Six Common Causes of Constipation, Plus Six Natural Remedies for Constipation Relief Everyone Should Know. Find Out Now.
Years ago, my eyes were opened to the fact that huge amounts of people silently struggle with constipation.
A student started to experience a mysterious back pain that became increasingly intense. It was totally unresponsive to the usual fixes, so I asked her to see her doctor. She returned with the surprising diagnosis that she was so constipated that the pain was coming from pressure on her spine and nerves.
Up until then it had never dawned on me to ask students about their regularity. And students never volunteered that information. But once I started asking, I learned that constipation is far more common than I realized and has far-reaching impact on people’s lives. It has become one of the first issues I address with my students on their healing journey.
It’s estimated that on a given day, a billion people on this planet are constipated. Not all are as acute as my student with the terrible constipation-induced back pain. Some people are just dealing with annoying symptoms that include brain fog, irritability, nausea, headaches, rashes, embarrassing gas, generalized pain from inflammation, and the development of hemorrhoids.
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Many women experience urinary leaking as they age and choose to drink less to minimize this problem.
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Men with incontinence and/or prostate issues also often drink less. They experience an increased need to urinate, and understandably want to minimize the amount of times they need to go to the bathroom.
In both cases, the result is very often hardened stools, sometimes leading to extreme constipation.
In addition to the remedies listed later in this blog, I encourage people with leakage to maintain a healthy intake of hydrating fluids and use incontinence pads. The way I see it, the annoyance of leakage and frequent trips to the toilet are far less of a problem than poisoning yourself through regular constipation.
I recommend to women that they work daily on strengthening their pelvic floor and that they purchase Cora Ultra Thin Organic Bladder Liners.
This is a highly recommended product for men: Tena Men Incontinence Protector.
Also, here is a link to a website entirely dedicated to incontinence.
2. Gastrointestinal issues such Small Intestinal Bacteria Overgrowth (SIBO), Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), and diverticulitis can send people into a vicious cycle of constipation and diarrhea
If you’re living with intense GI issues, the nutritional recommendations below might be the perfect fix, though they might be your poison. By now you must know that you have to introduce new foods slowly and track your reaction as you go. For example, even bone broth and ferments might trigger an anti-histamine response. And for some very sensitive individuals, fiber in veggies, even cooked, may feel like sandpaper.
Be systematic in your tracking and work closely with your doctor while making big dietary changes.
3. Feeling unsafe, unloved, and needing to control too many aspects of their lives. Quite literally, unable to “go with the flow”.
Before you dismiss this as more “anal-retentive” pop-psychology, I bet you can think of at least a few such persons in your life. There’s also this study published by the National Institute of Health which concludes “Constipation may be related to several factors, such as socioeconomic environment, emotional stress, age, and diet, among others. Here, it was found that anal-retentive behavior features are prominent in functional constipation. Biofeedback, which can be regarded as psychotherapy of defecation control, can be used for treatment.” Before trying biofeedback, read below for the links to a yoga flow and some meditations that may give you the natural constipation relief you need.
4. Poor sleep, especially from the disruption of travel to new time zones
Sleep is necessary for every single system in our bodies, and this absolutely includes the GI tract. This subject is large enough for its own blog post, class, and book. For now, you can take my word for it, or better yet, track it on yourself. Insufficient sleep=Insufficient flow. Just one more excellent reason to become a pro at sleeping.
I’ve experienced constipation while travelling, especially to very different time zones. Even the most regular among us can be thrown off our rhythms by the disruption to our normal routines. In addition to quickly getting myself adjusted to the new time zone, I now travel with Magnesium Citrate, which I find quickly nips this problem in the bud.
5. Certain medications for blood pressure and urinary incontinence, as well as iron supplements, tricyclic antidepressants, opioid pain relievers, NSAIDS, and antihistamines.
Talk to your doctor about exploring alternate drugs and whether or not the remedies listed below are contra-indicated for your specific issues. Sometimes your doctor can prescribe different drugs that do not cause constipation. It’s certainly worth talking to your doctor about!
6. Diseases such as diabetes, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, and hypothyroidism can exacerbate constipation.
Be sure to tell your doctor if you are experiencing constipation as a symptom of the above illnesses, and ask if the natural remedies listed below are right for you.
The following are natural, non-addictive remedies for constipation relief that my students and I have learned are very effective:
1. A high-fiber diet and enough fluids is the obvious place to start.
Fibrous vegetables and fruits are the cornerstones of excellent health. In addition to the nutritional value these foods offer, the fiber is key to cleansing the intestines and maintaining a healthy flow.
Just as importantly, fiber is the food of choice for the bacteria we want in our guts. Be a good host, would you? If you take care of your microbes they will take care of you, including helping you poop regularly.
Of course, you’ll need sufficient fluid to keep the fiber moving. Note that many liquids, such as caffeine and alcohol, are dehydrating so you don’t get to count those. Also, too much fluid will only make you pee too much.
Track your fluid intake and how your body responds, and you’ll find the sweet spot for your own body.
Magnesium Citrate is a form of magnesium that is particularly good at helping with regularity. It can be taken anytime you’re starting to feel constipated. I pack magnesium citrate when I’m travelling, especially to different time zones.
I also like this triple magnesium complex, which includes magnesium citrate, as well as other forms of magnesium that help with sleep and muscle relaxation. I discovered the power of magnesium when I was recovering from Lyme, and it’s become a part of my daily supplement regime.
3. Belly Massage for Constipation Relief
Self-massage can be a great way to release tension in the belly and help move things along.
But first – a quick anatomy lesson so you know you’re going with, not against, the flow: The large intestine travels UP the RIGHT side of your body, across the trunk roughly just below your ribs, then DOWN the LEFT side of your torso.
When you massage yourself, it’s best if you can lie on your back and first spend some time breathing softness into the belly. Try to let go of any tension or gripping, and this may be aided by putting a rolled blanket or cushion under your knees and head.
Next, move your hands up the right side of your belly, across the transverse intestine, then down the descending intestine on the left side. Work in this direction as long as feels right to you. This is good for babies too!
There’s a spot in your belly to pay particular attention to called the ileocecal valve, and it’s roughly a few inches to the right of your belly button. This valve is a sphincter that is responsible for allowing digested food to move from the small to the large intestine. Sometimes this valve gets stuck in the closed position, and when that happens you may feel pain or tenderness when you rub over it. Some people say it feels like a large, hard lump there.
I find that deep, full-body relaxation exercises help to release this area enough that you can then massage out this hard lump and get the valve back to functioning normally.
4. Movement: Here's a Yoga Flow for Constipation Relief
Here is sequence I made that first softens the body, especially the belly, then lengthens and contracts the torso in waves.
We put pressure first on the ascending then descending colon to move things in the right direction. It also incorporates a lot of squats to send “potty time” signals to the body.
Note that in this sequence I do not offer many twists!
I caution against twists if you are very compacted to avoid any possible distension in intestines. Please avoid even the gentle twists I offer if it has been more than a few days since you’ve had a good bowel movement.
However, if you’re not very gummed up, do the twists. Do lots of them!
In fact, to avoid constipation in the first place make twists a part of your daily routine. Remember – twist first to right, then left. (If you’re lying on the floor, your legs go to the left first.)
5. Good Ergonomics While On the Toilet
The western toilet is an anatomical disaster and actually works against us. We’d all be a lot better off if our bathrooms were outfitted with a hole in the floor, not a throne.
Watch this ad by Squatty Potty for a hilarious and accurate explanation as to why.
And for goodness sake, buy yourself a Squatty Potty!
6. For those with an emotional component to their constipation, a gratitude practice can be powerful medicine.
We all benefit from reminding ourselves of the abundance in our lives. This helps cultivate trust that all will be well. We learn to go with the flow rather than try to control outcomes for ourselves and those around us.
To get you started, here is a deeply relaxing breathing exercise followed by a gratitude practice.
It might feel vulnerable and scary to soften the belly. Try to be interested in that sensation, rather than be frightened by it. Learn how being soft is a form of true inner strength and trust in the universe. Even when we have a fiercely strong core we need to have a suppleness and flexibility to allow for full breathing and proper flow.
I wish you good effort, and please let me know how these natural, non-habit forming remedies work for you!