Constipation

Constipation affects more than twenty-five percent of the population. Most suffer silently or, worse, don’t realize that they are constipated. Constipation is defined as having fewer than three bowel movements weekly (Mayo Clinic, 2018). Having worked with constipated individuals for more than fifteen years, I cringe at the thought of someone eating two to four times a day and only eliminating three times a week. 

Constipation can wreak havoc on health. Toxins and excess hormones are excreted in stool, so lack of removal can lead to toxic buildup or hormonal imbalance. Unhealthy bacteria, fungus, and parasites thrive in a constipated colon, making it difficult for beneficial bacteria to dominate and support the immune system. Fecal impaction can lead to distention and excessive straining, both of which can reduce peristaltic function or lead to hemorrhoids. Hemorrhoid sufferers are almost always constipated, whether they know it or not. 

Here are the top ten side effects of constipation, many so common you might be experiencing them without ever considering infrequent bathroom trips as the root cause:

Fatigue. Fermentation of carbohydrates and production of smelly gasses is thought to have a negative impact on mitochondria, our cells’ energy producers. Lack of healthy flora in the gut leads to less-than-optimal nutrient absorption and impaired detoxification, both of which impact energy levels and cause fatigue. 

Weight gain. Buildup of excess feces adds pounds to the scale. Weight gain has been linked to imbalances of intestinal flora and hormones. Estrogen excess built up in unevacuated stool can also contribute to a growing waistline.  

Skin issues. Aestheticians are now paying attention the idea that beauty begins in the gut. Acne and breakouts often result from toxins being reabsorbed by the colon, then entering the bloodstream rather than leaving the body. These toxins attempt to leave the body via the skin, the largest organ of detoxification. A study in Russia showed that fifty-four percent of individuals suffering from acne vulgaris had significantly altered gut flora. 

Anxiety and depression. Mood and anxiety disorders have long been associated with constipation and other gastrointestinal disorders. And while constipation is often thought to be a symptom, recent neuroscientific research has begun to show the importance of intestinal flora in the development of imbalances in the brain. Simply stated, a constipated colon means a constipated brain/mood. 

SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth). This potentially debilitating gut issue is finally being more widely recognized. SIBO is defined as an increased number and/or abnormal type of bacteria in the small intestine. While bacteria are normally found in huge numbers in the large intestine, they don’t belong in the small intestine. Constipation is one of the top causes of SIBO and is thought to be responsible for up to eighty percent of IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) cases.

Brittle nails and thinning hair. These may not be as notable as some of the other symptoms, but they’re not fun. Nutrient absorption is a must when it comes to hair and nails, and SIBO sufferers or those with constipated colons do not adequately absorb nutrients.

Weakened immunity. Hundreds of studies demonstrate that intestinal flora, i.e. healthy bacteria, is responsible for much of the body’s immune response.  Constipation is often associated with pathogen overgrowth—unhealthy bacteria, fungus, and parasitic types—and lack of healthy bacteria. The toxic buildup and inflammation associated with constipation can impair the immune system and leave the body vulnerable to infections.

Increased risk for hemorrhoids, rectal prolapse, and anal fissures. Constipation can contribute to or cause issues that lead to unpleasant surgical procedures. Hard stools and increased intra-abdominal pressure add extra pressure to veins around the anus and increase risk of hemorrhoids. The connective tissue around the anus can also weaken causing the rectum to protrude through the anus, a condition called rectal prolapse. Additionally, passing hard or large stools can cause anal fissures—small tears—that are painful and difficult to heal.

Fecal impaction. Often mistakenly described as diarrhea, fecal impaction is an extreme version of constipation that obstructs the colon, allowing only liquid stool to pass. This is a serious issue that may lead to bowel perforation or necrosis (cell death).

While having a bowel movement three times per week might keep you out of harm’s way, daily movements pave the way for optimal health. Stay tuned for the March issue of Forever Young, where I’ll outline best practices for constipation alleviation and prevention. 

 

Catherine Stack is owner, facilitator, and Doctor of Naturopathy at Journey II Health. She specializes in colon health and bio-identical hormone replacement and is a practicing staff midwife at Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital. Her books, Free Yourself from a CONSTIPATED Life and PUSH, Labor & Delivery from the Inside Out are available on amazon.com. Visit cathistack.com for more info.

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