Updated: Feb 16
Having trouble pooping? You’re not alone. Constipation is an uncomfortable and inconvenient problem for both adults and children alike.
I know this topic can be embarrassing and nobody want to talk about it and my children are always asking me why I'm always reading books and talking about poo.
As a naturopath (one with Crohn's disease) I know the importance of our daily habits, pooing is our bodies way of dumping our bodies excess waste products, It is also a way of telling us what's going on in the body. Think of it as a daily health report card.
Constipation is obviously uncomfortable and frustrating, but left untreated it can lead to other serious health issues like fecal impaction, and colon cancer (study), this is why avoiding chronic constipation is top of my priority list.
When the stool (poo) stays in the bowel for extended periods of time, the body starts reabsorbing the toxins that it is trying to excrete, this increases toxicity in the body and may cause many issues including fatigue and acne.
Ideally we should be taking out the trash every day.
So What Is Constipation?
Constipation is defined as having difficulty emptying the bowels, going less than three times a week and is usually associated with hardened stools either shaped like large pinecones or small rabbit droppings. The more time the stool sits in the digestive tract, the harder the stool becomes as the bowel reabsorbs fluid.
In some cases a person may experience constipation with diarrhoea, this is known as overflow and commonly seen in children.
Common Constipation Symptoms in Children
The most common signs and symptoms of constipation include:
Complaining of increased tummy pain or not eating because of the feeling of fullness.
Intestinal bloating and excessive wind or flatulence
Large and hard stools or rabbit dropping.
Showing signs of straining, pain or crying when passing a stool
Not passed stools for 3 or more days, or only passing small amounts
Stool surrounded in bright blood, or blood on the toilet paper, this is due to tears in the skin around the anus (anal fissures).
Diarrhoea that leaks out between harder stools
Soiling accidents (encopresis)
Incontinence issues or night time bedwetting when constipated, as the stools creates pressure on the bladder.
Bristol Stool Scale
Type 1: The Rabbit dropping-type, and difficult to pass stools.
This is typically someone who is VERY constipated.
Type 2: The Pine cone, lumpy, hard to pass.
This type also correlates with constipation, in some cases can cause rectal bleeding.
Type 3: The sausage - normal stool.
It is sausage-shaped with cracks, but more well-formed than type two. There should be minimal straining during a bowel movement.
Type 4: The formed soft serve - The 10/10 stool.
This stool typically does not break apart, may look like a smooth snake or sausage.
Type 5: The mushy - soft and smooth stool.
Tends to break apart.
Type 6: Loose stool, this type is not normal.
Mild diarrhoea, more like mush, may contain solids or food particles.
Type 7: Diarrhoea; basically liquid.
Severe diarrhoea, liquid, contains no solids.
It common for your stool to change slightly depending on the foods you have eaten and external factors such as stress.
So What Causes Constipation?
Constipation is usually caused from a combination of different factors, including those related to your diet, fluid intake, exercise, and current stress levels.
A diet lacking in fibre and fluid intake play a major role in bowel regularity.
Lack of fluid. As a poo is 75% water and 25% waste, You need water to hydrate your bowel movements, without enough water your stool becomes dehydrated and hard, making it difficult to pass. Aim for 1.5-2 litres of water per day.
Poor food choices: High intake of processed foods, sugar, refined carbohydrates, alcohol, unhealthy fats and synthetic additives can make it harder to produce normal bowel movements. Eating a diet of whole foods, high vegetable intake, chia and flax seeds, unprocessed grains, using quality fats and oils such as olive and coconut and reducing consumption of processed foods will help.
Lack of fresh fruits and vegetables. Both fruit and vegatables are high in essential fiber. Green vegetables not only contain fiber, they are also a good source of magnesium that can help improve constipation. Because they have a high water content and are nutrient-dense, these should be consumed daily. Other good sources of fibre including sweet potatoes, apples, pears, berries, prunes, avocado, broccoli and winter squash. Adding in these foods can help to relieve adult, child and toddler constipation,
Not enough exercise. Exercise helps to increase blood flow, strengthens muscles within the digestive tract and helps control stress. You need at least 20 minutes a day of low impact aerobic activity like walking, jogging, dancing or jumping jacks this will encourage motion through your gastrointestinal (GI) tract.
Food intolerances: Dairy, wheat and gluten intolerances can cause ongoing constipation.
Stress: High amounts of stress alters hormone and neurotransmitter production, which has a direct influence on muscle tension, inflammation, enzyme production and overall digestive functioning.
Change in routine or holding it. Travel, a new job, a new baby, your mother-in-law just moved in—you name it! Any change in routine can upset your bathroom habits, so when you know a change is on the horizon, include plenty of water and high-fiber foods in your diet to help get you through. Also, resisting the urge to go because of hemorrhoids or other reasons can cause or make constipation worse. Soften your bowel movements and remedy hemorrhoid pain by increasing fluids, exercising and adding more fiber to your meals—especially soluble fiber from chia seeds, psyllium, beans, lentils and berries.
Imbalance of intestinal bacteria. Healthy bacteria living in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, help to regulate bowel function. Having too little good bacteria can mess with the healthy GI ecosystem necessary for fermentation and healthy poop formation. Daily probiotics not only ease up constipation, but can also reduce bloating, gas and even help reduce anxiety and depression. Make fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi and tempeh part of your weekly meal plan. They have natural probiotics to keep your gut bacteria in a healthy balance for regular, easy poo's.
Bad bathroom habits: For some, rushing the time they spend in the bathroom and sitting in an uncomfortable position on the toilet can contribute to poor bowel movements. It is recommended to take your time, ensuring you have fully released your poo's.
Children constipation: Often starts after the child experiences one hard to pass poo that has caused pain, your child then tries to avoid the pain the next time by 'holding on' to the poo, in an attempt to avoid passing another painful poo. This results in the poo becoming firmer, larger and even more painful to poo out and your child becomes even more reluctant to poo in the future resulting in a vicious cycle of ongoing constipation.
Other factors that can cause constipation include certain medications, thyroid, hormonal problems, menopause, PMS, eating disorders, diabetes and other gastro intestine disorders such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), and Irritable Bowel Disease (IBD) such as Crohn's Disease and Ulcerative Colitis.
Natural Constipation Remedies for Relief
Magnesium: a good form is Magnesium citrate, it works by improving gut motility. Add this supplement in slowly and cut back if it causes diarrhoea. See my blog on magnesium
Epsom salt baths: Good way to increase magnesium absorption in children.
Probiotics supplements: Maintaining a healthy intestinal tract is critical for avoiding digestive problems.
Chia seeds and flaxseeds: These seeds are high in fiber and healthy fats, plus they help to absorb water. Flaxseed oil especially helps to lubricate the colon.
Aloe vera juice: This helps to reduce inflammation and improve the frequency of bowel movements, making it one of the best natural laxatives for constipation. Take 1/4 cup twice daily.
Avoiding foods that have a high amount of carbohydrates, low fibre with low nutritional value, such as: white bread, pasta, cheese, sweetened cereal, chips, fast food, ice cream, processed meats. Fried foods are also known to slow down poo’s transit time through the intestines and essentially “clog up” your digestion.
Retraining the Bowel In chronic childhood constipation cases where there is no longer an urge to move bowels – sit them on the toilet at the same time each morning to reset the gut - brain signalling. Make sure it is the same time each day to try to have a bowel movement. As a general rule, the best time is 20 to 40 minutes after eating. If they don't pass a poo, they can get on with their regular daily activities. Remember that it can take some time to train the bowels, so try not to worry about the inability to have a bowel movement at first.
Vagal Nerve stimulation The enteric nervous system stimulates the intestinal muscles to contract for motility. Lack of vagal tone results in fermentation in the gut and over growth of intestinal bacteria and yeast. Also lack of vagal tone cause low HCI causing problem with digestion and acid reflex, one way to help is to sing loudly or gargle every morning, this works the muscles in the back of the throat to activate the vague tone.
Everyone is unique and sometimes traditional remedies as mention above may not relieve your constipation, It is important to find the reason for this condition and not to rely on laxatives. I can offer a range of solutions and functional testing to help uncover the root cause. Contact me today for an appointment.