By now, I’m sure you know just how important gut health is…I mean, truly, almost everything starts in the gut. Our gut has been termed our 2nd brain, however I’m starting to believe it’s our main brain!
Did you know you have more bacteria in your gastrointestinal (GI) system than you have cells in your body?
About 2/3 of your immune system is housed in the gut, and the majority of neurotransmitters are produced there, too. 80% of your serotonin and 50% of your dopamine. Serotonin impacts mood, digestion, memory, appetite, and sleep (serotonin is actually a precursor for melatonin – one reason it’s so important to understand what’s interfering with your sleep).
The gut housing the majority of our immune system was a total ah-ha learning moment for me!
That’s when it started making total sense to me that our “Inner Garden,” aka our gut, really does control the overall health of our body.
How’s does your Inner Garden grow? Not sure? Think of it like this:
Bad soil out in the garden yields weeds.
Good soil out in the garden yields a bountiful crop and beautiful gardens.
What kind of soil is there to till in your inner garden?
Often times the gut is overlooked as the trigger or root cause in skin, mood, hormone imbalances and other challenges that are not proximal to the gut. In actuality, the gut should be the go to area for determining what’s at play in many aches, pains, or chronic illnesses.
While there are additional signs and symptoms to look out for, there are a handful that I most commonly see in my functional medicine health coaching practice.
Part 2 of my Gut Health series is dialing in on a key factor to gut health: The Scoop on Poop.
This may surprise you, however many of my functional medicine health coaching clients think their poop OR poop schedule is “normal.” That’s until I start educating, asking, and getting the scoop on their poop.
Think about your “normal” for a moment.
Does this sound similar or familiar?
“Oh, I’m good there. I have a BM (that’s bowel movement) every two days, sometimes three? I’ve been like this my whole life. It’s no big deal.” Um, I don’t think I can agree with the “good or the no big!”
“I go a few times a day. Sometimes there’s pieces of food or even a greasy looking film on the top of the water!” Okay, but this isn’t good or healthy.
Then, there are those that experience running to the bathroom immediately after ingesting just about any type of food put into one’s mouth! And that’s not a healthy place to be either.
Think of your poop as the best story teller of YOUR health journey. Stay with me. It’s totally true.
The consistency, frequency, and color of your poop tell so much about how you till your inner garden. What’s going on (even growing) in there that we cannot see.
Here are a few of the questions I commonly ask my clients?
- How many times per day?
Think of it like this: One meal in. One meal out. Those with chronic illness, perhaps more.
- Did you have to strain or was it easy?
Should be easy to pass (no reading material or social media scrolling required)
- Consistency, color and size?
Long, log-like pieces, no hard little marbles or ping pong balls. Should be light to darkish brown in color. Not grey or tar looking. If so, see your doc.
- Sinkers or floaters? Sinkers are best.
- Greasy/oily film on surface or any pieces of food? Both are related to digestive issues further upstream.
I love the graphics and explanations used on the Bristol stool chart here! Take a moment to check it out.
While the Poop Patrol is out, I definitely want to zoom in on constipation.
The average American is chronically constipated.
Here’s the truth. Besides being uncomfortable being constipated is NOT healthy. If you aren’t having regular, daily bowel movements, it’s only a matter of time before you start feeling cranky or just not right. Perhaps you’re already experiencing some ill side effects but you haven’t yet related it to constipation.
Your kitchen trash can overflowing with garbage: spilling over, messy and smelly.
Now, not having daily BMs is very much like not taking out the kitchen trash when the bag is over full. Harmful bacteria flourish as your stool continues to ferment. Waste products continue to irritate and perhaps poison your gut lining. Worst of all, your body will eventually begin to reabsorb the trash. The gross TRUTH!
Your stool is the primary exit pathway for the waste in your body. Things like pesticides from foods, medications, chemicals from personal hygiene products and plastics, heavy metals, damaged cholesterol, and even excess estrogen – produced from within or external (called xenoestrogens), and believe me, there’s a loaded gun always firing and disrupting hormones from the outside, too.
Stop for a moment to think about your skin care, household cleaning products, burning candles, fragrances, yard sprays, the flame retardant chemicals on your sofa and mattress, I could go on, but you get the message that we are exposed and consuming toxins daily. These need the opportunity to exit the body on the daily.
Are you ready to go? I’ve compiled 14 Common Causes and Solutions to get you moving.
14 Common Causes of Constipation (no particular order):
1. Foodas/drinks you consume
2. Poor eating hygiene
4. Lack of daily movement
5. Sluggish thyroid (= sluggish everything)
6. Parasites (yes, from U.S. soil, foods, pets, and others)
7. Food sensitivities (not the same as food allergies)
8. Issues with digestion (not breaking down fats/proteins, for example)
9. Hormone imbalances (the common thread of estrogen dominance, for example; a viscous cycle)
10. Suboptimal serotonin
11. Sluggish bile flow
12. Medication induced (calcium, iron, blood pressure meds, oral contraceptives, and NSAIDS are some common ones)
13. Chronic stress
14. Insufficient digestive enzyme output in the pancreas and brush border
14 Solutions to Constipation (no particular order):
1. My #1 suggestion for eliminating constipation is toget to the root cause(s) of YOUR individual situation. Each person has their own story. You MUST keep peeling back the layers in order to get to the root cause (of any chronic challenge), otherwise your issue will return.
2. Improve your eating hygiene (I wrote on Eating Hygiene in Elite Physical Therapy’s January newsletter)
3. Increase water intake. A minimum of ½ your body weight in ounces, daily, it’s what’s recommended for every day water consumption. More if you are active, a heavy sweater or out in the elements. We need water during winter, too. Fiber helps to form a stool, but water is what allows soluble fiber to work its magic. Think of trying to use a dry sponge without water: it’s not very effective, is it?
4. Eat more plant foods. There is no substitute for real, food-based fiber in our diets, especially fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. But realize that this is only one of several potential issues at play. Increasing fiber in a constipated individual must be done slowly and gently or the issue can potentially get worse. I recommend you get “moving” with magnesium and healthy fats first. Then, you can work on slowly increasing fiber for better long-term GI flora health and motility.
NOTE: There are two kinds of fiber in our food:
a. Soluble fiber helps to form a stool (adds bulking). It’s key for fully-formed BMs and helpful for intermittent loose stools or diarrhea (think of rice, oatmeal, apples in particular) but not useful for constipation. Psyllium husk is a natural soluble fiber supplements. Mix it up in a smoothie, stir into non-dairy yogurt, or blend with a homemade protein shake. I also recommend considering giving up any “PseudoFiber” powders as most of them contain artificial colors, flavors, and/or sweeteners (e.g. Metamucil). Note: Be sure to read labels carefully.
b. Insoluble fiber helps to move a stool along for easy exit (think of all vegetables, especially leafy greens). This kind of fiber is particularly helpful for constipation. Flaxseed (especially whole) is an excellent insoluble fiber source as well.
5. Increase healthy fats (assuming your GI system is absorbing fats) healthy fats are cardio-protective and helpful for body fat loss. The best lubrication for pipes is grease, not water; the same is true for your GI pipes. Fat helps to move your stool along. Healthy fats to consider: olive oil, coconut oil, avocados, walnuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds, and eggs. Wesson oil, safflower oil, soybean oil, all those transfats – just say no. If you have trouble digesting fats, they make you gassy or you have stools that float, there are likely other GI issues at play to get ironed out, also.
6. Perhaps a probiotic supplement. Our guts are teaming with good bugs AND bad bugs. Sometimes guts gets sluggish due to poor digestion (decreased motility) or inflammation in our intestines. Beneficial bacteria help to calm inflammation and move things along. A good multi-strain probiotic is normalizing for the body. Ensure your gut lining is prepared prior to starting a probiotic.
NOTE: Lactobacillus is one of the dominant bacterial species in the small intestines (which is helpful for other challenges), however our large intestines (where stool formation happens) are overwhelmingly colonized by Bifidobacteria. When you are constipated, you want to consider a probiotic with at least 1/3 –1/2 or more of Bifidobacterium units (usually labeled CFUs). Mostly Lactobacillus can make constipation worse.
7. Increase Movement. Walking the dog, or even just around the house however fresh air does the body good, too, some air squats in front of your vanity while brushing your teeth or shaving, just get the body moving!
8. Coffee Enemas. Not to be confused with fleet enemas.
9. Magnesium. This is one of the top 3 deficiencies in Americans. My studies have taught me that magnesium is more supportive for constipation than the typical recommendation – Metamucil.
Foods high in magnesium include: halibut, almonds, spinach, cashews, and seaweed.
Magnesium content in many plant foods though has plummeted rapidly since the mid-1900s due to over-farming of the same soil.
If you have experimented with the fiber/water/fat/probiotics combinations(s) and these suggestions are not working, you may want to consider magnesium citrate each evening after dinner. (Do not supplement with magnesium if you have kidney issues).
Unlike medications which force your body to shove out a stool artificially, magnesium works for moving bowels because it’s what your body naturally uses to move them along in the first place (in a natural wave-like muscle movement all along the GI tract called peristalsis).
Magnesium is a particularly good idea if you have other symptoms of being “bound up” or “tight” (e.g. high blood pressure, acid reflux, muscle spasms/soreness, frequent headaches, impatience). Different types of magnesium better support specific symptoms.
10. The aptly named Bowel Mover from CellCore Biosciences.
11. You may also want to order a Squatty Potty. It’s a little stool you place in front of your toilet so you can prop your feet up while sitting; this aligns your body to be in a more ideal position to have a BM.
12. Elimination diet. Gluten AND dairy are common culprits! These are two of the three MOST inflammatory causing foods in the Standard American Diet. The other is sugar. Stay tuned on an upcoming article dedicated exclusively to sugar – the not so sweet stuff.
13. Check for low stomach acid (this is a common find leading to numerous GI related issues, including poor production of digestive enzymes) and poor bile (flow).
14. Add flax seeds to salads, smoothies, or gluten free oats. Give Urban Moonshine’s digestive bitters a try, too!
These common causes and solutions are a jump start to peeling back the layers and some relief options in the meantime.
Questions? Feel free to drop me a line @ firstname.lastname@example.org.
Flip the switch. Transform the mind. And the body will follow.
Have you pooped today?