We need to discuss the topic of constipation. It comes up SO often with our clients, friends, and family.
First and foremost, it’s important to define constipation. Despite what you may have heard in the past, a healthy digestive system should produce 1 to 3 bowel movements per day that are well-formed, brown, banana shaped, and easy to pass, with no blood, mucus, or undigested food.
Ideal transit time from eating a food to elimination is anywhere between 12-24 hours. Anything less and food is moving through too quickly to get proper absorption. Anything more and you risk waste sitting in the stool for too long (more on that in a bit).
Common causes include everything from a low fiber diet, imbalances in gut flora, lack of adequate hydration, food intolerances, medications, and chronic stress to a poor functioning liver/gall bladder, iron supplements, low stomach acid, and colon adhesions, just to name a few.
However, constipation can get even more pronounced in midlife (as if we needed one more thing to deal with 😖).
This happens for a few reasons:
- Decreased estrogen levels can cause a cortisol rise; elevated cortisol levels (which also occur with chronic stress), causes digestion to shut down
- Reduction in progesterone can cause the colon to slow down
- Weak pelvic floor muscles
Now you may be wondering, what’s so bad about not pooping every day? Well we liken this to taking out the trash. If you don’t empty your trash can, it will putrefy and smell up your kitchen. The same thing happens right inside your body!
Here are some of the major concerns about chronic constipation and why you want to do something about it sooner than later.
- Gas, bloating and abdominal pain
- Risk of hemorrhoid’s and diverticulosis/diverticulitis
- Higher risk of colon cancer
- Lowered immunity due to imbalances in good gut flora (bad bacteria begin to outweigh good bacteria)
Another super important reason to address constipation has to do with our hormones.
Once hormones such as estrogen and progesterone are used in the body, they go through a detoxification process in the liver and become metabolites, which are toxic and must be excreted in the stool.
If constipated, the metabolites get recirculated back into the blood stream and interfere with the body’s ability to produce new hormones. This can, for example, contribute not only to lumpy breasts but also increase the risk for certain types of cancer.
So what can you do if you are constipated? There are lots of natural treatments which can help in the majority of cases. Here are some of our favorite remedies:
Increase whole food sources of fiber, such as fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, nuts, and seeds, especially chia and flax (aim for 30+ grams per day, but start slowly to avoid digestive upset)
Warm water with lemon in the morning can get digestive juices flowing
Strictly limit processed foods such as white flour products and fried foods
Eliminate dairy, which acts as a binder for many (take out for 3 weeks to test and see if it helps)
Drink plenty of water, at least 8 8-oz cups per day, and more if exercising vigorously (avoid too much water DURING meals)
CHEW CHEW CHEW your food until it becomes practically liquid in your mouth
Include good fats daily, such as avocado, olive and MCT oil, as fat literally lubricates the intestines
Practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and meditation (stress shuts down digestion)
Exercise regularly, as any body movement can stimulate the digestive tract to also move
Try magnesium citrate, which pulls water into the bowel and act as gentle, safe laxative. Start at ~300mg and work up to 500-600mg as tolerated (dosing at night will help eliminate in the AM)
Vitamin C also pulls water into the bowel – start at 1,000mg and dose 2-3x daily
Sunfiber is a natural soluble fiber powder that promotes bowel regularity and also feeds good gut bacteria. Start with 1/4 scoop and work your way up slowly to a full scoop over the course of 10 days.
Get a Squatty Potty – squatting is the natural way our bodies were meant to eliminate; this can be very effective
Digestive enzymes (with HCL if you do NOT have ulcers or gastritis) will enhance stomach acidity and help in the breakdown of food.
We hope this information has been useful – now let’s get going! We also encourage you to check out our PM Meal Mastery program, which is a simple, effective, scientifically-backed nutrition plan for post-menopausal women and incorporates many of these strategies we discuss here.