When it comes to gut health, your bowel movement patterns can tell you a lot about your overall well being. Regular bowel movements are your body’s way of removing toxins and waste. Struggling to move your bowels regularly can have severe negative impacts on your daily life.
If your digestive system isn’t working properly, waste and toxins are left to poison your system and clog you up. These leftovers are then absorbed back into your blood, sapping your energy, making you cranky, and hindering your body’s ability to function optimally. Let’s face it – constipation is flat-out horrible.
If constipation becomes a persistent problem in your life, it can make you uncomfortable and less mobile. On the extreme end, chronic constipation can ruin your career, affect your personal life, or send you into a spiral of depression or frustration. Roughly 20% of Americans suffer from chronic constipation. If you’re one of the millions suffering from this health issue, keep reading for a step-by-step guide to find relief.
If you are experiencing constipation on a regular basis, our team can help.
Do You Suffer from Constipation?
Unsure if you suffer from constipation? If you have fewer than one bowel movement per day, stools that are difficult to pass, or pain when trying to pass, there’s a good chance you struggle with constipation.
Constipation is a common problem. Bowel movement patterns vary from person to person and can be affected by irregular sleep patterns or airplane travel. But overall, you should have at least one fully formed bowel movement every day that is easy to pass.
When Is Constipation Considered “Chronic”?
Generally, constipation is considered chronic when you go three months experiencing symptoms of constipation. For some, this means three or more months of having bowel movements fewer than one per day.. For others, it may mean three or more months of difficulty passing stools or experiencing a sense of incomplete emptying after a bowel movement.
Root Causes of Chronic Constipation
Constipation can be caused by many things, from diet to dehydration. If you are constipated all the time, the following causes may be the source of your discomfort.
#1 Nutrient Imbalances
Imbalances of vitamin C, vitamin D, B-12, folate, and magnesium have been associated with chronic constipation.
Solution: Daily supplements might help relieve constipation if you have a nutrient deficiency. However, they can also cause further constipation or lead to other side effects. Your functional medicine doctor can run lab tests to determine if you have an imbalance and help you figure out the proper daily supplement regimen.
#2 Lifestyle and Dietary Factors
Two of the primary causes of chronic constipation are diet and lifestyle. Common factors that could be making you constipated include:
- Eating too much meat or dairy products
- Eating a diet high in processed foods
- Not eating enough fiber
- Consuming too much alcohol or caffeine
- Not getting enough exercise
- Ignoring the urge to go
Solution: Make a few changes to your lifestyle and see if they improve your constipation. These can include eating more high-fiber foods, such as fruits and vegetables, taking a fiber supplement, and getting at least 30 minutes of exercise each day. Exercise is a great natural laxative for your body.
#3 Medical Conditions
Your gut problems could be the result of something else going on in your body. Some medical conditions that can lead to constipation are:
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO)
Solution: Check in with your doctor to see if any existing or underlying conditions could be at the root of your constipation. A functional medicine doctor can run diagnostic tests to help determine if there’s something more serious going on.
Constipation can also be caused by the medications you use to treat a medical condition. Opiate painkillers, antidepressants, and diuretics are just a handful of medications that can cause long-term constipation.
Solution: If you notice difficulty with bowel movements after starting a new medication, talk to your doctor. They may decide to adjust your medication or switch your prescription.
#5 Mental Health
Anxiety, depression, and chronic stress are all linked to ongoing constipation. Stress and anxiety send your body in “fight or flight” mode, igniting your nervous system and putting your digestive system on hold. Depression, on the other hand, often leads to decreased physical activity.
Solution: It’s important you have a regular mental health routine, such as daily meditation, to help you create a more relaxed and positive mindset. Seek professional help if you feel it’s the right thing for you.
#6 Food Sensitivities
Food sensitivities can cause an immune reaction in your gut that slows your digestion. The most common food sensitivities associated with constipation are dairy and gluten.
Solution: Try eliminating dairy and gluten from your diet one at a time to see if your constipation improves. A functional medicine doctor can also run tests to determine if you have a food sensitivity contributing to your constipation.
Your digestive system requires plenty of water to function correctly. You may not even realize you’re frequently dehydrated, but if this is the case, it’s likely compromising your bowel habits.
Solution: This is the easiest cause of constipation to avoid. To calculate how many ounces of water you need each day, take your weight in pounds and divide it in half. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, you should drink 75 ounces of water every day.
Constipation is common during and right after pregnancy. This is because your body produces more progesterone when you’re pregnant, which can make it difficult for intestinal muscles to contract.
Solution: Taking prebiotics and probiotics can alter your gut chemistry and alleviate constipation. Getting plenty of Omega-3s can also help regulate your hormones and optimize bowel function.
#9 Hormonal Imbalances
Constipation can be caused by hormonal imbalances such as a serotonin imbalance or a progesterone imbalance, as we discussed above. Hormonal imbalances can reduce gut motility and decrease intestinal secretions that are important for healthy bowel movements.
Solution: In addition to everything we’ve mentioned above, getting outside and exposing yourself to natural sunlight can boost hormones necessary to maintain a healthy gut. Another option is to try herbal bitters, which have been used historically to balance digestion.
What To Do Next
There are many possible causes for chronic constipation, and it requires a calculated approach to find the right solution for you. For some, the reason for struggling with long-term constipation is straightforward. These individuals can regulate their bowel movements by eating a whole foods diet rich in fiber and remaining sufficiently hydrated. For others, something more serious could be at the root. While chronic constipation doesn’t necessarily mean you have an underlying condition, it’s worthwhile visiting your doctor for additional tests.
How Functional Medicine Can Help Constipation
If you suffer from chronic constipation, functional medicine can help to get your digestive issues under control. Functional medicine practitioners understand that your body is connected. Rather than just treating the symptoms of constipation, a functional medicine doctor will conduct a thorough investigation of your entire body and overall health to get to the root cause.
You don’t have to accept constipation as a regular part of your life. Schedule a discovery call today to find a solution for you.
Tri-Cities Functional Medicine is located in Johnson City, Tennessee, and serves patients throughout East Tennessee and into Virginia and North Carolina. These areas include but are not limited to: Washington County, TN, Sullivan County, TN, Carter County, TN, Greene County, TN, Knox County, TN, Bristol, TN, Holston Valley, TN, Tri-Cities, TN, Walnut Hill, TN, Elizabethton, TN, Greeneville, TN, Morristown, TN, Blountville, TN, Bluff City, TN, Kingsport, TN, Jonesborough, TN, Colonial Heights, TN, Limestone, TN, Knoxville, TN, Bristol, VA, and Abingdon, VA.