Constipation is a common issue we hear about from patients. Whether it’s ongoing or it’s a new symptom for you, constipation is likely not the root cause. But, that doesn’t mean we can’t take a look at what causes constipation—and how you can get relief. Keep reading for things to evaluate to treat your constipation, and when you should see your doctor.
Common Causes of Constipation
Lifestyle Causes of Constipation
Lack of water: Yeah, we know, we know. Everyone has already told you to drink more water. But it merits repeating: We recommend 80-100oz per day, minimum, to keep your body hydrated and your bowels moving. Increase that amount if you’re sauna-ing, working out, eating more fiber/protein, or feeling symptoms of dehydration (headache, dry skin, feeling dizzy or tired, dark colored urine, dry mouth).
Lack of fiber: Not eating enough fiber can be a cause of constipation, and you’ve probably heard it before. But make sure you’re adding fiber to your meal plan if you’re feeling constipated (more on supplements for this in another article).
Irregular routines: Similar to traveler’s constipation, you brain needs to know the toilet is available to use to send signals to your bowels. If you feel like your BMs become regular again once you get into a routine—this is why!
Medical Reasons for Constipation
Hypothyroid: Mixed with other symptoms, low thyroid hormone could be slowing your bowels down. T3 is the energy that drives all cells. If you’re low in T3, your bowels may not have the ‘energy’ needed to push things through.
Long-standing gut dysbiosis: Your intestines have their own network of nerves that help push things along. Conditions such as SIBO, bacterial food poisoning, and poor microbial diversity in the large intestine can cause the migrating motor complex to become inflamed and ultimately damaged. If your intestines don’t have the nervous system stimulation to move things forward, you’ll notice more constipation.
Traumatic brain injuries, back/spine injuries or surgeries to the abdomen: Back to that migrating motor complex—if you’ve had damage to the pathway that the brain takes to the intestines, this can affect your bowel habits, slowing them down. This takes a little more of a holistic approach since you’re not just treating the intestines, but the whole pathway—and it’s a reason to see your doctor.
Low stomach acid: You have a reflex that connects your stomach to your intestines—when you eat food and your stomach fills up, it signals to your bowels to push things through. As a baby, this reflex is very apparent but as we get older, things like stress, toxins, nutritional choices, and exercise (amongst other causes) can make this reflex less apparent. A commonality amongst these root causes is low stomach acid production. The creation of stomach acid is a huge part of the signaling process between your brain and bowels and if you’re not producing enough that signaling can get slower, causing constipation.
When You Should See Your Doctor About Constipation
If any of these medical reasons feel like they fit your health picture, it’s time to see your doctor. If you know you have a pre-exisiting condition that could be contributing to constipation, check in with your practitioner to get a better sense of why your BMs aren’t consistent.
If you’ve tried all the lifestyle changes we recommend and you’re still struggling (pun intended), it’s also time to see your doctor. And a holistic practitioner or integrative medicine doctor is going to be your best bet at getting to the root cause. We’re here to help, if you don’t have a team willing to listen to your symptoms and take them seriously.
Dr. Cassie Wilder is a registered Naturopathic Medical Doctor (NMD) and founder of MIMC. Her passion is empowering her patients through education, understanding, and support through their healing journey. After graduating from Iowa State University with a Bachelors of Science in Kinesiology and Health, Dr. Wilder earned her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine & Health Sciences, a fully accredited and nationally recognized institution in Phoenix, AZ. During her clinical training, she received extensive hands-on training with many leading experts in the field of functional medicine and developed a passion for treating hormonal imbalances, thyroid disorders, cardiovascular concerns, and adrenal fatigue.