Your poop reveals a lot about your health. Do you turn around and look after you make your deposit? Are you pooping at least once (but not more than three times) a day? If you’re not pooping daily, you’re constipated.
Your stool is a main vehicle for detox. It contains indigestible plant matter, bacteria (50 to 80 percent!), toxins, cells, and hormones. If you’re backed up, toxins and even cholesterol and hormones from the bowel can be reabsorbed and circulate through your system, contributing to your overall toxic load, making you feel crappy and bloated. So you want to be pooping at least once a day. And I’m talking a good banana-shaped specimen. If you’re shooting out a few pebbles every day, you are constipated.
If you’re not pooping daily or not pooping enough (incomplete evacuation), depending on a laxative (and yes, even the natural ones like Smooth Move or senna) is only a band-aid: We want to figure out the underlying cause of infrequent poops.
So, let’s talk poop. I’ve included solutions for both chronic constipation and acute, in case you need to get things moving right away.
Here are some of the top causes of constipation:
- Diet, food sensitivities
- Not making time to poop
- SIBO and methanogen overgrowth or IMO
- Overuse of laxatives, certain meds
- Dysbiosis (too much bad bacteria), imbalanced gut flora
- Poor probiotic diversity
- Keto or carnivore diet
10 Solutions for Constipation
1) Diet. Certain harder-to-digest foods such as wheat and dairy can stop you up. Paradoxically, these foods can also cause diarrhea in some people. If they’re causing inflammation in the gut because they’re irritants, or if you’re not breaking them down properly, they can affect regularity. I’ve seen chronic constipation issues resolve just after people quit gluten. Sugar and alcohol are also major gut irritants and killers of the good probiotic bacteria that keep you regular.
Not eating enough plants (fruits and vegetables) or too much protein, dairy, and/or junk food can be a factor also. Zero carb carnivore diets or high fat low carb keto diets may also affect motility due to lack of fiber to move stool through the colon.
Here’s what to eat: focus on making your meals veggie-based, both leafys and starchy root veggies, for plenty of good fiber. That means 50 percent of your plate should be plants. (read here how to build good plate). Add enough protein for your needs and activity level and plenty of good fats like coconut oil, butter (if you tolerate it), olive oil.
I’m not going to rant the typical “get 50 grams of fiber,” because honestly, too much fiber can irritate an already inflamed gut. You have to figure out what works best for your system and possibly build up fiber slowly. Psyllium husk, for example, can have one person pooping perfect rainbows and someone else stopped up and doubled over. Once your gut heals, you can tolerate more fiber. Consider an elimination diet if you want to determine which foods are problematic for you.
Resistant starch can alleviate constipation and provide excellent food for your prebiotic bacteria!
2) Low stomach acid and poor enzyme production can slow down transit time.** More importantly: why are you not producing enzymes, and why is your stomach acid too alkaline to properly break down food? Stomach acid should be an acidic PH of 2 to properly break down food and kill potential pathogens. H pylori is a very common cause of stomach inflammation and alkaline PH. Inflammation (caused by poor diet, gut bugs, dysbiosis, or eating foods you’re sensitive to) prevents adequate enzyme production and food won’t be assimilated or absorbed properly.
**Want to know your transit time? It should be 12-18 hours. Eat some sesame seeds or beets and wait for them to come out the other end.
How do you know if you have insufficient enzyme production or alkaline pH? Seeing undigested food particles in your stool is one sign. Belching excessively after meals is another. Try taking a digestive enzyme with HCl to help while you figure out the underlying cause. A shot of apple cider vinegar in a little water before meals is also useful for increasing HCl production. Also worth mentioning: chew food thoroughly and eat slowly!
3) Poop is 50-75% bacteria, so good bacteria play an important role in regular pooping. If you have or have had a junk food diet, if you eat too much processed food, too much sugar or booze, or have taken many rounds of antibiotics, chances are your gut flora is jacked. Take a probiotic (my favorite is Renew Life) and eat/drink probiotic foods/beverages like raw kraut, kvass, and kevita. I also LOVE CocoBiotic. I’m not a fan of kombucha– some people react adversely to it.
4) Are you hypothyroid? A main cause of constipation. Get your TSH, free T3, and free T4 levels checked, especially if constipation seems to be getting worse as you age. Other symptoms of hypothyroidism include weight gain, hair loss, and fatigue. Be aware that ideal TSH is around 1.8, which is far less than the standard “range” on lab tests. More about hypothyroidism and proper lab values here.
5) More on gut bugs: candida or SIBO (read more here) can contribute to constipation. IMO or methanogen overgrowth in the large or small bowel will cause constipation. Sometimes just doing a 4-6 week herbal digestive cleanse with herbs like wormwood, goldenseal, berberine, pau d’arco, black walnut, tribulus, Caprylic Acid, oil of oregano can kill off bad bacteria and have stuff moving out in no time. I recommend this anti-microbial. Better to test first (I offer GI testing in my practice; then you know exactly what’s in there and how to kill it off), but a good herbal protocol will kill bad bacteria and candida. SIBO requires a very specific and more detailed protocol. Then follow up with some good probiotics.
6) Are you dehydrated? That causes constipation. Drink more water! I like to dress mine up with lemon slices and cucumber. Herbal teas count, too. Coffee does not: It is dehydrating (though it can stimulate a poop).
7) Liver congestion: a sluggish liver with poor bile flow may also contribute to constipation. Try a mug of hot water with the juice of a lemon in the mornings to cleanse and get things moving. Beet juice also works well. Consider a 21 day liver cleanse. It always helps get one on the right pooping track!
8) Taking magnesium helps both chronic and acute constipation. I like Natural Calm in the evenings because it also promotes restful sleep. But be careful: Too much can cause the runs. This works well if you have acute constipation– it should get things moving by the next morning if you take enough. You can also do 500mg of magnesium oxide, which is easy to find. This supplement (one of my favorites) combines both triphala and magnesium to tone the bowel and improve motility.
9) Make time to poop. Don’t rush out the door in the mornings eating your breakfast on the run. Start your day with hot water and lemon or green tea, and wait for things to make their exit. Train yourself to be regular in the mornings. Also, stop straining! You’ll give yourself a hemorrhoid. Here’s how to make a good poop routine.
10) A squatty potty may help because it encourages you to assume the proper position for pooping without straining. It will “unkink” your lower intestines to help elimination.
If you struggle with constipation, the first step is to determine the underlying cause. You can have more than one! And often, hypothyroid, a main cause of constipation (especially in women), is accompanied by methanogen overgrowth or dysbiosis, for example. Work with a qualified practitioner and run a stool test to get an assessment of your large intestine.
Finally, do you flush quickly, or do you check out what you left behind in the toilet? Take a look to get good clues about your health. See food particles? You’re not digesting or absorbing your food. Greasy? You’re not breaking down fats. Stinky? You’re toxic: Try a 21 day detox, which helps digestive issues!
Mary Vance is a Certified Nutrition Consultant and author specializing in digestive health. She combines a science-based approach with natural therapies to rebalance the body. In addition to her 1:1 coaching, she offers courses to help you heal your gut and improve your health. Mary lives in San Francisco and Lake Tahoe in Northern California. Read more about her coaching practice here and her background here.