by Mila McManus MD
Are your bowels moving at posted speeds? This article discusses various underlying causes of constipation and sluggish bowel function and how to address the issue naturally. Laxatives are NOT the answer. Read on to find out why.
OK, so not the cleanest or most fun topic we could come up with, but it’s an important one. Sluggish bowel function and constipation are a serious matter with potential for contributing to, or causing, other health issues. Toxic sludge, for one, will simply recycle back into your body, thereby increasing toxic load. And toxic load is a cause of constipation! The causes most people think of in relation to constipation are dehydration and lack of fiber in the diet. While adding water and fiber to your diet are important for many reasons, I rarely find that these interventions alone will fix the problem.
Other causes of sluggish bowel function and constipation:
- Inflammation in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. This includes Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative Colitis, but these are usually accompanied by bouts of diarrhea, bloody stools, and other symptoms.
- Dysbiosis. This is a fancy word for “the bacteria, yeast, viruses, and parasites living in your GI tract are out of balance”. Have you ever had a course of antibiotics? Of course you have. This is one of the main contributors to dysbiosis.
- Low thyroid function. EVEN IF your thyroid levels are normal, this does not confirm that your thyroid function is normal or optimal. Test your thyroid function here with our online symptom checker.
- Food allergies and sensitivities. Unfortunately, conventional medical doctors typically test for only IgE reactions to foods. It’s important to test for other types of food sensitivities, such as IgG reactions. The most common food sensitivities include gluten, dairy, eggs, soy, yeast, and corn.
- Certain supplements, particularly calcium and iron.
- Congesting foods, particularly gluten (wheat, rye, spelt, barley) and dairy (cheese, ice cream, milk, yogurt, cream)
- Colon cancer or other conditions affecting your anatomy, such as scar tissue from surgeries or endometriosis.
- Side effect of medications, including narcotic pain meds (e.g., hydrocodone), calcium-containing anti-acids (e.g. TUMS), certain antihistamines (e.g., Benadryl), certain blood pressure medications including calcium channel blockers (e.g., amlodipine) and diuretics (e.g., hydrochlorothiazide), and certain antidepressants (e.g., fluoxetine, amitriptyline)
- Dependence on laxatives. The more you use them, the more difficult it’ll be to stop using them
- Diabetes. Diabetes can affect nerve function, including the nerves that control the function of the GI tract.
- Neurologic diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and Multiple Sclerosis (MS).
- Magnesium deficiency
- Poor dietary habits in general. This makes sense because eating a lot of processed food will contribute to inflammation, magnesium deficiency, low fiber, and other health issues that lead to the need to take medications such as those listed above which further contribute to the problem.
- Heal your GI tract by working with our functional medicine specialists. This usually involves a customized vitamin/mineral regimen, detoxification support, dietary changes, probiotics, and hormone balance and optimization
- Test for food sensitivities and/or start an elimination diet (e.g., eliminate all dairy and gluten from your diet for 4 to 6 weeks to see if bowel function improves.)
- Work with our functional medicine specialists to address the underlying causes of what ails you so that you can potentially wean off your medications that are contributing to your sluggish bowel function.
- Clean up your diet. Schedule a consultation with our nutritionist on staff for help.
- Supplements that can be very effective in alleviating your constipation include probiotics, magnesium citrate, aloe vera, and digestive enzymes. We highly recommend that you work with a functional medicine specialist for advice on brands, doses, etc. It’s also important to be properly evaluated.
- Fiber can actually make constipation worse. This sometimes should NOT be your first line of defense.
- A word about Miralax (and other laxatives with polyethylene glycol as the active ingredient): The FDA has added “neuropsychiatric events” to the list of potential side effects in relation to the use of these laxatives. “Neuropsychiatric events” would include conditions such as memory loss, autism, depression, schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, etc. Polyethylene glycol is a string of ethylene glycol molecules. Ethylene glycol is anti-freeze. Need I say more? Please remember that, just because you can get a drug over-the-counter, doesn’t mean it’s safe.