Have you gone “number two” today? Yesterday? The day before that? In conventional medicine, the baseline requirement for regularity is three bowel movements a week. However, a better sign of a genuinely healthy gut is pooping one to three times daily.
Regular bowel movements are a great indicator of a properly functioning digestive system. However, roughly 12% to 19% of the population of North America, as many as 63 million people, suffer from constipation. The various causes of constipation result in about $235 million in annual medical costs.
In this article, I’ll cover complications caused by constipation. I’ll also dig into the root causes of constipation and share natural stool softener solutions.
What Constipation Can Cause
Our elimination system is built to remove toxins and waste from our bodies. Regular elimination prevents these toxins from sitting in your intestines.
Irregular elimination can allow these sitting toxins to absorb back into your bloodstream via a leaky gut. The waste in your intestines sits idle, producing bacteria that can disrupt the balance of healthy flora in your gut and lead to inflammation.
Although constipation symptoms are straightforward to spot, the causes of constipation can be due to several factors. These causes include an underlying health condition, medications, diet, and lifestyle. Let’s go more in-depth about the causes of constipation and the natural stool softener you can use to get relief.
What is Constipation?
You likely describe constipation as the uncomfortable feeling of needing to empty your bowels but not being able to. However, the medical definition of constipation is when you have fewer than three bowel movements weekly.
Bowel patterns are different for everyone. Some people have bowel movements several times daily, while others only go once or twice weekly. 1 As long as you stay consistent with your typical bowel pattern, there’s nothing to worry about. Even the occasional constipation is common and typically not severe. 2
Common Signs Of Constipation
Common signs of constipation include:
- Dry and hard stools
- Painful bowel movements with stools difficult to pass
- Feeling that you have not emptied your bowels
Constipation becomes a problem when you go three months with less than three bowel movements per week. Other signs of chronic constipation include constipation that disrupts a person’s personal or work life. If changes to your diet or lifestyle fail to relieve your bowels, you’re likely constipated.
Women and people over the age of 65 are at a higher risk of experiencing chronic constipation. Pregnancy and lack of physical activity are common causes of constipation of chronic regularity. Causes of constipation that lasts for a short-term duration include poor diet and lack of exercise.
Nevertheless, underlying health conditions can trigger chronic constipation as well. Autoimmune disease, hypothyroidism, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), Crohn’s disease, colon cancer, and irritable bowel syndrome are causes of constipation.
I will go more in-depth about the causes of constipation before we get into natural stool softeners. First, let’s dive into more specific symptoms of constipation.
Symptoms of Constipation
As I mentioned, the most common sign of constipation is having less than three bowel movements weekly. More specific symptoms of constipation include:
- Difficulty passing stool
- Painful bowel movements
- Passing less stool than usual
- Lumpy, dry, or hard stool
- Cramping and pain in the abdomen
- Feeling bloated
- Loss of appetite
Conventional medicine will only treat the symptoms of constipation. As a functional medicine doctor, I get to the root cause of your constipation so you can take the necessary steps to eliminate it.
Causes of Constipation
Now that you understand what constipation is and its symptoms, let’s talk about seven common causes.
Like the plumbing in your home, our internal flushing system requires adequate water to function correctly. Dehydration is one of the most common causes of constipation and is easiest to avoid. Drinking coffee, soda, and alcohol can lead to dehydration if you aren’t drinking enough water. Providing your digestive tract with water is an easy and inexpensive step to support regularity.
Not Eating Enough Dietary Fiber
Your body doesn’t digest dietary fiber. Instead, dietary fiber travels relatively intact through the stomach and intestines. As it does, it absorbs water to add bulk to stool and helps move waste through your system.3
Eating high-fiber foods such as prunes, beans, and flax seeds can support a healthy bowel pattern. However, these foods are difficult to digest and often high in sugar, which can worsen a condition such as SIBO. Leafy green vegetables, cauliflower, and zucchini are high-fiber foods that support a healthy digestive pattern.
Disruption of the Gut Flora
Your digestive system is home to a rainforest of good bacteria that help break down, absorb food, and eliminate waste. Factors such as taking antibiotics or oral contraceptives, stress, or inflammation, can disrupt the natural gut flora. Gut disruption can lead to yeast overgrowth, SIBO, and leaky gut, all of which are causes of constipation.
Hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s
Hypothyroidism, an underactive thyroid, slows down many body systems, including elimination. For your body to eliminate waste, your colon must contract, and slow or weak colon contractions can be a symptom of hypothyroidism. It’s estimated that 27 million Americans have an underactive thyroid, and most do no know they do.
Constipation can be a common symptom of general digestive mayhem related to food sensitivity as the body struggles to digest and eliminate the foods at the root of inflammation. Although a wide range of foods can trigger food sensitivity, gluten and dairy are the most common culprits.
Autoimmune diseases are born when your body works hard to defend itself against something potentially dangerous such as an allergen, toxin, infection, or even particular foods. Your body then fails to differentiate between the intruder and its own body parts. This leads your immune system to attack your own healthy organs, tissue, and cells.
Autoimmune diseases can affect many different systems in your body. They include neurological conditions such as Multiple Sclerosis or Parkinson’s Disease. Other effects include thyroid diseases such as Hashimoto’s and multiple-system conditions such as Lupus.
All of these diseases can cause constipation because they attack the intestinal tissue itself, and the intestines stop moving food properly through the digestive system.
A more acute cause of constipation can be an obstruction in the small or large intestine that prevents stool from moving through. Common causes of intestinal obstructions are scar tissue or adhesions caused by abdominal surgery, hernias, tumors, Crohn’s disease (which can narrow or twist the intestine), or even cancer.
Other potential causes for constipation include not getting enough exercise, excessive stress, or taking harmful over-the-counter painkillers. It is best to take a comprehensive view of your health and what factors might contribute to your constipation. Once you understand the causes of constipation, you can properly treat it.
How to Relieve Constipation Naturally
The easiest way to relieve constipation is to drink plenty of water. Your body uses water in all of its processes. That’s why staying hydrated is essential to keeping your systems functioning optimally. You can also support your digestive system and relieve constipation with natural stool softeners.
As the saying goes, keep your pipes flushing by staying hydrated. Tap water and bottled water contain toxins and are filled with harmful chemicals. Pure, clean water is the best choice for hydration. Recent research has shown the optimal water intake averages 15.5 cups per day for men and 11.5 cups per day for women. It could be more or less depending on the weather and how much you exercise.
Dietary fiber absorbs water and can support a softer stool to alleviate the causes of constipation. Eating foods rich in dietary fiber is a staple for regularity. Good sources of fiber include avocados, strawberries, raspberries, carrots, beets, broccoli, brussels sprouts, and leafy greens. 4 The daily dietary fiber consumption recommendation is 30-38 grams for men and 21-25 grams for women. 5
Eliminate Inflammatory Foods
While you’re reaching for high-fiber foods, stay away from the foods that lead to inflammation, particularly gluten, dairy, corn, soy, and sugar. Food sensitivity and inflammation triggers are unique to each person, so I recommend doing an elimination diet to identify any food sensitivities.
Heal Your Gut
In functional medicine, we use a simple approach called the 4R protocol to repair your gut.
- Remove: Remove the bad by eliminating inflammatory foods such as gluten, sugar, dairy and toxic foods like alcohol and caffeine.
- Restore: Restore what’s missing to support proper digestion and absorption, such as digestive enzymes and stomach acid. My Gut Restore with Betaine and HCL formula contains deglycyrrhizinated licorice, slippery elm bark, and marshmallow root to enhance the gut’s mucosal lining. This product helps to alleviate digestion, restore optimal gut function, break down proteins, and activate pancreatic enzymes.
- Reinoculate: Replenish the beneficial bacteria to re-establish a healthy balance of good bacteria.
- Repair: Providing the nutrients necessary to help the gut repair itself is essential.
A healthy gut is a great way to stop constipation and ensure regularity.
Supplement with Colon Comfort
While addressing the root cause of your constipation, you may still need a natural stool softener. Since a magnesium deficiency can commonly contribute to constipation, it’s important that you are getting enough magnesium daily. Magnesium is essential for regular bowel movements and is responsible for over 300 biochemical processes in your body. Anyone not already supplementing with a top-quality magnesium supplement is likely low in this vital mineral.
Magnesium citrate is one of the most bioavailable forms of magnesium, which is why I incorporated it into my Colon Comfort formula. This formula facilitates healthy bowel movements and provides relief from occasional constipation. Plus, this encapsulated form avoids the bowel irritation that liquid magnesium supplements often lead to.
Colon Comfort is formulated with the support of botanical extracts, including apple cider vinegar and ginger root. This perfect pair complements magnesium citrate by supporting digestive health and promoting a healthy metabolism. Both, apple cider vinegar and ginger root extract help your body maintain optimal blood glucose levels.
I also chose to include Caffeic acid, a polyphenol or a naturally occurring compound derived from the artichoke plant. This potent extract also supports your body’s natural defenses against harmful free radicals while enhancing your natural liver function.
Final Thoughts on Relieving Constipation
You don’t need to accept constipation as a regular part of life. If you continue to struggle with constipation, evaluate your diet, environment, and activity level to uncover the root causes of your constipation. If you need immediate symptom relief, I suggest a natural stool softener that includes magnesium citrate and beneficial botanical extracts such as Colon Comfort.
- Constipation. Cleveland Clinic. 2019.
- Constipation. Mayo Clinic Staff. Mayo Clinic. 2021.
- Dietary fiber: Essential for a healthy diet. Mayo Clinic Staff. Mayo Clinic. 2021.
- 22 High Fiber Foods You Should Eat. Kris Gunnars, BSc. Healthline. 2020.
- Dietary fiber: Essential for a healthy diet. Mayo Clinic Staff. Mayo Clinic. 2021.