Constipation affects almost everyone at some point in their lives and a small percentage of people live with chronic constipation, often having sought medical help without much success. Let’s try to expel some of the myths about the treatment of this common ailment. Although laxatives provide temporary relief from constipation, prolonged use causes reliance and dosages need to be increased as the bowels build up a tolerance to this short-term solution. This makes it very difficult to stop the use of the laxative leading to not only long-term slow bowel function, but also chronic nutritional deficiencies as many laxatives interfere with nutrient absorption. In order to cure constipation it is imperative that the underlying cause is resolved.
Serious causes of constipation must first be ruled out. Included in these are certain medications that cause constipation (narcotics, some blood pressure medication and antidepressants), a history of excessive laxative use, irritable bowel syndrome, and specific disorders such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, stroke and low thyroid function. On-going constipation requires a complete medical history, physical exam and diagnostic testing to rule out serious causes of constipation.
The most common cause of constipation is a poor diet low in fibre, and high in processed foods and animal fats such as cheese, meat, and eggs. A diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and nuts and seeds contains high amounts of fibre, which gives a soft gel-like texture and bulk to the stool. This prevents hard dry stools and makes bowel movements softer and easier to pass. Fibre supplementation such as flax seeds or psyllium act as bulk forming laxatives, lubricate the gut and also help to feed healthy gut flora.
Maintenance of a healthy gut flora is essential for regular bowel movements. This can be achieved from a diet rich is fermented foods, but often supplementation with probiotics can be very helpful to allow for optimal flora. There are many strains of probiotics specific for different gastrointestinal concerns, thus it is important that you consult with a physician knowledgeable in this area to determine the probiotic strains and doses required for your specific condition.
Low levels of hydrochloric acid (HCL), the acid in the stomach, have also been found to cause constipation. Symptoms associated with low hydrochloric acid include heartburn, bloating after meals, and infrequent, difficult to pass bowel movements. This condition can be remedied by replacing low stomach acid with specific dosages of Betaine Hydrochloride (in a pill form), as it is the same acid produced by the stomach and provides the same role in digesting food by breaking up fats and proteins.
Medical research has identified safe tests and treatment options that can treat or eliminate constipation. Education is key- it is important to seek professional supervision to explore your treatment options.
Wishing you a happy and healthy holiday season!