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Behind weight gain and bloating, this is easily one of the top 3 health complaints I hear in my practice. It costs my clients so much of their time, energy and it’s just plain uncomfortable! 

If you suffer from constipation and have brought it up with your doctor, chances are good you’ve been told to overdose on Metamucil or some other over-the-counter fiber supplement.

But REAL TALK: in most cases you’re not going to medicate your way out of this. 

While “just eat more fiber” does have its place, (nutrition is of course a huge role in the health and regularity of bowel movements), oftentimes the issue is not a lack of fiber. In fact, over-emphasising fiber can actually backfire and make things worse.

There are several nutrition and non-nutritional factors that can help move things along. 

FUNCTIONAL LAB TESTING

First and foremost, you want to get to the root cause of what’s causing the constipation in the first place. In many (most) cases this is because of gut dysbiosis (which is just a fancy way of saying your gut microbiome is out of balance). Basically, your beneficial bacteria are being outnumbered by harmful bacteria, parasites, yeast and fungi and the result is an impaired digestive system bringing forth a lot of uncomfortable symptoms, constipation being one of them. 

Until you resolve this issue, it’s like trying to put out a house fire with a garden hose. Running a GI Map can tell us what is happening in your gut and what steps we need to take in reestablishing balance.

The gut has its own complex ecosystem and anything you do outside of addressing that is just symptom management. 

Now that we’ve covered the difference between getting to the root cause vs symptom management, let’s discuss some natural methods to help make you more comfortable while you do the deeper work.

DIETARY FACTORS

Are you hydrated? 

“Drink more water” is not just hyperbole. Your body relies on water to produce ALL the digestive enzymes and bile required to have healthy bowel movements. If your gut is dry, it will be very difficult to have everyday, normal BM’s. 

Not only that but even mild dehydration puts your body in a state of stress and that means a sympathetic state. But peristalsis and healthy bowel function needs to be in a realzed parasympathetic state to function properly. 

Make a concerted effort to get plenty of water in every day. Hydration needs are different for everybody depending on weight, activity level, and mineral status. But a general rule of thumb is half your body weight in ounces. 

Minerals

Another big reason for constipation is mineral deficiencies. Specifically, magnesium. Magnesium plays a role in the smooth muscles relaxing for better evacuation (remember our parasympathetic nervous system is the “rest and digest” state needed for regular bowel movements). You can read up on my favorite Magnesium supplements here. This powerhouse mineral is used in over 400 of our body’s functions so we burn through it pretty quickly and most of us don’t get enough Magnesium to start with because our soil is SO depleted.

Running a Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis Test (HTMA) to look at your mineral balance, can give us insight on your body’s specific mineral status. Our mitochondrial function is dependent on our mineral status and ensuring these little energy centers in our cells have all the minerals they need is REQUIRED to help clear up detoxification pathways and move things out. 

Another great tip to help balance and replenish some of your minerals, is to add some good quality sea salt to your water in the morning. Start out with a couple of pinches and work your way up to ¼ – ½ tsp. Personally, I start every morning out with a glass of filtered warm salt water. It not only supports your adrenals but it draws the water into the cell, nourishing and hydrating along the way.

Healthy Fats

Are you getting enough healthy fats in your diet? Yes, you say? Actually, the better question is: Are you digesting your fats well? 

Good healthy fats help lubricate the GI tract and can communicate with the microbiome to promote regularity. Olive oil, avocado, ghee, grass-fed butter, fatty fish, and grass-fed meat are great options. BUT they only benefit us if we have our digestive house in order and we are breaking them down properly to absorb them.

Many women I see in my practice are already eating a well-balanced diet, but because they have not addressed the root causes of a faulty digestive system (remember that GI Map I was talking about) they aren’t absorbing their food well. This leads to a myriad of symptoms and nutrient deficiencies, constipation being one of them. 

NON-DIETARY FACTORS

Your gut motility (and the state of your gut itself) is also largely influenced by your lifestyle! Diet alone is not enough. Sleep, stress, and lack of physical movement all play a part in keeping you stuck. 

In fact, we have a whole nervous system called the Enteric Nervous System (ENS) that links our microbiome to our brain. This is referred to as the gut-brain-axis. Some scientists even believe the gut is actually our first brain.

How’s your sleep?

Unassisted daily bowel movements require adequate sleep. This is when the “rest and digest” (parasympathetic) functions of our bodies take place. Conversely, our “fight or flight” (sympathetic) more active state locks down digestion and gut motility. Sleep deprivation will keep us in the fight or flight state and prevent healing and digestive functions like detoxification and digestion. 

Vagus Nerve Activation

The vagus nerve is the nerve that connects your brain to your gut and can affect everything from your mood and stress to your digestion! It does this by sending sensory information to the brain and controlling certain motor functions throughout the body….

These signals that run up and down the vagus nerve gets the muscles in your stomach moving and increases stomach acid. Two massively important functions in the digestive process. 

And just like with Digestion, you must be in a parasympathetic state in order for the bowels to relax enough to have a good bowel movement. Some simple vagus nerve exercises may help…..

  • Deep and slow breathing
  • Developing a yoga practice 
  • Singing or Chanting
  • Humming
  • Gargling 

Seriously, this is like having a “chill out” button right on your body. Its primary function is to activate your parasympathetic nervous system. 

When my 8-year-old got her ears pierced she was so nervous and I had her hum the Happy Birthday song with me right before while she was sitting on the table and it worked like a charm! 

Proper Eating Hygiene

This is a big one but probably also the hardest.

How you eat is just as important as what you eat. Allow your digestive functions to do their job. Don’t rush it. Remember that you need to be in that parasympathetic state for digestion to work. This includes making digestive enzymes (that break down food) and bile (which breaks down fat and helps your body poop out toxins. Good healthy bile flow is imperative for detoxification and stimulating bowel movements. 

  • Sit down to eat.
  • Put your phone away.
  • Slow your meal down.
  • Put your fork down between bites.
  • Chew your food until it is soft. 

Castor oil packs.

I love castor oil packs and have had so much success with them in my practice, I wrote a whole blog post about them.  

Movement

Movement is foundational to good daily poops! This can be different from exercise. Things like walking, gentle yoga, taking the stairs, and generally being out and about can help increase circulation and help balance the Enteric Nervous System for more regularity. Being sedentary is one of the biggest problems contributing to constipation. 

Conclusion 

There are many reasons someone finds themselves bloated and constipated. Working with a practitioner who knows how to get to the root cause is the best practice you could do for yourself. 

Dysbiosis can be assessed through comprehensive stool testing. This helps identify pathogens and opportunistic bacteria or organisms that have overgrown. It helps re-establish your body’s ecology that has been altered from medications, pesticides, environmental toxins, and stress! 

If there are any pathogens or overgrown opportunistic microbes present, they will need to be killed and oftentimes beneficial strains will need to be increased as well. Working with a practitioner who understands how to rebalance your microbiome and your minerals, will improve your motility..

If you have been struggling with chronic constipation, chances are good you have also been collecting other symptoms.

If you’re ready to stop the endless cycle of symptom management, take the next step and set up a call. Let’s get some vitality back into your life!

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Kristen Barrett, FNTP, FDN-P

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