Constipation is a common complaint in my practice. While it can be a sign of “SGO” (“something going on”) – it can also just be a diet or lifestyle issue. If you experience intermittent constipation, try these tips to see if yours is simply a functional imbalance.
First, what is constipation? The allopathic medical community defines it loosely as having bowel movements less than 3 times per week. However, most naturopathic doctors would look askance at anything less than once per day. The ideal scenario is 2-3 bowel movements per day that are brown, formed and easy to pass.
Another factor is “transit time” – that is, how long does it take for food’s waste products to pass through your system. Ideal is 24-48 hours. Here’s a simple home test to estimate yours: eat a beet. Yep, that’s it. Just eat a sufficient serving of beets (say, 1 medium beet), either raw or cooked (raw beets are wonderful shredded into salads!). Then keep an eye on your stools for the next couple days. Sooner or later you should see a red coloration in your stools. Alternatively, some people see an orange to red discoloration in the urine. Not to worry about either of these (unless they’re present without eating beets!); it’s a simple result of unabsorbed pigment. The unwary might think it’s blood, but now you’re in the know. Note how long after consumption of beets this occurred, and there you have your transit time.
So what to do in case of too-infrequent elimination, and/or a slow transit time? The first steps are:
1. Check your diet: are you eating a whole foods diet that includes plenty of fiber? Fiber comes in 2 primary forms – soluble and insoluble. Ideally you want a blend of both.
2. Check your water intake. Water requirements vary by person, but a good general rule of thumb is to divide your weight by 2 – then drink about that many ounces of pure, filtered water, per day. Thus, if you weigh 150 pounds, aim for around 75 ounces of water per day. Herbal teas and (unsweetened) mineral waters count toward your water intake. Subtract points for sodas and coffee.
3. Check your exercise habits. Moving your body helps move your bowels too. If you’re sedentary, get your body going! If you haven’t been exercising and have any health concerns, consult your doctor about healthy options to begin exercising.
Caveats: there are certainly plenty of reasons for constipation that may be a sign of underlying disease. If you’ve had a recent change in bowel patterns (or urinary, for that matter), with no obvious lifestyle reason such as those noted above, be sure to see your doctor. If your stools ever arrive with blood or mucus (or are black, which could indicate a hidden bleed), also see your doctor.
Less ominously, constipation, or constipation alternating with diarrhea, can be a sign of food sensitivities, anxiety & tension, or irritable bowel syndrome. As always, feel free to call on me for help assessing your own digestive imbalances.
May you enjoy luminous good health,
Dr. Deborah Epstein