Is this “normal?”
What is normal for digestive health? There is not a simple answer, each person is different. What is normal for you may not be normal for another. The reasons an individual may become constipated and the solutions to the challenge will vary. However, we do know what is optimal to prevent complications in the future and to help you feel your very best.
“Normal” may feel like a bowel movement every 2 or 3 days. It may feel like loose stools or the opposite; harder to pass and pebble-like. “Normal” is how your gut is normally acting for you. With the state of health today, I wouldn’t always agree that normal is what we are aiming for.
I prefer to think of normal as what the current science available and the health care community tells us is best for optimal health. I aim for thriving, not simply surviving.
What is constipation?
To put it simply, my definition of constipation is having a bowel movement less than every day. Normal bowel movements (not having constipation) may be based on transit time. However, the definition of what is considered normal for your best health can get more complex than simply transit time. It may include all of the following characteristics of healthy bowel movements: stool that is expelled with little or no strain, having the consistency of toothpaste, that enters the water smoothly, that falls slowly to the bottom with little gas or odor.
Sound like you? Are you having what might be considered normal bowel movements or would you say you are constipated?
It is estimated that about 1 in 5 people experience chronic constipation. But many more I suspect, experience constipation at least some of their days.
Why does constipation happen?
The exact cause of chronic constipation isn’t yet clearly understood and it likely has many contributing factors. Diet may be one of the factors, but there are a number of other reasons that you should consider if this is a challenge you face for your health. Here is a list of some of the causes of chronic constipation.
- Diet – not enough fiber, not enough water, consuming foods that you may be sensitive too or foods that are more difficult for your body to break down.
- Exercise – not moving enough, spending much of your day being sedentary.
- Stress – chronic physical or emotional stress.
- Travel – a change in routine.
- Resistance – not allowing your body to have a bowel movement when the urge arises.
- More serious disease conditions – you should always talk to your Dr. when there is a change in your health.
Why you want to solve this problem.
Constipation is not simply a problem because you don’t feel very good. Though constipation can cause bloating and abdominal pain, if it is a chronic problem it can have a big impact on your quality of life. Do you find chronic constipation limits the choices you make in your life?
In addition, constipation can lead to more severe problems in the future. Long term constipation may lead to hemorrhoids or cracks in the skin around the anus called fissures. These both can lead to pain, itching and could become infected. It may lead to rectal prolapse because the rectum becomes so stretched from chronic accumulation of large amounts of stool that the rectum can become permanently damaged.
A study from the American College of Gastroentrology in 2012 demonstrated an association between chronic constipation and colorectal cancer. Individuals with chronic constipation had a greater prevalence of colorectal cancer than in individuals without chronic constipation. It is not known, however, if there is a cause effect relationship. It is suggested that a possible link may be because the increased time of contact between colon tissue and carcinogens. The relationship is not yet clear.
What can you do?
Remember that every person is different. The first solution is always understanding why constipation is occurring in the first place. If you are consuming the Standard American Diet you may be lacking in nutrients that are beneficial to promote optimal digestion. Following are five choices you can make that may help.
- Add fiber to your diet. Eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables – aim for 5-10 servings every day (1 serving = ½ cup chopped, 1 cup leafy vegetable). Choose whole grains (i.e. oats, quinoa, whole wheat, brown rice) instead of refined grains.
- Drink plenty of water. Approximately eight 8 ounces glasses each day.
- Move every day. Incorporate structured exercise and also move, if even for a few minutes every hour rather than sitting for hours on end.
- Practice stress reduction techniques including relaxation breathing, meditation, being in nature, physical activity.
- Allow your body to function as it should. You may need to make a conscious effort to take the time for a bowel movement when your body calls.
If you are making choices in your lifestyle that you don’t expect should lead to constipation, than you should dig deeper to find a solution to the problem. Again, each person is different and for some increasing fiber intake and exercise may exacerbate the symptom. Chronic constipation as with other chronic symptoms and health conditions is unlikely to go away if you ignore it.
If you are struggling with constipation or poor digestion, ask for help to figure out what choices are best for you. It will be worth it to feel great again!
If you are ready to feel great again, click here for an opportunity to win a Strategy Session with Lynda. Lynda will help you get clear on your goals, identify what is standing in your way and determine the next steps to achieve your best health. Click here to learn more and to sign up.
There is no one size fits all approach to nutrition and healthy living. Recommendations given are not intended to replace the personalized guidance of a health professional.