Like most health conditions, the primary answer to what causes constipation lies largely in diet, lifestyle, and microbial overgrowth. Having bowels that don’t function adequately is an epidemic in our society today largely because of poor diet and an unhealthy lifestyle and often results in a variety of chronic health conditions, syndromes, and illnesses if not addressed effectively.
The colon is the body’s primary method of eliminating wastes and toxins and when constipation occurs the toxins build up and are reabsorbed into the body through the colon wall. When the colon is not performing its job adequately, it impacts the health and functioning of the liver as well. The liver filters toxins from our blood and sends them into the colon to be eliminated. If the colon isn’t moving wastes out, then the liver has nowhere to send them, so they recirculate. On the flip side, a liver or gallbladder that isn’t functioning properly for other reasons can contribute to constipation.
In addition to the discomfort and pain of constipation, it can have a variety of negative effects on your overall health. Bowels that don’t move regularly as they should result in numerous health conditions like acne, eczema, Candida overgrowth, varicose veins, allergies, lower back pain, indigestion, hemorrhoids, bad breath, diverticulitis, polyps, Crohn’s, IBS, weight gain, impaired detoxification system, and even cancer. Constipation also interferes with the body’s ability to absorb and distribute vital nutrients to the body and may result in the malfunctioning of other systems and organs.
Before we look more deeply at what causes constipation, we first need to understand how the bowels should work. You’ll find some mainstream doctors that say having a bowel movement every day is not normal because more than 50% of the population is not having them. That does not make it a normal phenomenon. What this tells us is that more than 50% of the population has a colon that is not functioning normally and this is one of the primary contributing factors to why we see so many health conditions in society.
Some experts say we should be having three bowel movements a day, while others say we should have one and yet others say we should have two. Although there is no agreement in the health community on what actually constitutes a healthy frequency for bowel movements, at the very least you should be having one healthy bowel movement every day.
Again the definition of healthy movement is not clear. Some say it should be 12 inches in length, while others say it should be several feet, but at a minimum, it should be at least the length of a small banana and preferably in the shape of an S.
A healthy bowel without constipation should move fecal matter out with ease. There shouldn’t be any straining, pushing, grunting, or sitting on the toilet for long periods of time. In a person with a healthy colon, it usually occurs within an hour of arising in the morning and exits quickly.
Your stool should be soft and smooth, not lumpy and hard. It should evacuate as one long log and be approximately 1.5 to 2 inches in diameter.
So if you are not having at least one bowel movement a day that exits with ease, then you are experiencing constipation. With mild cases of occasional constipation, usually, a few simple changes in diet and lifestyle may result in improvement. In more difficult cases, like chronic constipation, there may be a variety of underlying issues that are at the root of the problem that will need to be resolved before relief can be achieved.
Understanding what causes constipation can help you make better choices that will not only improve the health of your colon but your overall level of health as well.
Sugar, caffeine, white flour, and other refined foods should be removed from the diet. They clog up the colon, leading to overgrowth of yeast and bacteria, disrupt the gastrointestinal tract, and have a variety of other negative effects on our health.
Add some fiber to your diet by eating vegetables. Fiber provides roughage that cleans the colon wall and moves waste material out. But don’t eat too much fiber or it can cause an overgrowth of bacteria.
Food sensitivities or allergies may also be involved in constipation. Wheat and other gluten products, as well as dairy, are common culprits.
All of the points above will work for preventing constipation. Dried figs and prunes may work similarly to a laxative when relief is needed quickly. Dates soaked in water until soft will also work well, drink the leftover water as well. Hazelnuts also provide quick relief. But all these foods will fuel Candida or bacterial overgrowth, so they should only be used in an emergency.
By eating a healthier diet you can address a lot of what causes constipation very simply and improve other health issues as well.
Insufficient Water Intake
One of the most overlooked and simple causes of constipation is the lack of adequate water intake.
Drink lots of water every day so that fecal matter will stay soft and pliable and move through the colon with ease. If the body does not contain enough water, it will extract it from the solid waste in your colon. When too much water is extracted from the colon, then the waste material becomes dry and hard. This slows down the movement of stool and makes it more difficult to extract. It may stop moving at all.
By keeping the body hydrated at all times, the body won’t need to extract water from the colon.
Lack of Exercise
Regular exercise is crucial to maintain the health of the muscles that move your fecal matter through the colon, called the peristaltic muscles. It also boosts your metabolism and motility, which will help prevent constipation as well. But don’t exercise too much, or this is as bad as not exercising at all.
Insufficient Digestive Enzymes
A lack of sufficient digestive enzymes like hydrochloric acid or pancreatin to aid in proper digestion may also contribute to constipation.
Essential Fatty Acid Deficiency
A deficiency in EFAs, omega 3 and/or omega 6, or not the right ratio of each can also be what causes constipation. Other symptoms of a deficiency in essential fatty acids would include dry skin, scaly skin, brittle hair and nails, and depression.
Lack of Acidophilus
The bowel is supposed to contain healthy bacteria, but diets high in sugar, caffeine, refined foods, and the consumption of antibiotics often wipes out essential bacteria.
A daily supplement of acidophilus or some form of probiotic may help the bowels keep running efficiently by replenishing healthy bacteria in the colon. However, in the person with SIBO, this can be counterproductive.
A magnesium deficiency is a very common contributor to constipation and magnesium can also be used as a laxative when relief is needed right away.
Magnesium ascorbate is the most effective form of magnesium for constipation.
Don’t Ignore Nature’s Call
Focusing on what you should do is only one side of what causes constipation, sometimes it’s what you shouldn’t do.
When you feel the urge to have a bowel movement, don’t delay. Delaying will result in stool that is hard and dry, which will be hard to evacuate and result in constipation.
One of the primary causes of constipation and other bowel problems is the shape of the modern-day toilet. Human beings are supposed to squat when they have a bowel movement. Squatting encourages the colon to empty completely and easily. The shape of our toilets does not allow for squatting and this results in incomplete bowel movements.
It inhibits the fecal matter from moving out, which over time builds up in the colon. There are special toilets you can buy that will address this issue. Alternatively, you can sit a bedpan on the floor and squat over it, and then empty the contents into your toilet. Some people stand on the rim of their toilet and squat over the bowl. Or you can purchase an aid like the Squatty Potty.
Hypothyroidism is often an underlying issue in chronic constipation because hypothyroidism slows down a variety of the systems in the body, including the contraction of muscles needed for elimination.
When hypothyroidism is an issue, other steps like increasing fiber, water, and exercise will usually not be effective.
Chronic constipation that doesn’t respond to changes in diet, water intake, etc. is often a sign of adrenal fatigue as well. Nourishing the adrenals and restoring proper function will be necessary.
The overgrowth of Candida yeast is another common contributor to constipation. They disrupt the normal functioning of the digestive system and elimination. Intestinal parasites or SIBO may also be an underlying factor. The toxins they emit paralyze the peristalsis action.
Common everyday chemicals that can be found in your indoor air shampoo, dish soap, dryer exhaust, body soap, air fresheners, perfume, cologne, furniture polish, disinfectants, household cleaners, pesticides, herbicides and more, contain ingredients that are toxic to many of the body’s systems, including the gastrointestinal tract which can result in constipation and abdominal pain as well damage to the nervous system, endocrine system, immune system, cardiovascular system, and reproductive system.
If chronic constipation is a problem for you, then you might consider a test called the GI Effects Test, to assess the health of your GI tract and the presence of unfriendly organisms.
That covers the primary causes of constipation, but if you need some immediate constipation relief, Cascara Sagrada is one of the most popular and effective herbs. It works as a natural laxative by stimulating peristaltic action naturally. Senna, slippery elm, flax seeds, psyllium, and foods high in chlorophyll like parsley and alfalfa are also helpful. However, some of these can be counterproductive if SIBO is present.
They are one of the best methods for cleansing the colon and helping the body detoxify. Anyone with a health condition may find the use of enemas or colonics at least monthly as highly beneficial. If you can’t find the time, are unsure how to do one or don’t feel comfortable with the idea of an enema or colonic you can get almost the same benefit from a product called Oxy-Powder®. Oxy-Powder® provides quick relief for constipation, helps eliminate unhealthy organisms like Candida and anaerobes, and encourages the growth of healthy bacteria.
The best natural and non-toxic laxative is buffered vitamin C powder. High-dose vitamin C pulls water into the colon. You increase the dosage until you get diarrhea, and then cut back the dosage until your stool firms up. Taken daily it will keep the bowels moving regularly.
Although herbs and some food products that work as laxatives can be helpful for temporary and short-term relief of occasional constipation, they should not be something you come to rely on regularly as this can result in dependence. However, colon cleansing herbs can be used on a short-term basis.
Chronic constipation is an indication that there is a problem or problems that need to be addressed. Herbs can be used as a band-aid as you work on the underlying issues, but should not be considered the primary method of healing. Making permanent changes in lifestyle and diet and addressing all underlying issues for what causes constipation should be the priority.
It’s also important to note, that most of the conditions that are associated with poor colon functioning rarely occur in isolation, there are usually a cluster of underlying factors that occur simultaneously and perpetuate one another if all not addressed. Your goal should not be focused purely on the temporary relief of constipation, it should be directed on promoting the long-term health of the colon.