Almost everybody experiences constipation at some point in
their lives - bowel movements that become less frequent and
more difficult to pass.
It is a very common disorder of the digestive tract which
can affect anybody, but it is most common amongst women
(particularly during pregnancy), the elderly and young
Although common, it is important not to ignore constipation.
Even if there is no serious underlying cause (which is most
often the case), digestive regularity is an essential
component of good health - not least because it is the way
in which toxins and waste-matter are eliminated from the
body, which would otherwise be harmful if allowed to
It is therefore important to understand what is upsetting
your natural rhythm and address that promptly, particularly
in cases of long-term or 'chronic' constipation.
Am I constipated?
As constipation is usually a symptom of one of any number
of other underlying issues or factors, the presentation can
vary from person to person - particularly given that bowel
movement patterns can themselves range quite significantly
However, it is worth noting that a healthy colon will rid
the body of waste as often as 2 - 3 times per day, depending
on how much has been eaten. So, if you are experiencing a
bowel motion less than 3 times per week, it is likely that
you are constipated. Of course, you will know your own body
and what is 'normal' for you. There is no magic number, but
regularity is key.
Unsurprisingly, constipation is not a topic that people are
keen to discuss openly, but understanding the potential
causes of this unpleasant, frustrating, unhealthy and often
uncomfortable condition can help to answer the question
"why do I have constipation". If you have any concerns, you
should always consult your doctor.
What happens when I am constipated?
The process of digestion is complex, involving a number of
different organs, organisms and chemicals in the body,
including digestive enzymes, friendly bacteria, stomach acid
The breakdown of food into its constituent parts (so that
we can absorb its nutrients) and the eventual elimination
of the remaining fluid, waste and toxins through a healthy
colon and rectum, can take anywhere between 18 and 24 hours.
The form of this waste-matter or 'stool' (i.e. whether it's
hard or soft), is determined not only by diet, but also by
the pace at which stool moves through the colon - a process
known as peristalsis.
If the colon absorbs too much water from the waste or the
muscle contractions are too slow (a sluggish bowel), stool
can get hard and dry. And if it's too difficult to expel,
constipation can result.
Whatever the reason for the back-up, if waste remains in the
colon for longer than is desirable, it will continue to
putrefy and high levels of toxins can be re-absorbed into
the bloodstream (referred to as self-poisoning). Where poor
diet is a factor in the constipation, there is also likely
to be partially digested food, resulting in fermentation
and increased levels of harmful bacteria and parasites in
the gut too.
So, with this in mind, it is now clear why it is important
to address constipation promptly. It is actually one of the
chief causes of many diseases, as toxins that are carried
in the bloodstream to other parts of the body can not only
have a detrimental effect on the immune system, but can
also result in weakening of the internal organs and clogging
of the entire lymphatic system.
Some common causes of constipation
As already mentioned, constipation is a common symptom of a
wide range of other internal conditions and external
factors. However, some of the more common causes include:
- underlying digestive system disorders (such as Irritable
Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Candida albicans, 'leaky gut'
syndrome, ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease etc)
- an imbalance between the good and bad bacteria in the gut
- food intolerance or allergy
- change in routine (such as travel)
- medication use (particularly antibiotics, which destroy
both good and bad bacteria in the gut)
- lack of exercise
- stress (which can inhibit the secretion of digestive
- old age (when digestive enzyme reserves can become depleted)
- and pregnancy.
However, poor diet is by far the most common cause - this
is logical when you consider that the digestive tract is
where your body receives food, absorbs nutrients and
eliminates waste. Most vulnerable are those with diets high
in processed foods, saturated fats, sugar, dairy, alcohol
and caffeine, but low in natural whole foods (like fruit
and vegetables, which are rich in dietary fibre).
In relatively rare cases, constipation can be a symptom of
a serious underlying illness. It is therefore important to
consult your doctor if you have any concerns or if symptoms
How to help avoid constipation
Every day you make choices about what to eat, what to drink,
how active to be and how to live your life. Prevention is
always better than cure, and you can help to ensure healthy
bowel function and reduce the toxic load on your body by
making these choices smart ones.
Most people suffering with constipation find that, by simply
altering their lifestyle, they can significantly improve
their regularity or eliminate the problem completely.
Carefully shaping your diet is one of the easiest ways to
influence your digestive process:
- Try to eat food as close to its natural state as possible,
rather than foods that have been heavily refined and
- Organic and seasonal fruit and vegetables are preferable,
not least because they are naturally rich in quality
dietary fibre, as well as a broad spectrum of other
digestion-friendly, cleansing and protective nutrients,
including enzymes and amino acids.
- Try to include more probiotic foods in your diet, to
support your levels of friendly bacteria. For instance,
fermented foods like kefir, miso, tempeh and sauerkraut.
- You may also choose to support your diet and digestive
health with high-quality supplements, such as plant
digestive enzymes, multi-strain probiotics and dietary fibre.
If you regularly suffer with constipation, up your intake
of fibre gradually in order to promote softer, bulkier
stools. Good sources of soluble fibre (which dissolves in
water to form a thick gummy solution that is ideal for
binding with toxins in the gut) include: seaweed, oats,
rice, fruit pectin, psyllium and legumes. Good sources of
insoluble fibre (which adds to the weight, bulk and softness
of stools) include whole grains, fruit and vegetables.
Good hydration is an essential part of maintaining a healthy
colon and digestive regularity. Most notably, it will help to
ensure that the stool is soft and can pass more easily. When
upping your fibre intake, be sure to also up your water
intake proportionally (otherwise you could just end up
making constipation worse). 6 - 8 glasses of filtered water
per day should be sufficient.
Also try to stay active. Exercise is an easy way to
stimulate peristalsis and get things moving in your gut!
And finally, why not give your system a 'spring clean'
every now and again? Almost all natural health therapies
used down the ages recognise the value of cleansing the
system on a regular basis, starting with the colon -
particularly where there is a back-up in the system.
Colon cleansing and enemas are great ways to rid the
body of any accumulated waste and toxins, which can
contribute to constipation and ill-health. Consider
trying colon cleansing supplements (such as Salvelaxa
and Colon Pro), home enemas and colonic irrigation.