A healthy gut (digestive system) is critically important for optimal functioning – healthy guts = healthy people. The digestive system plays a central role in our immune system, affects our metabolism, makes vitamins, and communicates with every other cell in our bodies. The frequency of bowel movements is a good health indicator. People with good diets generally have one to three bowel movements each day. If you are challenged with constipation, here are some actions you can take to promote regularity.
- Double your fiber intake. Goal is at least 25-35 grams fiber daily from recommended number of servings of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes. Each half-cup of cut-up vegetables or fruit provides about 2 grams of fiber, each half-cup of cooked whole grain or slice of whole-grain (whole grain as first ingredient on label) bread provides about 3 grams of fiber, and a half-cup of cooked legumes (beans, lentils) provides about 6 grams of fiber. (For more information, refer to Food for Thought). Fiber helps to soften stools and normalize bowel movements. Make these changes slowly. A quick change to a high-fiber diet can cause gas and bloating. As your body gets used to this new way of eating, it will adapt.
- Try psyllium seed husks. They add bulk and water to stool, which allows for easy passage. Build up gradually to 1 tsp with each meal to avoid gas and cramping from sudden introduction of fiber.
- Try oat bran, chia seeds, or ground flaxseeds or hempseeds. These can all be used instead of psyllium seeds. They add bulk and moisture to stool, which allow it to pass more easily. Build up to 1 to 2 tablespoons daily. (Be sure to refrigerate or freeze flax and/or hempseeds if ground to prevent rancidity).
- Hydrate. Be sure to drink 6 to 8 cups of water or herbal tea throughout the day. Warm (as hot as possible) fluids (at least 2 cups within 15 minutes) after awakening in the morning helps to stimulate peristalsis (gets bowels moving).
- Move more. Regular exercise and less sitting helps. Strive for at least 10,000 steps/day and 30 minutes daily of moderate intensity exercise (preferably in 10 to 15-minute increments throughout the day).
- Improve bowel habits. Ignoring your body’s natural urge to defecate can cause constipation. Take time each morning to have a bowel movement.
- Look for infection. Bacterial, fungal, & parasitic infection can cause constipation. SIBO (small bowel bacterial overgrowth) is evident in many people with chronic constipation. Discuss this with your physician.
- Improve bowel flora. Eat cultured and fermented foods and/or take a probiotic supplement 2 to 3 times daily. If you are able to digest yogurt, it has a normalizing effect on the bowels and can be helpful for either constipation or diarrhea.
- Add magnesium. Magnesium helps normalize peristalsis – rhythmic contraction and relaxation of gut muscles. Take at least 400 mg daily, preferably in 2 to 3 divided doses with meals or snacks during day. Magnesium in the form of aspartate, citrate, taurate, or threonate is recommended for better absorption.
- Take digestive enzymes. Many people report that they have more regular and easy bowel movements when they take digestive enzyme supplements.
- Address lactose intolerance. People with lactose intolerance sometimes become constipated from dairy products.
- Evaluate medications. Many medications can cause constipation: pain relievers, antacids that contain aluminum, antispasmodic drugs, antidepressants, tranquilizers, iron supplements, anticonvulsants, diuretics, anesthetics, anticholinergics (like Wellbutrin), blood pressure medication, bismuth salts (like Pepto Bismol), and laxatives. Discuss this with your physician to see if the number, combination, and/or dose of these medications can be safely changed to assess impact on bowel function.
- Investigate food sensitivities, dysbiosis, and leaky gut syndrome. People with chronic constipation who do not respond to diet, fiber, liquids, and exercise should have digestive testing to see if dysbiosis, food allergies, or parasites are the underlying problem.
The above list of suggestions was inspired by and adapted from Digestive Wellness, 4th ed., 2012 by Elizabeth Lipski, PhD, CCN, CHN. This is an excellent resource for more information. And for those who would like to increase their fiber intake, you can enjoy the Creamy Greens Soup. This nourishing soup provides 4 vegetables servings and 8 grams of fiber per 2-cup serving, plus a plentiful amount of plant protectors, including carotenoids, magnesium, and detoxifying sulfur compounds.