Your overall health is directly related to your ability to remove toxins and waste from your body as well as how well you absorb and utilize nutrients. In the United States, up to 20% of the population suffer from chronic constipation. That’s 63 million people, costing $235 million a year.
Dr. John Harvey Kellogg said: “90% of the diseases of civilization are due to improper function of the colon.” Although some of his beliefs were rather extreme, Dr. Kellogg may have been correct on this one.
Multiple autopsy results and FDA findings demonstrate that the average American can carry 22 lbs of feces on a given day. Both Elvis Presley and John Wayne’s autopsy results showed they each carried an excess of 40 lbs of toxic waste in their colons.
Although the definition of constipation technically means having fewer than three bowel movements a week, how often you go may be a key factor in disease prevention. In a study, seven bowel movements a week was the average among people who weren't constipated.
Constipation occurs when your colon absorbs too much water from waste, or stools, which dries out the stool making the density difficult to eliminate.
Food may also move too slowly through your digestive system may cause the issues. The extra time in the colon allows the water to be absorbed, leading to dry, hard stools.
How often you “go” is not the only factor. Stool size also has been researched and proven to be linked to health outcomes such as colon disease. The larger your stool, the quicker the transit time, which means the quicker you are moving toxins and waste from your system. Generally, vegans and vegetarians tend to have much faster transit times compared to Americans consuming the standard American diet.
The more antioxidants and fiber that you eat, such as fruits and vegetables, the greater the positive influence on your microbiome. Evidence also indicates that populations who eat a high fiber diet also have lower rates of constipation and related digestive issues.
Probiotics also increase stool size. Interestingly, there is evidence that demonstrates that increasing gut transit time and stool size also affects mood, reducing the presentation and severity of anxiety and depression.
Some signs you are constipated include:
Hard, dry stools
Bowel movements that are painful and difficult to pass
Abdominal discomfort, pain and bloating - clothes not fitting as well as usual
Rectal discomfort - bleeding from pushing too hard, pain or burning sensation in the anal area
Bloating/feeling as if you can’t fully empty your bowels.
Constipation can be uncomfortable and be viewed as a minor issue, but if left unmanaged, the toxins caused by waste products stuck in your colon may result in an infection along the colon wall. This is known as diverticulitis, which may lead to systemic inflammation and a variety of other health issues.
Damage to your pelvic floor muscles may also occur from over-straining. Because these same muscles help to control bladder function, chronic straining due to constipation may lead to urinary incontinence.
When the digestive system doesn’t work properly, a chain reaction occurs that can affect every system. Food that is not broken down putrefies and rots in the gut, poisoning the body from its own waste.
These toxins innately find a way out of the body if the colon and liver cannot manage the job, putting extra stress on the kidneys and skin. Chronic constipation can then result in symptoms such as body odor, skin eruptions, bad breath, headaches, fatigue, muscle aches and the propensity to develop serious systemic illnesses such as autoimmune disease and cancer.
Risk factors for chronic constipation include:
- Age: We lose muscle contraction strength as we get older
- Inactivity: Lack of exercise slows metabolism.
- Gender: Women tend to have more issues with constipation than men due to several factors, including hormonal changes.
- Diet: Not eating enough high-fiber foods, which help move the digestive tract.
- Pre-existing neurological and digestive disorders
- Dehydration: Not drinking enough water may cause constipation and trap toxins in the intestines
The following over the counter and pharmaceutical medications may cause chronic constipation:
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, like ibuprofen (Advil®, Motrin®) and naproxen (Aleve®).
- Antidepressants, such as Prozac and Elavil.
- Antacids containing calcium or aluminum (Tums)
- Iron supplements
- Antihistamines and allergy medications (Benadryl®]).
- Certain blood pressure medicines, calcium channel blockers and beta-blockers
- Psychiatric/anti-anxiety medications such as Zanax, Clozapine, Zyprexa®).
- Anticonvulsant/seizure medications, such as phenytoin and gabapentin.
- Anti-nausea medications, (Zofran®)
- Pain medications (Oxycontin®) and hydromorphone (Dilaudid®)
Over time, constipation can serve as the root cause of illness due to toxin reabsorption in the colon, creating an imbalance of intestinal flora and affecting the structure of the intestinal wall, as well.
Dysbiosis of the gut may lead to fatigue and malabsorption issues due to lack of healthy and diverse microflora. As a result, toxic substances may enter the bloodstream and cause a variety of symptoms, including fatigue.
Dysbiosis caused by constipation may also lead to weight gain and due to the inability to rid the body of excess hormones, such as estrogen. Excess estrogens are reabsorbed by the system instead of readily removed, leading to a lower metabolic rate, increased fat retention, bloating, edema and insulin resistance.
The accumulation of toxins and hormonal imbalance related to chronic constipation also affect the skin, leading to breakouts—acne, rosacea and psoriasis. When toxins are trapped in the system coupled by a sluggish liver, your skin acts as the next-in-line detoxification organ. An unhealthy microflora will also cause skin changes.
The highest risk factor for SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth) is constipation, thought to be the root cause in 80% of cases. SIBO is a condition where bacteria from the large intestine ends up invading the small intestine. Symptoms include bloating, diarrhea, constipation and weight gain.
Even issues such as hair loss may be related to chronic constipation due to the disruption of a healthy gut microbiome impacting nutrient absorption and the effects of toxins on new cell growth, impacting hair follicles.
Since much of our immune function is guided by our intestinal flora, constipation and the disruption of gut microflora can affect the immune system.Toxins result in chronic gut inflammation which can impair immune function.
The gut-brain connection has already been established, so it goes without saying that chronic constipation may lead to mood swings, anxiety and depression.
Colorectal Cancer (CRC) shows an association between chronic constipation and its development compared to populations without constipation issues with a risk that is 1.78 times higher for those with chronic constipation, according to studies.
Although Western Medicine regards three bowel movements a week as still within normal range, holistic medicine disagrees. If the colon is not evacuated daily, toxicity may build, parasites can breed causing additional symptoms, the gut microbiome may be affected, leading to systemic inflammation and chronic health issues.
Read Part 2 of this blog series to find out about some natural ways to help increase gut transit time and alleviate constipation, promoting more optimal digestive health.