Constipation is a common digestive problem that affects millions people worldwide and millions of dollars spent on laxatives and stool softeners. Conventional medicine defines constipation having less than three bowel movements per week and can be caused by a variety of factors including poor diet, lack of physical activity, and certain medications.
However, from a functional perspective, we want your bowels to be moving 1-3x per day – so if you’re not having at least 1 bowel movement per day (with the exception of a day here and there) we consider this a form of constipation.
While constipation may seem like a minor inconvenience, it can lead to a host of serious side effects if left untreated. In this article, we are going to cover the common side effects of constipation as well as some more surprising side effects that people aren’t often aware of that make a huge difference to our everyday lives.
One of the most common side effects of constipation is abdominal pain and discomfort. When stool becomes hard and dry, it can be difficult for the muscles in the intestinal wall to push it through the intestinal tract. This can lead to cramping, bloating, and gas.
Additionally, the longer stool stays in the intestinal tract, the more water is absorbed from it, making it even harder and dryer. This can cause further pain and discomfort.
Another side effect of constipation is hemorrhoids. Hemorrhoids are swollen veins in the rectum and anus that can be caused by straining to have a bowel movement. When the muscles in the intestinal wall have to work harder to push hard, dry stool through the intestinal tract, it can put extra pressure on the veins in the rectum and anus. This can cause them to swell and become painful, making bowel movements even more uncomfortable.
Constipation can also lead to a condition known as fecal impaction. This occurs when stool becomes so hard and dry that it cannot be eliminated from the body through normal bowel movements.
Instead, it becomes lodged in the intestinal tract, blocking the passage of other stool. This can cause severe abdominal pain and distention, as well as nausea and vomiting. In severe cases, fecal impaction may require medical intervention to remove the impacted stool.
Another important side effect of constipation is the development of diverticulitis. Diverticulitis is a condition in which small pockets or pouches (diverticula) form in the wall of the large intestine. When these pockets become infected or inflamed, it can cause severe abdominal pain, fever, and sometimes even bleeding.
Constipation is believed to be a major risk factor for the development of diverticulitis because it can cause increased pressure in the intestinal tract, which in turn can lead to the formation of diverticula.
Constipation can also have a negative impact on a person’s overall quality of life. It can cause feelings of fatigue and lack of energy, as well as feelings of discomfort and embarrassment. People with chronic constipation may also be more likely to develop depression and anxiety.
Mood and anxiety disorders have long been scientific bedfellows with constipation and other gastrointestinal disorders (source). And while constipation is often thought to be the symptom, recent neuroscientific research has begun to show the importance of intestinal flora in the development of brain symptoms (source, source). So, there’s even more reason you might be feeling low if you can’t go poo.
Other side effects of chronic constipation include:
Skin conditions such as acne and skin breakouts.
This happens when toxins and waste are re-absorbed back into the bloodstream via the colon, rather than being eliminated. From the bloodstream, these toxins can exit the body by its largest detoxification organ – the skin.
The other mechanism by which constipation can impact skin is through the alteration of gut bacteria. This study showed that 54% of acne patients have significantly altered gut flora while probiotics (beneficial bacteria) have also been shown to reduce symptoms (source). One thing is for sure, beauty begins in the bowel.
Further, if the gut microbiome is imbalanced, this can lead to brittle nails and thinning hair. Nutritional deficiencies can affect the growth of both hair and nails (source). A lack of healthy gut bacteria can also decrease the absorption of many nutrients essential for energy and growth.
Excess toxins being reabsorbed into the bloodstream is not helpful for your beauty regime, leaving you at risk of brittle nails and thinning hair. This might not seem as bad as some of the other side effects of constipation, but it can and does have an impact on our overall health and well-being.
Constipation may also lead to SIBO
Constipation is one of the highest risk-factors and most common causes of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) (source). This condition, where bacteria from the large intestine end up in the small intestine where they don’t belong, is thought to be responsible for up to 80% of IBS cases (source). While the most common symptoms associated with SIBO are constipation, diarrhea and bloating, it has also been connected with fatigue, inability to tolerate certain foods, weight gain and many of the other issues.
Constipation can impact our hormonal balance in the body and lead to estrogen dominance.
Constipation can inhibit the excretion of unwanted estrogen from the body and promote its reabsorption. We are exposed to a lot of environmental sources of estrogens through toxins such as plastics, medications and hormones in the animal proteins we consume. This means that most people have excess oestrogen coming into the body that needs to be excreted every day.
If you are constipated, these excess estrogens can be re-absorbed in the colon and cause elevated estrogen levels, a condition also associated with allergies, fatigue, and weight gain (source).
Constipation can also be a reason one is sick frequently as it impacts our immune system.
Our intestinal flora is responsible for much of the body’s immune response, including the removal of cell debris, viruses, bacteria, and cancerous cells. As constipation is often associated with missing or damaged bacteria (intestinal flora), the impact on your immune system can be significant.
The toxic buildup and inflammation associated with constipation can also impair the immune system and leave you vulnerable to infections like urinary tract infections (UTIs).
To avoid the side effects of constipation, it’s important to maintain a healthy diet including a diverse intake of fruits and vegetables, soluble and insoluble fiber and stay properly hydrated. Fiber helps to keep the stool soft and moist, making it easier to pass through the intestinal tract. Drinking enough fluids also helps to keep the stool hydrated and prevent it from becoming hard and dry.
Physical activity is also important for preventing constipation. Regular exercise helps to stimulate the muscles in the intestinal wall, which can make it easier to have a bowel movement. If you are inactive, start by simply taking a 10-15 minute walk shortly after meals. This not only supports proper digestion and can alleviate symptoms such as gas and bloating while encouraging motility, it also helps regulate blood sugar levels and keep them more stable.
In addition, maintaining a regular schedule for bowel movements can also help to prevent constipation. Make sure you’re giving yourself time in the morning to relax and get into a calm state so your body can send you the signals to poo.
If you are experiencing constipation, it’s important to take action – don’t delay as you do not want your gut health, and overall health, to deteriorate. If you are severely constipated, speak with a practitioner to help you get to the root cause and address it appropriately.
In some cases, over-the-counter or prescription medications may be necessary to help relieve symptoms – but these should only be used temporarily as you work to identify and resolve the root cause issue.
Additionally, if you are taking any medications that may be causing constipation, your doctor may be able to adjust your dosage or switch you to a different medication.
It’s also important to note that chronic constipation can also be a symptom of an underlying condition such as IBS, thyroid problems, or even colon cancer. Therefore, if you have been experiencing constipation for an extended period of time, it’s important to see a doctor or find a practitioner that can conduct the proper tests to rule out any underlying condition and/or identify what is going on internally with your gut health.
Another important aspect of preventing and treating constipation is addressing stress and anxiety. Stress and anxiety can cause changes in the digestive system, leading to constipation. Therefore, it’s important to find healthy ways to manage stress and anxiety such as through regular exercise, meditation, breath work, and counseling.
It’s also important to note that some people may need to seek specialized care for constipation. For example, if you have a condition such as IBS, pelvic floor dysfunction, or certain neurological disorders, you may need to see a specialist such as a gastroenterologist or a physical therapist.
So, now you understand that the side effects of constipation are vast and varied, it is not just uncomfortable and irritating, the effects on the body are detrimental!
If you have any of these constipation signs and symptoms, it has to go (PERMANENTLY) for you to enjoy good health and perfect poops in the future.
As always, it is really important that you seek the root cause of your constipation, but in the meantime, if you want sure-fire strategies to help you relieve your constipation and get ahead of some of these nasty side-effects, download a copy of the Constipation Cure Guide (below).
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