Over the years a topic that clients have brought up time and time again is constipation. I would venture to say that more than half of my clients are constipated (pooping less than once per day) and the vast majority of them have resigned themselves to this reality.
I could relate. My entire childhood I was constipated. I have a very vivid memory of sitting at the lunch table with my camp friends talking about how often everyone went to the bathroom (yes, good girlfriends talk about everything). Most of them shared they went every day, 2x per day, 3x per day... WHAT THE?!? I went about once a week. Although it did come in handy for camping trips...
I come from long line of non-poopers. Yes, seriously. My grandmother always ate prunes and special teas to get her to go to the bathroom, as did great aunts and uncles. Cousins are plagued with it too. I was always told there wasn't much to do and "I got the gene", but as I got older and more aware of my body, I said "Gene Schmene." I often felt really bloated, craved food I knew wasn't good for me, developed food sensitivities, crappy cravings, and much more. When I went to GI doctors I was told I had IBS, which is a real thing, but I think the BS part of it is chalking it up to IBS and sending someone on their way. At any rate, I looked at what foods people around the world eat, learned about the digestive system and my body, started to learn cues and am no longer the blocked up individual I once was. I do still tend towards constipation, but now I know how to get balanced out with in a day or 2 and that's the key for me.
A bogged down digestive system raises red flags for your overall health.
If you are not digesting and absorbing (this is when all of the nutrients you're eating get to your cells to do their magic) properly, your health will likely decline. For a while this may look like gas, bloating, constipation, etc and you may think these symptoms are not much more than an inconvenience, but a bogged down digestive system can mean much more than that. Soon it will mean allergies, skin breakouts, low energy, and then, potentially, much more serious inflammatory conditions.
Disease does not begin at diagnosis. It takes time to get sick.
Outlined below are my tips. I make specific notes for what i recommend for babies and children, so please read through each section if you are looking to support a baby or child with constipation.
- Get unstuck. By this I mean release the poop and the stress. We see in both children and adults the degree to which the brain and gut are connected. The digestive system is often called the "Second Brain" and there's more and more research coming out every day about the importance of healthy digestion for healthy mental health. The reverse is true as well. Supporting your mental health will support your digestive system. Ever get the runs before a big presentation or asking someone out or anything that gives you anxiety? That right there shows the connection between gut and brain. Taking a few minutes every day to do some deep breathing or any relaxation/stress release tool will be great. I love the Headspace app to guide my deep breathing. Please don't skip over this one and go to ones down the list that seem easier. This is a tool that will support your overall health and wellbeing now and for the rest of your life. Essential Oils.
- Lemon water every morning. This is something I introduced to my regimen years ago and all of my clients who introduce it notice great results as well. Add the juice of 1/2 a medium sized lemon (must be a fresh lemon and not jarred lemon juice, which is typically pasteurized) to 8 oz of warm water. I boil a bit of water and do half room temp filtered water and half boiled water to make it quick and easy. For an added boost, you can add freshly grated ginger or cayenne pepper. The lemon water gets your pipes moving. It wakes up your digestion and if you're not accustomed to going to having a bowel movement in the morning, you just might get regular to this schedule.
- Squatty potty. I can't live without my Squatty Potty anymore. This brilliant and simple foot stool puts your body in the ideal position to easily have a bowel movement. The trend in toilet design over the past several years has made this even harder on the body as they are raised even more from the floor. Your legs at a 90 degree angle when sitting on the toilet is good, but better to be more in a squat position so that the muscles can properly relax. Get one. You won't regret it! It's also an amazing icebreaker at a party! "Hey- what's that thing in your bathroom?" You'll be amazed how many other people suffer in silence with constipation and will be so happy you introduced them to it! Plus, check out their site. I mean, seriously-- how much fun is this company?!
- Lacto-fermented foods/Probiotics: If you're constipated, there's a good chance you have a proliferation of bad bacteria. A bit of chicken and egg here because the bad bacteria can cause constipation and the constipation can cause bad bacteria to hang out longer, so best to get good bacteria into your system to put this cycle to an end. Make your own fermented foods or buy in the refrigerated section of a natural food store or at a farmer's market. Cultures around the world use fermented foods as part of their meals, which aids in digestion and absorption of foods. It's a great way to add some raw to a mostly cooked meal as well! The Fermenters Club is a fantastic resource for recipes, videos, how-tos and lots of fantastic information about the benefits of this simple, but highly therapeutic group of foods. You can give a spoonful of the liquid in the sauerkraut to a baby as well. We've done this with our son since he started solids. I believe going the food route is always best rather than taking a probiotic supplement, but if you do want a supplement instead or in addition to eating fermented foods, I recommend one with over 20 million CPUs when you go to the store.
- Abdominal massage is a wonderful way to manually get the bowels moving. You can do this on yourself and your child can learn how to do it on him/herself. You can do this on your baby gently. You can use a food-based oil like coconut oil on your hands and gently massage in the direction of the colon. When looking at someone else, you are moving in a clockwise motion. On yourself, you go up on the right, across and down on the left in the direction of your colon.
- Essential Oils. There are a few individual oils and blends of oils that I recommend for constipation for adults and children, which are extremely effective. I don't recommend using these in place of looking at diet and lifestyle, but do recommend for ongoing support as part of your digestive health regimen. Of course I only recommend the highest therapeutic grade oils if you're going to apply to your skin and take internally here. Feel free to get in touch directly to find out the only brand I recommend. First, Frankincense is a great oil for digestive upset for adults and children. Adults can apply a few drops directly to he abdomen and do abdominal massage with these oils. For an infant, I recommend 1-3 drops of essential oil per teaspoon of carrier oil (coconut, olive, grapeseed, etc). Doing this massage regularly for your baby before bed is a wonderful opportunity for skin-to-skin as well as a great way to keep the digestive system health. Children love the oily touch before bed too and it can become a fantastic bedtime ritual. Peppermint oil is great if you're experiencing any gas or bloating accompanied by the constipation. You can put a drop under the tongue or in a glass of water. You can also rub on the belly too. Same dilution for babies. DiGize is a specific digestive blend that is incredibly supportive and can be applied topically or taken internally. Ginger is a wonderful oil to use topically for babies and children. You can also apply 1 drop to 1 teaspoon of coconut oil to the belly for abdominal massage. Having these oils on hand for your digestive health will give you fast and soothing relief.
- Magnesium. Magnesium helps with peristalsis, the rhythmic relaxation and contraction of muscles, both of which are essential to move food through your system into your colon for effective elimination. The kicker is that most Americans are deficient in magnesium, which is definitely a contributing factor to constipation. There are several ways you can get magnesium into your system. Adults can take Natural Calm supplement. Start with a teaspoon in water before bed and work your way up until bowels reach a desired state. You can also use a magnesium spray or take an Epsom Salts Bath, which will additionally support that stress management. The body absorbs magnesium very well through the skin, so a spray and Epsom Salts bath are great ways to support your magnesium supply. I put magnesium oil on my feet every night and often take an Epsom Salts bath myself. As for usage, I recommend 1/2 a cup of Epsom Salts per 50 lbs of body weight. If you're using for kids bath, use about 1/4 cup. I also recommend adding soothing essential oils to the salt before you add the salts to the water. You don't want to add the oil directly to the bath- always to salt first. Lavender essential oil added to your Epsom salts for the bath will do wonders for detox and relaxation.
- Pay attention to your body's signals. If you feel the urge to go to the bathroom, go. Your coworkers poop. Other people on airplanes poop. Don't ignore the urge because you are embarrassed to do something that is completely normal. Ignoring the urge is very damaging to the gut, the rectum gets stretched, and feces get backed up into the colon, which can cause additional gas and bloating. No point in ignoring the urge to poop in favor of lots of gas! Seriously, get over it. Everyone poops (well the lucky ones do) and it's normal. The more you ignore the urge and stay constipated, the more stinky they will be anyway!
- Adding fat. Adding good fat to your diet will support movement of your food through your body. I've talked to several people whose babies were constipated and adding coconut oil and other fats to foods made all the difference. Check out my post on First Foods for a fully comprehensive look at how to do food for your baby. Adding coconut oil to soups, avocado to meals, making sure you cook your veggies in good fat and continually getting fat in your diet will support your digestive system. My go-to fats and oils: coconut oil, coconut butter, avocado, nuts, animal fats, butter, ghee, olive oil.
- Questioning fiber. One of the go-to solutions you'll hear to help constipation is adding fiber. Unless your diet is really deficient in fiber (ie you're eating a Standard American Diet of highly processed and refined foods and barely any fresh foods), I don't believe this is often the solution. Most people with constipation have other digestive issues as well-- inflammation, gas, bloating and adding in a bunch of salads, grains, psyllium can back you up and make you even more gassy and bloated because the fiber is adding bulk. Again we need to look at diets around the world and at our ancestors to get a good perspective. Our Hunter-Gatherer ancestors did not eat a high fiber diet. They weren't making smoothies with tons of veggies, eating big salads, loading up on whole grains or taking fiber supplements. They eat meat, wild berries, some tubers, etc and did just fine. We have no evidence of constipation. There are groups of people around the world that eat tons of fat and very little, if any, fibrous foods. The Inuit eat lots of seal oil and other fish! Not much in the way of fiber for them. Again, they poop. What we see in these cultures, though, is that they eat whole, real, traditional foods, get movement and live a generally healthy lifestyle.
- Bone broth. Yes- bone broth showing up in this post as well. The collagen and gelatin from the bones is so therapeutic for your gut. The gut lining needs this for proper function and it's amazingly therapeutic! Start getting this into your system every single day for good skin, amazing immunity, smooth digestion, good energy, and fantastic bone health.
- Move your body. If you want your bowels to move, sitting on your butt all day won't help. You must get your body moving to get your insides moving. There are specific postures in yoga that are great for awakening and activating the digestive system, but you don't have to take a yoga class to get things moving. Any movement will make a difference.
Finally, a comprehensive poop post isn't complete without a visual chart. What type are you? Types 3-5 are ideal. Check out the Bristol Stool Chart below. I rocked a Type 1 for over two decades of my life!