Bowel Disorders Part 1 – What Is Constipation?

bowel disorder_constipatedWhen we have “upset stomachs” or any other uncomfortable feeling in the tummy region our first instinct is to retrace our culinary steps to see what food or beverage is the culprit. While often it may be a bad burger or expired milk causing your digestive system to go haywire, it may also be emotional problems or your body’s way of telling you that something far worse than a bad meal is affecting you.

In our society we tend to shy away from discussions on “messy” topics such as digestive or bowel disorders. Unfortunately that is why so many of us are afflicted with bowel disorders, because it is often the last thing we think of when we feel ill.

Think of the last time you felt unwell; what did you do first? Retrace the food you ate to determine what could have possibly made you sick? Did you jog your memory to see if you were recently near someone who was sick? Or did you recount your recent lack of sleep, levels of stress and anxiety? Chances are good your investigation stopped after you remember that late night curry bowl, but the truth is the insomnia or stress is a more likely culprit for your bowel problems.

It isn’t just me who believes this either. Dr. Bernard Jensen (45) has often stated that emotional strain is one of the largest strains on the bowel, and it is the one which we are least often aware. In fact Jensen believes it is a symbiotic relationship: our emotions affect our bowels and our bowels affect our emotions. Since our daily lives are filled with a range of emotions we will start with the most common of all bowel disorders: constipation.

What Is Constipation?

Constipation is simply the failure to produce a bowel movement. For some this is a temporary problem brought on by a day of indulgence on processed foods and beverages, but for others it is a chronic problem that can lead to autointoxication and a whole host of other health problems. In fact many like Dr. Jensen consider constipation to be the Granddaddy of bowel disorders because nearly all other disorders are linked to or can be traced back to it.

Just to give you an idea of how prevalent constipation is in the United States more than 4 million people reported frequent bouts of constipation while in the United Kingdom it is estimated that as much as 15% of the population has suffered regularly from symptoms related to constipation.

In order to understand just how constipation can affect you however, you must understand how your digestive system works. The food you eat moves through the various parts of the colon (ascending, transverse & descending) also known as the large intestine. The large intestine absorbs water in order to formulate stool and the muscle contractions in the large intestine move the stool towards evacuation, by which time it has solidified because all of the water has been absorbed.

When too much water is absorbed the muscle contractions become sluggish, increasing what Dr. Jensen calls “bowel transit time” from 18 hours to much more. So if you eat breakfast at 8 a.m. you should expect to evacuate it by 10 p.m. that evening and a dinner consumed at 6 p.m. will be evacuated at about 6:30 the following morning. That is how a healthy bowel should look.

But if you are not regularly evacuating your bowels all of those meals are still settling into your intestines, creating the perfect breeding ground for toxic substances, intestinal toxemia and altered flora inside the intestines. All of this can create a perfect storm of illness and disease.


treat constipation
This figure illustrates a full intestine full of several days of meals.

What Causes Constipation?

You should not think of constipation as a disease, per se, but rather a symptom. By viewing in this light you will see that there are a variety of reasons for constipation, but high on that list is dehydration, fiber deficiency, a sedentary lifestyle, ignoring bowel movements and underperformance of other elimination organs. These are the primary causes for chronic constipation, but there are a variety of other problems in which constipation is a symptom. According to the World Gastroenterology Organisation constipation may occur as a result of illnesses, medications and diseases such as:

  • Dehydration
  • Depression
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Rectal prolapse
  • Antidepressants
  • Diuretics
  • Opiates
  • Antihistamines
  • Antipsychotics
  • Antacids

What we must remember when we think of constipation is that it can may different things to different people. Some people who experience 2 to 3 bowel movements per day believe they have diarrhea, when in fact they do not. In fact Dr. Jensen believes that diarrhea is just another form of constipation, as it is the body’s way to combat chronic constipation by filling the large intestine with water to get rid of backed up feces.

There are also those who believe a bowel movement every 3 or 4 days is completely normal. For some, it may be. We have to redefine what we view as “normal” because what the medical community reaches a consensus on does not make it true across the board. For example it is widely considered “normal” to experience a bowel movement every 2 or 3 days, but you might experience healthy bowel movements daily and sometimes more than once per day.

The truth, as Dr. Jensen points out, is that some people experience multiple bowel movements each day yet still have a very full intestine while one patient of his experienced movements every Tuesday and Thursday yet had a healthy bowel. It depends on the person, but there are things you can do to prevent and treat constipation.

Treatment & Prevention

If you are a chronic sufferer of constipation you’ve probably tried every so-called miracle cure on the market from laxatives to strange diets, but you probably haven’t tried the one all-natural method of constipation treatment: an all-natural high fiber diet, plenty of water, regular exercise and fresh air. You think it sounds too good to be true, right? Well, it’s not!

The best course of treatment for constipation is what I’ve outlined above, and it is the best way to make sure you don’t ever have to suffer the discomfort known as constipation. Although if you do suffer from an underlying condition you and your physician will have to work together on the underlying issue but the important thing to remember about constipation is that a detox diet, as outlined above, can help prevent and treat constipation, full stop!

You already know what constipation is: clogging of the intestine. So to treat and prevent requires you to unclog it.

Water is necessary to a regular bowel function because it is an important part of the digestive process. If your body is dehydrated then there isn’t a sufficient amount of water for the large intestine to absorb, causing the stool to harden and thicken, which makes it hard (and often painful) to exit the body without proper lubrication.

Whole foods are filled with fiber, particularly fruits and vegetables, help produce bowel movements. Fiber helps speed up the transit time of food in the large intestine and it softens stools so they pass easily. A diet filled with processed foods will cause the large intestine—as well as other elimination systems—to work sluggishly and causing irregular bowel movements.

Exercise & Sunshine are both great for the treatment and prevention of constipation. Earlier we talked about emotions and digestion: well when you feel fatigued, tired, depressed or restless these emotions can promote constipation. The more you are out and about, moving around the more you are encouraging your body to work regularly.

Take a look at the treatments above, do any of them seem as though they can be replaced by laxatives? That is because there is no replacement for a healthy diet or lifestyle. Dr. Jensen estimates that laxative sales are in excess of $300 per year, all in the name of “curing” constipation. While you may experience some relief, chances are good that these laxatives are not helping alleviate constipation. They overwork the muscles in the bowels by simply flushing out everything, when you really need is a regular defecation process.

Get on the path to good health and healthy bowels now!

Getting Started

You’re ready to take control of your bowel health, right? You want your body to work as it was meant to work, which means all systems in working order. So add these steps into your week and see if you don’t feel a heck of a lot lighter and freer!

  1. Replace 2 drinks each day with water.
  2. If you feel hungry, have a glass of water first. Sometimes we confuse dehydration for hunger and this is a great way to make sure you aren’t depriving your body of water.
  3. Replace your afternoon snack with 1 cup of fruit or vegetables.
  4. Replace refined grains with whole grains such as unprocessed bran and whole grain pasta and bread. Better yet, replace them with gluten-free bread and pasta as gluten has been found to wreak havoc with some people’s bowels.
  5. Replace sugary foods and dessert 3 days this week with fruit; it will give you only the sugars your body needs. Increase that over time as your cravings for sugar decrease.

What’s Next…

This is a multi-part series exploring the different bowel disorders, symptoms and natural treatments for these disorders. In Part Two we will discuss Colitis and help you identify symptoms so you can change your lifestyle to improve your bowel health.

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Noah Laith

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