Constipation is an uncomfortable condition that most people have experienced at some point in their lives, and it is something I treat very often in my NW Calgary Naturopathic Medicine practice. Constipation means that you don’t have a bowel movement every day, or that even if you do have a bowel movement daily, they do not feel complete, or you are straining or experiencing pain or discomfort during the bowel movement. Symptoms that can accompany constipation include abdominal bloating, abdominal aches, headaches, fatigue, hard stools, straining to pass a stool, or a longer duration of time that is needed to pass a stool. Constipation puts patients at risk for hemorrhoids and rectal fissures, which can make bowel movements very painful. From a naturopathic perspective, we also see constipation linked to decreased wellness and linked to things like hormonal imbalance and skin conditions such as acne.
There are several lifestyle factors that can contribute to constipation, such as inadequate fiber in the diet, lack of water, lack of exercise, high stress levels, and a change in routine (traveling, rushing out the door in the morning), as well as ignoring the urge to have a bowel movement (being uncomfortable using public washrooms, busy schedule, etc). Chronic laxative use can also contribute to constipation, by making the bowels “lazy”…the bowels wait for an external stimulation by the laxative rather than stimulating a bowel movement on its own. This is why if you use laxatives it is important to keep them to occasional use only.
Certain health conditions can also impact your ability to have regular bowel movements, such as hypothyroidism, as well as certain states such as pregnancy, post pregnancy, and post surgery. Certain medications have also been linked to constipation, such as pain medications, iron supplements, antacids, and some antidepressants.
So what does Naturopathic Medicine have to offer in the treatment of constipation? Keep reading below to learn about the multitude of options in the treatment of this common but frustrating condition!
Diet and Nutrition for Constipation
This is probably one of the most basic interventions we can use in addressing constipation. Adequate fiber intake, especially through fresh fruits and vegetables (5 to 10 servings a day) helps to bulk up the stool, putting pressure on the intestinal wall and thus stimulating the urge for a bowel movement. Following this, adequate water intake is necessary to “soften” the bulk and help push it through the intestines. Herbal teas are helpful for this as well. And yes, we all know that coffee can “irritate” the intestines and help with bowel movements! As long as you drink your one cup with your protein rich breakfast, it is much better than drinking it on an empty stomach! You can read more about Diet and Nutrition here.
Lifestyle and Stress management for Constipation
Exercise is very important for maintaining daily bowel movements, and this could even include a daily walk. Yoga can be helpful for regular bowel movements as well. Stress management is huge here, because high stress and elevated cortisol is a significant contributing factor to constipation. When you are stressed, your body is in fight or flight mode, and doesn’t prioritize digestion. You can read more on stress management in my blog here. Maintaining a routine for your bowels is very important as well: give yourself extra time in the morning so you are not rushing out the door. Do not ignore an urge to have a bowel movement if possible, because stool that is retained in the stool becomes harder to pass as the body continues to remove water from the stool the longer that it sits. Traveling is a bit more difficult, but you can be more cautious about monitoring your fruit and veggie intake, stay hydrated, and if your flight is a long one, get up and walk around as often as possible. You can read more about Lifestyle counseling here.
Vitamins and Supplements for Constipation
There are several supplements I tend to use in my patients based on their health history and concurrent health conditions. Fish oils and probiotics are very helpful, and sometimes I will use fiber powders. Fiber powder must be used cautiously, 30 minutes after any medications or supplements, and no medications or supplements can be taken for 2 hours after fiber powder is taken, because the fiber will bind them and decrease/eliminate their absorption. Please see your medical provider for proper dosing on fish oils, probiotics, and fiber powder, as these are not benign supplements in every patient. In addition, if low stomach acid is an issue for patients, I will address this as well with supplements. You can read more about Vitamins and Supplement here.
Herbs/Botanical Medicine for Constipation
Herbs can be powerful in the treatment of constipation as well, as herbs can aid with digestion. What I prescribe is based on my patients health history and other health conditions. You can read more about herbs here.
Food sensitivity testing for Constipation
This test involves a finger prick to determine what foods a patient is eating that can be contributing to digestive issues such as bloating and constipation. You can read more about Food sensitivity testing here.
Acupuncture for Constipation
Acupuncture is a very useful treatment option for constipation. I will take my patients tongue and pulse analysis, and choose points accordingly. Typically the treatments will involve inserting thin needles on the abdomen (don’t worry they don’t go in deep!). Patients do report having better bowel movements, even immediately after a treatment! Benefits of acupuncture include sleep, stress, energy, and so much more. You can read more about acupuncture here.
Bowen Therapy for Constipation
Bowen therapy is used in the treatment of constipation as well. Bowen therapy involves gentle touch over tendons, muscles, and ligaments, and it is a very relaxing treatment. You can read more about Bowen Therapy here.
As you can see, there are many options for the treatment of constipation with Naturopathic Medicine. With a thorough intake, which involves reviewing things like digestion, energy, sleep, stress, and so much more, a program can be integrated that can address all of these concerns. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me at my NW Calgary Naturopathic Medicine practice, I look forward to talking to you!
Naturopathic Vitality Acupuncture and Wellness Clinic
205-5403 Crowchild Trail NW