Have you ever noticed that the more weight you gain, the more often you feel constipated? Now, this is not to suggest that this phenomenon always occurs, but it was something I noticed often as I progressively gained weight. Anyway, ever thought that your obesity might be linked to constipation and vice versa? Before you assume that I am suggesting constipation is the main cause of you being overweight, I am not! You are overweight because you ate too damn much and performed zero to little physical activity and as a result you were in a caloric surplus for a long period of time where your body accumulated fat progressively, that’s it. Now that I cleared up that potential confusion, I’d like to point out a hidden issue that many overweight folks deal with often and solving it might be a great step towards a healthier and more aesthetic body.
What is constipation?
Constipation is a digestive condition where it becomes hard to pass stools regularly. Often, constipated individuals will not pass any fecal matter for a few days and stool will harden up and become difficult and even painful to pass.
What is the issue with constipation?
Constipation is a very annoying condition that can cause bloating, shortness of breath due to putting pressure on the diaphragm and lungs, colon and stomach pain and feeling a “blockage” in the rectum. Constipation is a very widespread issue in the western world with approximately 1 in every 5 Americans having constipation -that’s a lot of blockage ha! -! Besides these annoying constipation symptoms, constipation could be a sign of an underlying medical condition -though, rare- such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, however, constipation could also indicate or cause poor processing and digestion of food! Poor digestion of food leads to poor digestion of nutrients which can ultimately cause unfavorable changes in body composition; i.e. fat gain, muscle loss or both. Moreover, constipation causes stool to move too slowly which means that the toxic waste your body was planning on getting rid of is now stuck inside of you and the more it stays there, the more problems that waste will cause. One possible issue with prolonged constipation -if left untreated- is the re-absorption of stool (toxic waste) and unfortunately some of those toxins will make their way into your blood stream which will wreak havoc on your health and immune system. Another issue with constipation is that since you have toxic waste trapped inside of you, both localized and centralized inflammation levels rise to contain the problems. Inflammation is one of the body’s weapons to fight and contain toxins, germs, diseases…etc. thus, constipation causes a spike in inflammation levels which can also affect nutrient partitioning and cause unfavorable changes in body composition as well as general health. Also, since constipation raises inflammation levels and causes trapped toxins, your body dedicated more energy towards removing the trapped toxins which translates into less energy available for other bodily functions such as; maintenance of organs, muscular and connective tissue repair, reduction of inflammation levels…etc.
What are the causes of constipation?
Constipation occurs when the digestive tract absorbs too much or too little water. This causes stool within the digestive tract to move slower than normal and lose its water content along the way. While constipation does not have one specific cause, many things can lead to you being constipated such as;
Consumption of bad food
Remember that double fried steak you had last night? Well, it may have been contaminated with something that triggered an inflammatory response in your digestive tract. After all, inflammation is just another weapon in the body’s arsenal to help fight harmful substances.
Lack of fiber
If you are still underestimating the great benefits of increasing your fiber intake even after reading my dietary fiber guide, this one may finally convince you. One of the main causes of occasional constipation is you not eating enough dietary fiber! Fiber is composted of the non-digestible parts of plants we consume; those parts then majorly make their way through the digestive system unabsorbed which acts as an interior cleaner. Since fiber is mainly carbohydrates and carbohydrates absorb a lot of water, fiber forms big gelatinous bulks inside the digestive tract that move all the way through pushing everything in the way outside your body and thus help clean up the mess. Furthermore, since majority of fiber is not absorbed by the body, it slows down the digestion process which gives the intestines and colon muscles some time to heal and contract properly to push stool outside your system.
Another reason why you might be constipated is due to eating something you shouldn’t have eaten while knowingly or unknowingly. If you are allergic to peanuts, please don’t eat peanuts, not only because you might get constipated, but also because you might experience a severe allergic reaction that can cause some serious medical issues. Anyway, when you eat something you are allergic too, your body freaks out and once again, inflammation increases to try and contain the problem. Since your body focuses more on cleaning up the allergen and removing it from your body as fast as possible, the body’s focus and energy are focused just on that to help keep you alive. Less energy is dedicated to excreting fecal matter during that time which can cause constipation.
Stress induced constipation occurs more often than you might think. In fact, many students experience constipation during exam times since they are more stressed than usual. Stress can wreak havoc on all aspects of your health including digestive system. When you are stressed, your body assumes you are in survival mode and thus, your body acts accordingly by distributing more energy to keep you alive rather than keep things “moving”. Stress can also irritate the colon causing it to contract poorly and become inefficient at moving stools. Stress can also cause hyperactivity in the digestive tract making it move stools faster than normal (diarrhea) which then causes an irregular pattern of bowel movement that leads to constipation. From an evolutionary perspective, the body has adapted with time to coping with stress by dedicating more energy on other functions that matter at the time of danger as opposed to pooping! And based on that, many biological and chemical reactions take place that hinder the proper movement of stools within the GI tract.
It doesn’t take a genius to notice how much Americans love their morning coffee. To sum things up, I shall borrow Dunkin Donuts’ popular slogan “America runs on Dunkin.”. With 83% of adult Americans drinking 3 cups of coffee on average daily, I can confirm my statement above. There is just one tiny issue with drinking that much coffee that often, IT CAN cause constipation! Coffee is a powerful stimulant (caffeine) and just like all stimulants, they have vasoconstrictive characteristics that cause blood vessel constrictions which could lead to less blood flowing to the GI tract and getting constipation. Furthermore, stimulants stimulate the nervous system as if you’re in survival mode, which leads to the release of adrenaline and an increase in cortisol levels. Once again, your body focused on “surviving” as opposed to supplying less important parts of your body, such as the GI tract, with the needed energy and blood flow to carry out its processes. Stimulants give you a double whammy of constipation by decreasing amount of blood flowing to the GI tract and dedicating less energy to the movement of your bowel.
Not sleeping well/enough
It seems like with every new day, we discover more benefits of getting enough quality sleep. Seriously, studies keep indicating how crucial sleep is literally everything from weight loss to cognitive function and yet many people still think they can run on 5 hours of sleep every day. Not sleeping well or not sleeping long enough puts your body under stress which makes it work harder to get through the day and once again, survive. The whole problems with less blood flow, less energy supplied…etc. occurs once again. I already explained that so I won’t repeat it again. Just get some sleep!
You might be wondering if you are reading this correctly; laxatives can cause constipation. I’m here to confirm that you are in fact reading this correctly. Many people run to the doctors to get a script for laxatives when they get constipation, however, laxative may be a temporary evil fix in disguise. Laxative create bulks in the stomach that forcefully push stools in the GI tract. While this may be good in the short run, usage of laxatives can disrupt the natural rhythm and pattern of bowel movement and then cause a vicious cycle of constipation.
Your constipation’s cause might be as simple as merely being dehydrated. Since water is essential to all functions in the body, it makes sense that the less water you drink, the less water your GI tract will have to flush stools outside your body. Also, having less water supply could cause your stools to become hard, dry and not bulky which will cause your body to have issues removing them. Since fiber and carbohydrates are efficient water absorbers, the less water you provide them with, the less bulks you will have in your system to help you clean your GI tract.
Micronutrients are essential to all organ functions and cellular reactions. A lack of any essential nutrient can have some consequences. For instance, a magnesium deficiency can majorly contribute to slow bowel movement. Magnesium is critical for muscular function and since we have muscles in our GI tract that pump stools along the tract, a lack of magnesium can cause poor contractions of the intestines’ muscles and thus cause constipation. Vitamin B-12 deficiency can also cause constipation due to poor blood flow (red blood cells) to the GI tract.
Injured GI tract / rectum
On a more serious note, if you have been constipated for some time, you might want to go say hi to your doctor and tell him the issue. In more severe cases, constipation could merely be a side effect of having an underlying serious issue such as an injured GI tract, injured colon, injured rectum or a fissure. If you try relieving your constipation without any success, pay your doctor a visit and be on the safe side.
How can I relieve my constipation?
Great question! Luckily, constipation is usually a temporary issue that is easy to fix. Only in rare cases, constipation indicates a more severe problem. For the more severe conditions of constipations, a physician will be able to assist you better, however, for most people constipation could be relieved through;
- Eating enough dietary fiber. Seriously, eat an adequate amount of fiber and you will rarely experience constipation.
- Drink a lot of water. Keep your body and GI tract hydrated and you will experience constipation less often.
- I would say don’t stress, but due to our modern fast-paced lifestyle, stress has become a major component of our lives. However, occasional stress is usually fine, just don’t let stress eat you up. Relieve your stress by playing sports, doing something fun, traveling or doing anything that takes your mind off things. As a bonus, you don’t get constipated as often.
- Beware of consuming any allergens in food or medication form. Allergens can pose a great threat to your life. Always read the label of any supplements, food/snacks or medications you plan on consuming and save yourself the hassle.
- Eat out less often. No food beats homemade food in terms of quality and taste (usually). If you must eat out or go out for dinner with your friends and family, that’s fine and normal -and you should go out and have fun-, but don’t make eating out a habit.
- Try some laxatives! Yes, I’m aware that I mentioned laxatives could lead to constipation a few paragraphs ago, but using laxatives temporarily to kick start your bowel movement is fine and safe. If laxatives will help relieve your constipation, go for it! Just don’t overdo it.
- Try some homemade remedies. Many people underestimate the power of homemade and herbal remedies, but they can be a great aid to those attempting to relieve constipation.
Homemade constipation remedies
High fiber foods or a fiber supplement
I will keep mentioning dietary fiber till you get bored and start consuming more of it. High fiber foods such as vegetables, fruits and beans will help keep your stools moving. If you cannot eat those foods for whatever a reason, a fiber supplement such as psyllium husk can serve the same purpose. Food is always better, though. In addition to the dietary fiber you get from food, you get many essential vitamins, minerals and micronutrients that are essential to all bodily functions including bowel movement.
Stevia is a plant whose leaves are often used to manufacture zero calorie sweeteners. However, little do many people know, stevia is fantastic for relieving constipation. Stevia’s leaves are usually sold in health food store. Just brew a teaspoon of stevia’s leaves as you would brew your tea. If you usually add sugar to your beverages, you might want to add less to stevia due to its natural sweet taste (its delicious!). Try adding some spearmint leaves to it for an even more delicious flavor. Spearmint will also help relieve your constipation and soothe any stomach ache you might have. Spearmint/peppermint also has menthol which is an effective antispasmodic that relaxes the gastrointestinal tract’s muscles.
Apples are delicious, rich in fiber, contain a lot of water and are great for relieving constipation. If you don’t want to eat an apple, raw apple cider can also do the same job.
Besides its delicious taste, molasses is also rich in vitamins. Molasses is rich in magnesium which, like I explained above, is critical for optimal muscular function and contraction. Take 1-2 tablespoons of molasses with some lemon juice first thing in the morning or an empty stomach between your meals and enjoy the flushing effect of molasses.
Castor oil – YUCK!
Okay folks, I didn’t want to mention castor oil, but a list of homemade constipation remedies wouldn’t be complete without it! Castor oil is a remedy that has been inherited for generations and for a good reason, it works! If you are complaining of severe constipation, a tablespoon of castor oil on an empty stomach will seriously move stools in your GI tract within hours. Heads up; castor oil is disgusting and very dense.
Olive and coconut oils
Besides being great for overall health, olive and coconut oils can help lubricate your GI tract and make moving stools easier on your system.
If you haven’t started exercising already, make sure you read this article, it’ll help you get off your @ss and want to go the gym immediately. Besides the great health and aesthetic benefits of working out, exercise also stimulates and primes the body for optimum performance. As a result, your blood circulation improves and your heart pumps more blood to all parts of your body including your GI tract. Guess what this does? Yup, it helps push stools in your GI tract and makes their removal easier on your body.
Lemon water or lemon juice are great for your immune system (vitamin c) and kidney function, but they are also good laxatives that can directly stimulate bowel movement in the digestive tract.
Constipation is painful, annoying and can cause a myriad of side effects and unwanted health issues if not treated properly. Luckily, constipation is just a simple issue in most cases, but don’t get fooled, constipation can be a marker of a serious underlying issue. To prevent constipation, drink a lot of water, eat a lot of fibrous foods and consume less stimulants and your GI tract will thank you. Stay on that healthy fats wave as well, they will keep your intestines lubricated and ready for some slip and slide action!
In the next article, I will be explaining how constipation can affect your weight loss progress and how relieving it can majorly contribute to your aesthetic goals success. Stay tuned!
If you liked this article and have constipated friends, make sure you share these homemade constipation remedies with them. True friends don’t leave their friends constipated ;).