The 4 best natural remedies to fight constipation - and 4 major mistakesFeb 23, 2021
Pull up a chair! I’m about to answer one of the most common questions I get in my practice – and, of course, it’s poo-related.
“What in tarnation can I do about this chronic constipation?”
This issue disproportionately affects many in the autoimmune community, who often suffer from dysmotility (slow or dysfunctioning digestive muscles).
Usually this is via negative impacts on what is termed the Migratory Motor Complex or MMC. The MMC controls the tiny involuntary contractions in our intestines that are responsible for moving waste through the GI tract – often termed “peristalsis”.
Because of this phenomenon, we autoimmuners need to take special care to support our gut lining and MMC.
First, let’s talk about some very conventional advice that you should feel free to go ahead and ignore when it comes to promoting regular bowel movements:
1) “Increase your fiber.”
Oh dear! If I had a nickel for every time I heard this obsession about fiber parroted back to me as a simple cure-all for all things digestive, I’d be Kim friggin’ K.
Really, when we frame this ‘solution’ in terms of the 2 major pathways for dysfunction in the gut - dysbiosis, and leaky gut – we begin to see a different picture.
We know the composition of your microbes plays a major role in the body’s ability to efficiently and completely digest your food, and that the absence of this break-down service is a huge contributing factor for constipation symptoms.
And here’s a little fact about fiber that we just can’t ignore: fiber is fuel for microbes. It’s what they eat, and what allows them to multiply. By extension, depending on the balance or imbalance of your particular eco-system, providing fuel for the growth of these microbes may or (probably) may not be a good idea.
For most constipation cases, exactly because the food is moving more slowly through the GI Tract, it already affords increased opportunity for microbes to feast on that food and overgrow. Throwing more fiber-fuel into the mix will, 9 times out of 10, worsen the very overgrowths driving the constipation.
Many who throw fiber into their routine willy nilly will actually end up experiencing increased gas, bloating, belching, cramping, and constipation for this very reason.
Next let’s consider the second pathway of dysfunction: structural damage that leads to leaky gut. Fiber can be a great sort of abrasive tool to clean out your gut if you have a strong structure in place – think about how well steel wool works to clean a cast iron pan.
If, however, your structure is weaker – if you have a nutrient deficiency, chronic condition, chemical exposure, or any other number of very common scenarios that happen in modern life – then your gut is more like a Teflon pan, and using steel wool on it does terrible, often irreversible, damage to it.
Just like steel wool, you should know that fiber is very specific, powerful tool that is only appropriate for a handful of situations. Otherwise this could ultimately lead to increased intestinal permeability and higher inflammation levels in the body.
Fiber also requires lots of liquid to be moved through the body – so it can end up dehydrating you even further if you don’t increase your liquid intake, which may exacerbate your constipation.
Here is the caveat to all of this: if you have had stool testing done, such as the exalted GI-MAP, and the only dysbiotic activity in your stool was too little beneficial microbes… and you had no presence whatsoever of opportunist or pathogenic microbes… you may be well-poised to try supplementing with fiber.
If this is you, I suggest moving very slowly and only using specific kinds of fiber associated with positive microbe activity such as Sunfiber products.
Everyone else should steer clear until they’ve tried the 4 action steps below.
2) “Drink sugary juices or eat sugary dried fruits.”
Prunes inevitably come to mind here. Did you know that one 8 oz cup of prune juice has 42.11g of sugar in it? To put this in perspective, a can of Coke has 39g of sugar in a 12 oz can. Prune juice is significantly higher in sugar than Coca Cola!
And why does this matter? Sugar selectively feeds pathogenic bacteria and could easily exacerbate any existing overgrowths at the root of the constipation. What’s more, the blood sugar spike we would see after drinking this would be very likely to send our body into emergency mode to get it back within range – otherwise known as ‘fight-or-flight’. This stress response diverts resources away from peristalsis (the contractions in your bowel that make things move along.
Prunes are also high in a sugar called Sorbitol, which the body can’t digest. This results in the body seeking to dispel it as quickly as possible by flushing it out of the system, rushing water in to force a bowel movement. This mechanism relies on stressing the body, rather than rebalancing the systems that are clearly out of whack.
We shouldn’t have to “trick” the body to panic and do an emergency poop, this is not addressing the root issue.
If you must eat something prune-ish, eat the whole food form, a delicious plum. A plum contains only 6.6g of sugar and a modest amount of natural fibers to slow the uptake of sugars into the bloodstream. Just a hint of sorbitol in this non-concentrated form. A much better alternative.
Really, this rule extends to almost any fruit with magical constipation-quelling powers attributed to it by the medical community – always opt to eat the whole-food form instead of dried forms or juices!
3) “Just drink more water – especially at meal time!”
Please, please, please, if you decide you’re dehydrated – which you probably are – don’t drink all of your extra water with meals. This will dilute your precious stomach acid so that your food doesn’t get digested… causing further delays.
If you decide to augment your water supply away from meals, as is prudent, you should make sure to cut your water with some fresh-to-death minerals. Minerals serve as little spark plugs for your enzyme reactions, which catalyze the breakdown of food so that it can easily move through your bowels.
I suggest adding a pinch of sea salt and lemon to your water or using some kind of mineral drops – Trace Minerals makes a nice one in the Fullscript store – to add a therapeutic dose into each glass.
4) “Take laxatives on a long-term basis.” (OTC or natural)
Laxatives are a mask for how well the problem – your digestive function - actually gets addressed. If you still need to rely on laxatives, even natural ones, we’re not getting to the heart of the issue!
If absolutely necessary, you should always opt for natural options instead of synthetic ones such as Senna (I love Smooth Move tea by Traditional Medicinals), Aloe Vera, Buffered Magnesium, and Beet Kvass or ferments.
But if you find yourself relying on these in order to have a bowel movement, it’s a good indicator something is off elsewhere.
Is your mind blown?
Now let’s get to what you should do instead.
1) Fix your digestive secretions.
Can you tell I’m passionate about this? Step #1, for virtually everyone who walks through my virtual door, is to fix your digestive secretions so that you can actually begin to digest and assimilate your food.
Bottom line? If your body isn’t breaking down your food because of insufficient stomach acid or digestive enzymes, your food isn’t going to move in a timely way through the GI-tract because your stomach will hold on to it to try to break it down further first. When it gets released into the intestines, the undigested food particles will lead to microbial imbalances and structural issues that exacerbate the constipation issue.
The first step is always to tackle the problem at the source and fix your stomach acid.
2) Support your Migratory Motor Complex by stimulating your vagus nerve.
Your Vagus nerve is intimately associated with your ability to poo. So what kinds of things can you do to ensure you are engaging it?
- Get a massage or acupuncture – can’t afford one? Start a massage train you’re your buddies, I’m betting everyone can use a little extra touch :)
Exercise – especially core exercises like sit-ups or crunches that strengthen the muscles around your intestines
Deep breathing – another yoga or meditation plus!
Laughter – guess you’ve got that excuse to have a girl’s night
Splashing cold water on your face – I love to do this in the morning and before bed
Humming or singing – get down with it in the car, it’s good for ya
Try implementing 3 of these regularly into your routine.
3) Get your fat right.
Guuyyysss, your fat is so important. Quantity is important, yes, but quality is most important.
This is because fat moves and thins your digestive bile, and bile flow is crucial for your bowel movements. I’ve written about this before, but among the first three dietary steps that you take, one should be to get the evil fat-forms out of your diet, and replace them with fat-gold.
What’s on the no list?
Industrial Seed Oils including:
Corn oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, cottonseed oil, canola oil, soybean oil, etc.
Margarines and butter substitutes
Any hydrogenated or trans fats
Conventional animal fats aren’t the best either.
What’s on the go list?
Fats from pastured animals: lard, tallow, suet, etc.
Eggs from pastured birds
Grass-fed butter or ghee
Wild-caught oily fish: salmon, tuna, herring, mackerel, sardines, etc.
Cold pressed olive oil
A limited amount of nuts and seeds
If tolerated, full-fat raw and fermented dairy from pastured animals
A great rule of thumb for thinking about which plant forms of fat are okay to use is to think about the whole food form.
When you think about sunflower seeds and eating a whole cup of them, how much oil would we get from that amount of seeds? Afterall, they’re pretty dry-seeming. It must take a lot of sunflower seeds to make a cup of sunflower oil. By extension, our body probably isn’t used to ingesting that large of an amount of these kinds of oils since it would never occur in nature.
On the other hand, if we think of an olive or an avocado – they’re oily by nature! Eating them in their whole forms would naturally give us a lot of their oils so we’ve likely evolved to be able to digest these substances well over time, and we can safely consume them.
4) Eat healing superfoods that help your gut.
This means focusing on ferments and bone broth, my friends.
Fermented vegetables are chock-full of enzymes, which kickstart your digestion and make your stool nice and soft and easy to move. They also happen to be teeming with probiotics that preform the essential services your GI tract requires to move that food through: eating your fodo fibers and excreting vitamins and lubricating fatty acids that nourish your gut lining. They’ll also dislodge and crowd out a lot of the bad guys, resulting in a more balanced ecosystem.
Next up is bone broth. My friend, if you’re goal is to get hydrated, this is the way to do it. Bone broth is a marvelous natural package full of gut-repairing collagen, amino acid building blocks, and tons of electrolytes that make the liquid hyper-absorbable.
Ingesting a tablespoon of sauerkraut with meals and sipping on a cup of bone broth twice a day will have you regular in no time.
And there you have it, the recipe for perfect-poos :).