms and conditions.
Unwanted side-effects of constipation
Increased Fatigue as a result of constipation
Constipation and fatigue go hand-in-hand, with strong evidence for a connection between the two. Sluggishness and overall lethargy are commonly reported by those suffering with long-term constipation. This can come around for various reasons. Impaired elimination of substances that were previously detoxified by the liver, and are now back in the blood stream can cause fatigue as the body struggles to eliminate them.
A dysbiosis of the microbiome, as a result of constipation, can reduce the energy producing microbes generally produced in the large intestine.
Any of our hormones, once the body has finished with them, get converted into soluble versions so that the body can get rid of them. The main one being oestrogen. This gets converted by the liver into different forms of oestrogen that are easy to eliminate. It is then transported to the large intestine to be eliminated via our bowel movements.
If we don’t have regular bowel movements, these more active forms of oestrogen get reabsorbed through the wall of the large intestine and goes back into circulation via our blood stream. This can lead to what we can Oestrogen dominance, when we have too much oestrogen in our system. This can cause more severe PMS symptoms such as breast tenderness, irritability and mood swings. As well as more long term issues such as weight gain especially around the tummy area.
Skin health conditions such as acne can be caused by increase toxicity resulting from constipation. Similar to oestrogen dominance, toxins that were supposed to eliminated via the stool get reabsorbed. They eventually work their way out via the skin, causing irritation and breakouts.
Similarly having a healthy balance of gut bacteria is very beneficial for the skin. If dysbiosis occurs that can have an adverse effect on skin health overall.
Increasing dysbiosis within the gut
Constipation can cause increased fermentation of carbohydrates within the gut. While fermentation of fiber is a normal process, the longer food is hanging around in the gut the more bacteria may be produced. This can cause a dysbiosis of bacteria, which can lead to further bloating and upset.
Constipation can also cause structural problems that may require surgical intervention. Straining during bowel movements, combined with hard stools and sitting on the toilet for extended periods can result in conditions such as haemorrhoids and rectal prolapse. Passing hard or large stools can cause anal fissures, which are small tears in the skin of the anus. These can be very painful
What can you do to resolve constipation?
I hope you now understand that constipation is not just an annoying symptom, and long-term it is something that needs to be rectified. When looking at chronic, or long-term, constipation it is important that you also investigate the root cause. Otherwise you may only get temporary relief as the cause has not been resolved.
The main starting points to start resolving constipation are
- Staying properly hydrated
- Eating lots of diversity in your vegetables, fruit and herbs to support those microbes
- Moving – even gentle movement such as yoga and walking each day will support better movement within
- Addressing stress in your life. Stress can shut-down digestion, slowing motility overall.
If you have already ticked all these boxes and constipation is still an issue for you sign up for my Solutions to Constipation Masterclass on the 18th of May 2022. During this masterclass I will be going through the possible root causes for chronic constipation, along with the detailed protocol I use with my clients to get them moving again.