Constipated? Try These Simple, Natural Remedies!
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Constipation is the pits, and it happens to everyone at some point. Even if you’re making positive changes in your diet, you may experience a bout of constipation. This is because your body is taking time to adapt to your new style of eating.
After having my son back in 2016, I suffered from chronic constipation which I later learned was from a stealth infection (which I’ll discuss later in this post!), and since I see this issue SO often in my practice, I wanted to share a few things that always seem to provide relief.
But before I dive in, let’s discuss why this is so important. If you think about it, digestion is pretty simple. We eat a food, and we eliminate waste. BUT if we are unable to fully evacuate, or we are simply not evacuating enough, this waste and toxicity tends to be reabsorbed by the bloodstream and recycled through the body. This can create a host of other symptoms and challenges, which is why ensuring that you are pooping 1-2 times a day is an excellent foundational piece of any wellness protocol.
You ready? Let’s talk poop.
1. Address the root cause
I want this to be the first thing we talk about today because I cannot stress it’s importance enough! If you have any sort of underlying infection or bacterial imbalance (like SIBO), a food sensitivity (for example, to gluten or dairy), or you’re taking a medication or supplement that has a side effect of constipation (I’m lookin’ at you, iron!), you may feel as though you’ve tried every single remedy out there and nothing works. This was me for about a year before I finally uncovered some underlying food sensitivities and a stealth infection that I was unaware of through the proper testing. When I started focusing my energy on the infection as well as eliminating the food sensitivities, my digestion improved significantly!
If you’re reading this blog, it means that you probably prefer natural remedies over the, “A pill for every ill” way of thinking. But know that we can use this way of thinking with supplements too! Before looking for a pill to solve this problem, first look at what might be causing it. This doesn’t necessarily always mean something big is going on behind the scenes (you might just not be chewing enough, or you may have a lot of stress impacting your nervous system!), but it is something to always consider: Why is this happening?
2. Hydration hacks for happy poops
Listen up: I KNOW THAT YOU KNOW the importance of drinking enough water each day.
…But be honest - Do you actually do it?
Being hydrated is essential for digestion because it softens the stool and allows things to move through the system much easier. That being said, there are a few ways you can optimize hydration in the body that also can have a profound impact on how well you poop. Here are my favourites:
- Do you ever find yourself forgetting to drink water throughout the day? If this sounds like you, I want to share a really simple trick with you that helps me to know exactly how much I’ve had and how much I have left to drink before the day’s end: Get yourself a 1L water bottle (Glass or stainless steel if possible!) and make it a goal to empty it two times. This provides a super simple visual of roughly how much you need throughout the day. While the actual recommended amount varies from person to person, having this 2L goal is an excellent place to start.
– Drink BETWEEN meals. If you drink all of your water during meals, this can actually dilute your digestive juices and you may not absorb quite as much of the nutrients from your meal. This also means that your digestive system has to work even harder to break down your meal, which itself can result in constipation! For this reason, I try to stay hydrated between meals, and only have a small glass of water with my meal for sipping if needed.
- Adding the juice of some lemon to your water is great for relieving constipation. It’s rich in enzymes and highly acidic which can help to stimulate your digestive system to move things along. Increasing the amount of water you drink is a well known constipation remedy, but adding lemon juice can make it extra effective. I personally love having a personal goal of drinking 16oz of lemon water first thing in the morning on an empty stomach. This way, 2 of my 10 glasses of water are finished before the day begins, I am starting my day hydrated & energized, and the acidity from the lemon is waking up my digestive system immediately upon waking. Such a simple, yet powerful way to support the body!
- “But Michelle, I drink lots of coffee which contains water - AND I need coffee because it helps me poop!” If this sounds like you, we need to talk. I hate to break it to you, but coffee is a diuretic. This means that it causes water and salts to be eliminated from your system. As a matter of fact, coffee can actually remove MORE water than you are drinking in the coffee itself! This means that for each cup of coffee you drink in a day, you’ll want to add an extra 1.5 or 2 cups of water to your daily goal over and above what you’re already drinking!
- Chia water: If I really want to boost hydration in my body, I will sometimes add a tablespoon of ground chia seeds to my lemon water in the morning. Chia is high in antioxidants and fibre, and has a “gelling” effect, where the seeds themselves actually absorb water and turn into a gel. For this reason, many people recommend adding a bit of chia to your water in order to boost hydration. If you ever feel like you drink water and it very quickly, “goes right through you,” note that chia is thought to be helpful in bringing that water into the cells! Consider it like an all-natural hydration “booster.” ;)
- Flax tea: Flax is one of the best seeds for getting things moving in the bowels. It’s quite useless as a whole seed (because our body can’t break through the shell), but once you grind it into a powder and mix it with water, magic happens. It’s important to consume only freshly ground flax and to store your flax seeds in the fridge because the oils are prone to quick oxidation. In other words, they can easily go rancid.
The reason flax works so well for constipation is its high mucilage content. Mucilage is a slimy substance that helps to lubricate the colon and intestinal lining. Along with a good amount of fiber and omega-3 fatty acids, flax seeds are a decent alternative for many to commercial constipation supplements.
To make flax tea, grind 1 tablespoon of flax seeds and mix with 1.5 cups of warm (not hot) water. You can add lemon and honey to flavour your tea, then sip and enjoy! Alternatively if you find it too gritty, you can add all ingredients to your blender and process it until frothy.
3. Consume enough fiber
Did you know that many indigenous tribes consume over 100 grams of fiber every single day? This, along with an active lifestyle of hunting, gathering and living off the land contributes to practically non-existent rates of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer. The recommended daily intake of fiber for women in modern day society is drastically less than this at only 25g per day, and men is at 38g per day. Even still, the vast majority of North Americans aren’t even coming close to consuming these recommended amounts.
Fiber is important for blood sugar balance and supporting healthy cholesterol levels, it is the preferred food choice for the beneficial bacteria that make up our microbiome and about 70% of our immune system, and it can also help to move food through the digestive tract. Translation: Healthier, happier poops!
But like anything, the source matters! When trying to increase your fiber intake, focus on plant fibers from things like greens, apples, pears, avocado, prunes, citrus fruits, squash and sweet potato (to name a few), rather than from things like cereal and bread.
With fiber, I also believe that DIVERSITY matters - Especially when we are talking about gut health. Many practitioners suggest aiming to consume 30 different types of plant fibers every single week, and alternating the types on a weekly basis. This number might sound intimidating, but I promise that once you start counting just how many types of plant foods you’ve got on your plate, you’ll realize that it is really quite simple!
I also want to add that if you feel worse when you consume certain types of fiber (apples, garlic, onion, pears, etc), this could be a sign that your gut requires some attention. This is where I might consider working with a practitioner to dive deeper into why your body is sensitive to these foods.
4. Movement, dry brushing and massage
Can’t poop? Consider how active you are in your daily life. The fact is, many of us simply don’t move enough in a day. Whether it’s due to spending our days sitting at a desk, or to spending our evenings watching TV or chilling on the couch, we as a society simply aren’t moving enough.
Moving the body can stimulate blood flow and promote circulation, and the best example of this can be seen by my son Nate, who, like clockwork, always seems to have to go after running circles around the back yard! We even use this ideology while potty training - We take him out for a bit of playtime and movement, and then head to the potty immediately after. Works every time!
If you struggle to find time for movement each day, one simple hack I like to use in the warmer months is what I like to call the “15-15-15.” Essentially, I simply set my alarm for 45 minutes earlier than usual. This leaves me 15 minutes to get dressed, have a big glass of water and grab my timer, then I head outside and I walk for 15 minutes. When my timer goes off at the 15 minute mark, I turn around and head home, which would be another 15 minutes. This gets me hydrated upon waking, and it gives me 30-minutes of movement and fresh air before my day begins!
You can also stimulate bloodflow and circulation to the digestive system using dry brushing! If you don’t currently use a dry brush to support your lymphatic system and digestion, check out this video where I share the why & how of this simple daily habit.
And lastly, never underestimate the power of breathwork and massage targeted to supporting digestive health. When done correctly, these simple tools can be used used in a pinch to help you get out of a bind (pun definitely intended!)
5. Chill and Chew
As much as movement is important for digestion, so is stillness.
Did you know that when our body is in the “fight-or-flight state, blood flow moves AWAY from the organs of digestion and detoxification and into the limbs so we can “fight or flee” from a perceived threat?
Did you know that we can enter this fight or flight state from simply watching the news, scrolling social media, or thinking of something that happened 20 years ago?
For this reason, managing stress is SO much more important than you might think.
Managing stress isn’t just for the people who are chronically stressed. It’s for ALL OF US.
One of the most difficult habits for me to break is the habit of multitasking. The idea that I need to be working while snacking, or eating in the car. I have to continuously remind myself of the importance of mindful eating, which is eating at my kitchen table with no distractions, while in a relaxed state. CHEWING my food well, and taking my time.
Is this something you struggle with too? If so, this may be the very reason you found this blog post in the first place. Slowing down and chewing our food well is the only mechanical way that we have to break down our food. Everything else the body does is on a chemical level. Chewing and chilling together on a consistent basis is sometimes the only thing I suggest to a client and the health of their digestion changes completely!
And we don’t need to just be calm while eating! If we can remain in a relaxed state for an hour or two after our meal, we allow our body time to do the inner work of processing what we’ve given it. This alone can make such a difference!
A few other tools I use to help me chill on a consistent basis are the Calm meditation app (I particularly love doing a 15 minute meditation before bed at night - It helps reduce stress and anxiety and I sleep like a rock!), my Heartmath heart rate variability monitor, journaling every single day, and honestly - Just straight up deep breathing.
Because here’s the coolest part: For many of us, all it takes is 10 simple deep breaths to activate the OTHER SIDE of our nervous system - The “rest-and-digest” state, where blood flow can actually work in the favour of healthy, happy poops. By really, truly committing to whatever daily stress management techniques work best for you, you will be supporting both your mind AND your gut.
I’ve already spoken in this post about how I wasn’t a huge fan of the, “a pill for every ill” ideology, but probiotics can come in many other forms and some of them can support digestion significantly.
First, there are fermented foods. Some examples include fermented pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, yogurt and kombucha. It’s important to begin this conversation by letting you know just how powerful these foods are. For example: One 4-ounce serving of sauerkraut contains more probiotic cultures than an entire 100-count bottle of your average probiotic pills!
What does this mean for you? Start slow! If you want to try probiotic-rich foods like fermented sauerkraut or pickles, start by adding one tablespoon to your dinner plate. And if this is a whole new world for you, note that when you first start taking them, you may feel your digestion shifting and changing for the first week or so because you are introducing these new bacteria to the body.
I also want to mention that not all sauerkraut and pickles are fermented! If you are buying it from the shelf at your grocery store, this usually means that they have gone through a pasteurization process which kills off the beneficial bacteria. To find a true fermented and probiotic-rich product, head over to the refrigerator section of your local health food store, or check your local farmers market. There should usually be minimal ingredients, such as cabbage, water, salt and spices.
And one last thing on this topic: For some, fermented foods can be quite difficult to digest because they contain histamine. If you find that every time you consume histamine you feel a bit itchy or achy, it may be time to chat with a practitioner about how to start supporting the body with more targeted food and lifestyle modification. For others, it is only specific types of fermented foods that do not work. For example, I have never felt good while drinking kombucha but I feel amazing when I consume sauerkraut! Like anything else in life, it’s important to find what works for your unique physiology.
7. Squatty Potty
Ever heard of the squatty potty? If you haven’t, start by clicking here to watch the most unusual TV commercial of all time.
Here’s what you need to know: intuitively, we as human beings KNOW the importance of being in the proper position when we poop. Picture a toddler who is still in diapers. What do they do when they need to go? They go squat down behind the couch! Why is this?
When our body is in a squat position, the bowel is moved into alignment to promote complete evacuation, which means there is far less waste left over in places it may otherwise accumulate. This is important because if we can’t fully evacuate, toxins from this waste tend to recycle their way back through our bloodstream, which is a no bueno. It’s also the reason your nutritionist likely always starts the conversation with, “So, how have you been pooping?”
When we sit upright on a toilet, we instead tend to have a “kink” in the colon which makes it far more difficult to use the muscles we need to use to completely eliminate. Squatting not only “un-kinks the hose” so we can fully eliminate, but it also applies pressure to the places in the colon that require extra support. For this reason, we are huge fans of the squatty potty!
The final two things on this list are supplements, because this is the sort of mindset I usually suggest with my clients. Let’s start by seeing if we can address the root cause of WHY you are constipated. Next, we consider dietary and lifestyle factors. And finally, only if totally necessary do we step in and consider supplement options.
That being said, sometimes a little nudge from specific, targeted supplements can make a world of difference. And digestive bitters are one that I always keep on hand.
I personally love Canadian Bitters from St. Francis Herb Farm and I recommend it to many of my clients (and nope - I’m not sponsored to say that!). It contains anti-inflammatory herbs like ginger, turmeric and chamomile, and it is certified organic. A dropper full in a glass of water 15 minutes before a meal can work wonders for stimulating your body’s own gastric juices so you’re better able to process your meal.
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, we have an excess of sweetness in our diet, and a deficiency in bitterness. Bitter foods like turmeric, ginger, arugula, parsley, collard greens and dandelion are all incredible for supporting digestion. So whether you’d like to incorporate a digestive bitter tincture into your day or you simply want to consume in more bitter foods, this is one way to support the body’s own natural ability to digest rather than taking a pill to force it.
Here are the facts: We as a society are deficient in magnesium.
We obtain this vital mineral from greens, certain fruits and veggies like avocado, figs, broccoli and cabbage, and nuts & seeds. That being said, many of us simply don’t get enough. So why does this matter?
Magnesium is important for over 300 biochemical reactions in the human body. It can be an incredible mineral for PMS and menopause, anxiety, sleep and yes, digestion. The reason: Certain types of magnesium can help to pull water into the colon, resulting in a softer stool that is easier to pass. It is also a natural muscle relaxer, which means it can help to move us into the “rest and digest” state where we can redirect blood flow to the digestive system.
It’s important to note that not all types of magnesium are the same. I personally keep 2 types on hand: Magnesium citrate and magnesium bisglycinate.
Magnesium citrate is good option to use in a pinch if you have exhausted all efforts and are still constipated. I use a brand called Natural Calm and I make it into a warm drink before bed. This type of magnesium isn’t as well absorbed by the body as some other forms, meaning it doesn’t help as much with all of the different biochemical reactions I just spoke about, but I do keep it on hand as an, “In case of constipation, break glass” sort of tool because of it’s mild laxative effect. It also helps me to sleep like a rock if I am feeling particularly restless, which is why I tend to only use it before bed.
Magnesium Bisglycinate is the magnesium supplement of choice in our household because it has so many functions and it is well absorbed. It can be beneficial for things like PMS and menopause symptoms , and it also can help to regulate our heart rhythm and to maintain a healthy blood pressure. Magnesium helps the body to produce ATP, which is an essential element to the metabolic activities happening in every cell. It also has a calming effect for muscles, nerves, body and mind, making it a helpful option for anxiety sufferers. And it goes without saying: Magnesium plays a super important role in building strong bones because it aids in calcium absorption!
So there you have it - You’ve now got an entire toolbox of holistic strategies and ideas on how you can work WITH your body rather than against it. And if you know someone who struggles with IBS, constipation or any other digestive issue, please share this list with them so they too can find relief.
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In health (and with super healthy poops),