Tarilee Cornish, Certified Nutritional Practitioner
Today’s stressful, sedentary lifestyles and highly-processed, low-fiber diets predispose us to constipation. Since good statistics on the prevalence of the problem don’t really exist, medical and holistic health professionals have widely differing views as to what defines constipation.
The time it takes for food to pass from the mouth to elimination through the rectum is generally referred to as “transit time”. In the view of holistic practitioners, transit time should be somewhere between 12 and 24 hours, and that anything longer than a 24-hour transit time indicates constipation. However, many conventional medical professionals consider even longer transit periods perfectly normal. According to the Physician’s Manual for Patients, “Daily bowel movements are not essential to health”.
Even if the statistics available were not skewed by contradictory opinions within the medical community, their accuracy could be affected by a public somewhat shy to discuss the issue. Let’s face it; bowel function is not a subject that many folks feel comfortable talking about. Instead, let’s consider some of the symptoms that holistic practitioners believe could be due to constipation. When looking at the following list, we begin to get a sense of how many people may be suffering from this unpleasant condition.
SYMPTOMS ASSOCIATED WITH CONSTIPATION
According to holistic practitioners, symptoms that may be due to constipation include the following:
- abdominal pain
- bad breath, body odor
- fatigue, low energy
- depression, irritability
- mental sluggishness
- skin eruptions, sallow skin, dark circles under eyes
IS CONSTIPATION A SERIOUS HEALTH RISK?
When wastes do not move from the colon in a timely manner, the waste material stagnates and the toxic compounds within the waste grow. The wastes can also become impacted and adhere to the intestinal walls. In serious cases, the toxins in the impacted fecal matter can be reabsorbed into the bloodstream, leading to a condition known as autointoxication (self-poisoning).
As a result, chronic constipation can contribute to reduced nutritional absorption, hemorrhoids, anal fissures, premature aging due to increased free radicals from higher levels of toxicity, inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid disease, colitis, appendicitis, prolapsed rectum, and diverticulitis. A higher incidence of breast disease and colon cancer has also been associated with constipation.
WHY IS CONSTIPATION COMMON IN CANDIDA RELATED COMPLEX (CRC)?
CRC sufferers typically have a deficiency of healthy flora, and frequently food intolerances as well. In addition, yeast toxins cause congestion of the eliminative organs, resulting in compromised digestive function. These factors can all add up to constipation.
OTHER CAUSES OF POOR ELIMINATION
Many other dietary, lifestyle, and even emotional factors can contribute to constipation. Following are the most common underlying causes for this condition:
- Candida overgrowth and other intestinal flora imbalances
- Coffee (high consumption disturbs bowel function)
- Constitutional predisposition
- Chronic dehydration
- Digestive deficiencies, such as inadequate pancreatic secretions, stomach acid, intestinal enzymes, or intestinal flora, or weak liver or kidney function
- Emotional tension or repression (e.g. fear, self consciousness, anxiety, depression)
- Endocrine disorders (eg. hypothyroidism) and hormonal imbalances
- Low fiber, high sugar, high salt, high processed food diet
- Fecal build-up (impacted waste material.) Fecal build-up can also cause diarrhea
- Food intolerances
- Herbs, if they are astringent and diuretic. Many herbs (including herbal teas) are both diuretic and astringent and can therefore reduce bowel lubrication, leading to constipation.
- Laxative and enema misuse. Many laxatives, especially irritating ones such as whole leaf aloe, senna, and cascara sagrada may bring about dependency and/or damage bowel function.
- Structural abnormalities
- Medications. Anti-hypertensive drugs, diuretics, antacids, antidepressants, muscle relaxants, anti-inflammatory drugs, and some antibiotics may significantly slow transit time.
In addition, a number of diseases and conditions can contribute to inadequate bowel function; including diabetes, intestinal obstructions, lupus, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, pregnancy, scleroderma, spinal cord injuries, thyroid abnormalities, and uremia.
STRATEGIES FOR MAINTAINING BOWEL REGULARITY
There are a number of things that can be done to re-establish healthy bowel function and support improved health. Try to incorporate one or two of the following suggestions every week, adding new habits every week, until your bowels are functioning well: