Healthy digestion is the foundation of a healthy body, and a healthy colon plays a key role in your overall digestive health. The colon has two primary functions. First, to help the body eliminate toxins and waste products. Second, the colon works to reabsorb water from the stool.
We should aim to have at least one easy-to-pass, fully evacuated bowel movement per day. If you are having infrequent, difficult-to-pass, or incompletely evacuated bowel movements, then you’re likely experiencing constipation. The causes of constipation are many, with dehydration, inflammation in the gut, unhealthy gut flora, stress, low-fibre diet, and a slow metabolism being common factors.
The wave-like contractions and relaxations of muscles that move stool through the bowel is called peristalsis, and diminished peristaltic function can lead to constipation. When stool sits in the colon for a long period of time, it re-absorbs too much water, making the stool dry, hard, and difficult to pass.
The concern with constipation is that it prevents the proper elimination of harmful waste products from the body. This causes autointoxication, where we reabsorb metabolites from the colon and it leads to a build-up of harmful toxins throughout the body. Constipation and autointoxication lead to symptoms of fatigue, hormonal issues, brain fog, low mood, acne, pain and bloating.
Dr. Hilary’s Lifestyle Tips For Constipation
Drink more water: There is no exact science to the amount of water each person needs but aim for at least 2 liters of water daily, and more if you’re sweating, in hot weather, or with exercise. A good indication that you’re well-hydrated is if your urine is a light straw colour throughout the day. Try setting reminders on your phone or computer to remind you to drink water or herbal tea.
Increase fibre: Our daily requirement for fibre is 25g for women and 38g for men. High fibre foods include chia, flax, whole grains like brown rice, quinoa and oats, legumes like beans and chickpeas, and vegetables like avocado, broccoli, beets, artichokes, and dark leafy greens.
Physical activity: Exercise helps to prevent and relieve constipation because it stimulates the natural contractions of the intestines and decreases the amount of water that is reabsorbed from the stool into the body, making stools softer and easier to pass. Even gentle exercise, such as walking for 20 minutes daily, can improve digestion.
Manage stress: When we’re stressed, we’re in a “fight or flight” state, meaning our body shifts blood flow to vital organs like the heart, lungs, and large muscles and this can contribute to indigestion and constipation. When we’re relaxed, we’re in a “rest and digest” state, meaning our body sends blood flow to the digestive system. Meditation, deep breathing, and prioritizing sleep are effective ways to manage stress and improve digestion.
Treat the cause: A slow metabolism caused by an under-active thyroid can cause constipation, so it is important to screen the thyroid through blood work if you’re experiencing frequent constipation. Eating inflammatory foods like gluten and dairy, or having an unhealthy gut flora, can also contribute to constipation in some people.
Healthy bowel movements are the body’s way of eliminating toxins and waste. If we have infrequent, difficult to pass or incomplete bowel movements, we are not adequately detoxifying the body. This can lead to fatigue, hormonal issues, acne, pain, bloating and inflammation.
It is important to identify and work toward improving the cause of constipation through ensuring proper hydration, fibre intake, physical activity, stress management, and addressing any underlying functional or metabolic issues. Even when we’re doing all the right things, we sometimes need extra support to have healthy, fully evacuated daily bowel movements.
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