Many of my patients (children and adults alike) come into our office with complaints of constipation. I regularly hear that a patient is having a bowel movement (BM) as little as every other day or every three days, and sometimes even weekly. While infrequent BMs can be normal for exclusively breastfed infants under 6 months (which should be evaluated by a medical professional), it’s not normal for anyone else. Ideally, a person should have a bowel movement after EVERY MEAL! This may sound excessive, but it’s not. Think about what happens to food in the intestines and what feces is. The small and large intestines absorb all the valuable parts of food, and what’s left is toxic and needs excreted. We can all agree that the smell lends itself to helping us identify feces as waste. If that waste is allowed to sit in the intestines longer than normal, the body isn’t detoxing effectively. In addition, it can harm the intestines as it sits there, and can make constipation worse.
What are causes of constipation?
Eating too much. Overeating causes back-up in the gut. Eating very large meals or just eating a lot in general overtaxes the digestive tract. It can become difficult for the intestines to continue with regular movement of food if they over-expand.
Starting solids too soon. While every baby is different, most don’t do well starting solids before 6 months. However, sitting up unassisted and getting teeth are biological indicators that their intestines may be mature enough to handle starting solids slowly.
Eating too often can cause irritation because it disrupts the mechanism your body has to sweep the digestive system clean. This self-regulating motor complex requires the intestines to be empty for 12-15 hours before it initiates, and it takes three hours for this sweep to go from the stomach to the large intestine. The rumble you feel in the morning that doesn’t necessarily feel like hunger is the initiation of that sweeping motion.
Eating inflammatory foods causes injury to the lining of the intestines. The list of inflammatory foods is ever-increasing. Sugars, grains (e.g. corn and gluten), legumes, nuts, dairy, soy, etc. are all likely to contribute to intestinal irritation. In addition, nightshades such as tomato, eggplant, bell peppers, etc. can cause inflammation to the intestines and joints. Testing is available to identify one’s specific allergies and sensitivities. However, sometimes they won’t show up in a test, and a person can keep a food diary to determine intolerance.
Medications. Tylenol, antibiotics, muscle relaxers, and other common over-the-counter (OTC) medications are absorbed in the intestines. They have a toxic effect on the intestinal lining as the intestines absorb the medication and send it to the liver for metabolizing.
Vaccines absorbed by the intestines cause inflammation similar to medications. When getting vaccines, I suggest taking an intestinal immune booster such as Enteragam, Xymogen IG 26 DF immunoglobulin booster, or an intestinal blocker such as GI Detox from Biocidin. We have an immune-boosting protocol as well that I highly recommend employing during vaccine administration (you can access it here).
Parasites (which are more common than you think). You don’t have to travel outside the country to have parasite exposure. While symptoms of having a parasite typically manifests as diarrhea, it can also cause constipation, fatigue, dizziness, joint pain, skin irritation, or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Regardless of the source, we recommend parasite testing from Genova Diagnostics. You can get this done with us.
Formula feeding. Infants who can’t breastfeed lack exposure to healthy bacteria and other complexes that protect the intestines. Children who are formula-fed should take a probiotic regularly.
Birth by cesarean section. Though a C-section is a one time event, an infant can miss out on exposure to probiotics in the vaginal flora and also the mother’s milk (as it’s depleted of good bacteria due to prophylactic IV antibiotics given before a surgical birth). Also, c-section births can lead to unsuccessful breastfeeding relationships without close support. We encourage any surgical births to find a reputable lactation consultant in order to ensure a healthy breastfeeding experience. We recommend A Mother’s Place, Jane Kershaw of Hope Breastfeeding Support, and Kate Cropp of Nashville Birth and Babies. Lots of skin-to-skin, breastfeeding, and probiotics are also helpful in overcoming this hurdle.
Lack of exposure to good bacteria. In the United States specifically, we use harsh antibacterial soaps and cleansers, avoid playing in the dirt, don’t work with animals, and don’t eat fermented foods. This leads to a lack of healthy gut bacteria. Getting your hands dirty, playing with animals, eating fermented foods, and not over-sanitizing can help support good bacterial growth for the intestines.
Food poisoning shouldn’t be taken lightly. Unfortunately, it’s often treated with Ciprofloxacin (Cipro), which can cause a secondary intestinal infection called Clostridium Difficile (C. diff) if the climate is right. Protecting the gut with GI Detox (under Vaccines above) or charcoal while traveling is beneficial. Food poisoning can trigger genetic markers for more serious and chronic issues, such as Crohn’s disease or IBS.
STRESS is one of the biggest unaddressed issues with stomach pain. Most people aren’t educated on how to deal with stress and how serious it can be on the body. Coping mechanisms vary greatly person to person, but everyone should take time to figure out what best helps them reduce and manage stress.
Head injury. There is a very strong head-to-gut connection. When there is a head injury, great care needs to be taken to make sure the intestines are treated at the same time as the head.
Traumatic events. Traumatic events can cause insult to the intestines, as they also cause stress. Whether someone suffers physiological or emotional trauma, they need support through it to help lessen stress and support the body.
How can constipation be treated?
Treating constipation means addressing all possible contributors and figuring out each person’s puzzle pieces.
For our constipation protocol, we use high-dose vitamin C and treat with different types of magnesium (see our magnesium blog). However, if a child hasn’t had a bowel movement in 3-4 days, their abdomen seems particularly bloated, or they are having severe abdominal pain, we recommend seeing your Primary Care Physician (PCP) or Urgent Care to rule out anything more life-threatening. Glycerin suppositories can also be used in a pinch, however, using them too often can contribute to dependency, excessive stretching of the rectum, injury to rectum, and discomfort for the individual.
Constipation should be taken seriously because it can cause inflammation and malabsorption and even severe withholding issues. Uncontrolled inflammation in the body left untreated can contribute to major malabsorption issues and autoimmune disease expression.