It's a common problem that most people avoid talking about. I, on the other hand, love discussing constipation, particularly because it can be a big indicator of your current health. Constipation has many causes, from poor diet and fluid intake to the presence of a pathogen (bacteria, fungi), neuromuscular or pelvic floor dysfunction, hormonal issues, medication intake, blockages to emotional imbalance and so on.
Here are my top 16 ways to help get the bowels moving right now:
Holding on to past memories or emotions can lead to anxiety and amplify stress. During stressful times it's common to hold on to our poo as well.
In Chinese medicine, when the large intestine (AKA our garbage collector) is out of balance, it's associated with an inability to grieve and let go. As a result, our bowel movements become sluggish and we store and recycle our waste, collecting toxins, bad breath, and all sorts of funky conditions along the way.
Every meal should contain a portion of fibrous plant food such as brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, ground flax seeds, berries, and avocado.
Note - Bare in mind that we are all so different and that includes your tolerance of fibre and natural pre and probiotics. Would you believe that we can be sensitive to the good stuff too?
Certain conditions such as SIBO, IBS or Histamine intolerance can be a driver of sensitivity. If you experience digestive upset or feel generally unwell when you consume these otherwise healthy foods, let your natural health practitioner know as they can advise on further testing and adjustments to your diet to suit your needs.
Include foods with prebiotics and probiotics.
Prebiotics are the foods that feed and nourish the friendly bacteria already present in your gut. As our gut bacteria metabolize and feed off these compounds they produce short-chain fatty acids.
Short-chain fatty acids support our health in many ways, such as improve the health of the intestinal lining, prevent leaky gut and promote healthy bowel movements. Research shows that SCFAs are major players in the maintenance of gut and immune balance.
Probiotics are the living bacteria that restore and renew our microbiome. They reduce inflammation in the intestines, improve the quality of the gut and reduce absorption of toxins. Weight control, blood sugar regulation and regular bowel movements is dependent on a good balance of gut microflora.
Good sources of prebiotics are asparagus, artichokes, garlic, onions, green (raw) banana, and brown rice (that has cooled down). Good sources of probiotics are fermented vegetables, sauerkraut, kimchi, and apple cider vinegar.
Gradually increase probiotics like fermented veggies, sauerkraut, and kimchi in your diet to let the gut adjust to a new bacterial environment. Start with 1 teaspoon with meals, increasing to 1 tablespoon.
Please see note above in fibre.
Drink lots of purified water.
Water supports fibre in its role of removing waste. Without enough water in the diet, the body will extract more water from the food passing through the intestines. This “dehydrates” the poo and it becomes compact and hard making it difficult to move easily through the intestines for removal.
The intestines are quite long so stool has a fair way to travel before it’s evacuated. Stool needs hydration and form in order to help it slide through easily. Body tissues become drier, less lubricated and less functional when dehydrated.
I always suggest that patients drink at least 1.5 - 2 litres of water daily (activity and individual dependant). We are very different in body and requirements so make sure to regularly look at your poo (stool). If it’s still hard after a week of drinking 1.5 litres, then drink more.
Add ¼ teaspoon of Himalayan salt to your water to enhance absorption. Fluids should be warm or room temperature. Warmth loosens and unblocks. Cold seizes and constricts.
Many of the commercial water filters do not remove fluoride so before you invest in a filtration system do some research. If you are in Australia I recommend Watersco for your water filtration and filter systems as their systems remove 99% fluoride. I recommend the BMP 5 Litre or the portable Ace Bio 1 litre jug.
Avoid excessive animal protein.
Avoid overeating animal protein as undigested protein can rot in the colon and cause an overgrowth of bacteria and the production of toxic byproducts such as ammonia, amines, phenols and sulfides. These byproducts enter the bloodstream and cause tissue damage, especially in weak organs.
Intestinal putrefaction (ROTTING) places a high demand on the liver and contributes to leaky gut. Excessive protein in the diet can also contribute to constipation, weight gain and a disruption in blood sugar balance. Everything that we are trying to avoid.
Aim for one palm portion of protein with every meal. Your palm, excluding the fingers. This will loosely provide you with an approximate amount that your body requires daily.
A complete protein contains all of the essential amino acids that the body requires. Complete proteins are generally found in animal foods such as meat, fish, poultry, cheese, eggs, natto and dairy (kefir).
Most proteins from plants such as vegetables, grains and legumes are incomplete. Meaning they are lacking the full array of essential amino acids. For this reason if you are vegetarian or vegan it is important that you combine certain plant protein foods with different but complementary amino acid profiles so that you can obtain the complete protein. For example legumes with seeds (chickpeas and tahini (hummus)) .Organic tofu or tempe will offer a complete protein.
Soaking, sprouting or pressure cooking can help reduce the anti-nutrient content and improve digestibility of legumes and grains. Antinutrients are thought to damage gut lining, disrupt immune health and the way we uptake nutrients.
Follow a routine.
Routine can dramatically improve constipation. To promote a healthy evacuation, your morning may include, a 10 minute guided meditation or breath work, followed by 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar in warm water and a healthy breakfast such as a smoothie rich in fats and fibre.
After you have mindfully eaten, relax for 15 minutes post-breakfast, calmly plan your day ahead, read a blog post, or engage in calm conversation.
Use a standing desk.
Sitting, particularly after eating, can slow digestion down because it compresses the abdominal organs.
Sluggish digestion can lead to constipation and an imbalance in your gut microbiome (gut flora). Try standing or using a standing desk after meals instead.
Move your body.
Movement is like an injection of oxygen, energy and flow to the body. Which is why it is so important for the digestive system. If you do not move the body, you are more likely to have slow, stagnant bowel function.
When I talk about movement I refer to organised exercise and random acts of activity during the day.
Muscles need to be exercised in order to stay in shape and function well. The bowels are muscles that need to be exercised. If you don’t use it you lose it.
Exercise stimulates the lymph nodes which carry dead blood cells, antibodies and cellular decay from the body through poop.
Exercises that work the abdomen and spine help maintain good bowel tone. Keeping the intestines in its proper place, providing structure for it to work against and strengthens muscles within the digestive tract. Good examples of this are the isometric abdomen exercise and the back lift.
Exercise accelerates breathing and heart rate which helps stimulate peristalsis, the natural contraction of intestinal muscles that help move poo out quickly.
Exercise increases transit time which decreases the time it takes for food to move through the large intestine. This limits the amount of water absorbed from the stool (poo) preventing hard and dry stools that are difficult to pass.
Lack of movement as a result of aging or spinal cord injury can cause impaction of poo in the bowel due to a reduction in colonic mass movements and poor use of abdominal muscles to assist in elimination.
Interesting fact - Daily moderate exercise was associated with a 44% reduction in risk of constipation in women. A study done with hong kong adolescents. Constipation was consistently more common in inactive and sedentary students.
Squat or use a squatting platform.
When we use the common seated toilet we push poo up, against gravity. Squatting or using a squat platform such as Squatty Potty or Aussie Squatter allows for a more natural angle and pressure. This straightens the anorectal angle and unkinks the sigmoid colon and creates an easier passage for poo to leave the colon.
Add herbs and spices to your dishes.
Certain herbs and spices nourish the organs of digestion and elimination, such as the liver, kidneys, stomach, and spleen.
They improve overall breakdown of food and can dislodge the waste that clings to your intestinal walls. Add them to your meals, smoothies, teas, slow-cooked dishes, and salads daily.
My favorites are:
Try my organic BetterMe tea blend for sluggish bowels
Try Yin Yoga.
Yin Yoga works on improving the health of organs, bones, joints, connective tissue, fascia, and the mind and incorporates breathwork.
A class that works on the lungs and large intestine can help unlock constipated colon doors. If you've been holding on to grief and are unable to let go and move forward in life, supporting these organs can dramatically change this current reality. Try the Digestive Support Yin Yoga Sequence Video. Abdomen and spine exercises are also excellent for improving bowel tone and health.
Do some breathwork.
When the flow of breath is laboured or short, the mind becomes agitated, stress and anxiety are amplified, and not enough nutrients get to areas in your body like your digestive system.
Without breath, there is tension, blockage, and resistance. Ten minutes of breathwork daily can help regulate bowel movements. I find deep belly breathing, alternate nostril breathing, kundalini breath of fire and the Wim Hof method to be most helpful.
Breath of fire otherwise known as the cleansing breath improves digestion, keeps the digestive organs - esophagus, stomach and intestines strong and flexible and supports the elimination of toxins. In addition to this it helps support the nervous system and reduce stress.
Don't forget the apple cider vinegar.
Aim for 1 tablespoon of ACV in warm water upon rising or 10 minutes before meals.
Get your intake of healthy fats.
Our intestinal cell walls are made up of fat; therefore they need fats to function well.
Omega 3’s such as is found in wild, oily fish improve gut microbial diversity and the production of SCFA’s such as Butyrate . SCFA’s improve gut transit time and gut barrier integrity amongst other amazing things.
Make sure you purchase a practitioner only fish oil to ensure premium quality without the heavy metals. If you can not access a practitioner only fish oil I recommend Ethical Nutrients Hi- Strength Fish Oil
Other great healthy fat sources that help lubricate the bowels and help move waste through the colon include coconut, olive, and macadamia oil; avocado; butter; nuts; and seeds.
Take your magnesium.
Magnesium is a muscle (intestinal wall muscles included) and nervous system relaxant. Magnesium also supports muscular contraction and nerve impulses, making it perfect for alleviating constipation, stress, and anxiety.
In fact low levels of magnesium has been shown to be risk factor for functional constipation.
I use magnesium bisglycinate as it's easily absorbed and gets to the areas I want to target before performing its magic.
Other forms such as magnesium oxide act as an osmotic laxative drawing water into the intestinal lumen. It’s laxative effect may also be due to other factors such as the hormone cholecystokinin and nitric oxide synthase. Osmotic laxatives should only be used as a short term aid and preferably guided by your health practitioner.
Try a little ileocecal valve massage.
Sometimes the ileocecal valve, located between the small intestine and large intestine, doesn't work well. This can lead to a backlog of poop in the small intestine and constipation.
You can massage reflex points to improve its function. Dr David Williams explains how to massage reflex points to improve its function. I personally massage my abdomen daily using the Mayan abdominal technique.
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