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Regular bowel movements are the body's way of removing toxins, metabolized hormones, and waste from the body - and can cause other health problems if left unchecked. Functional medicine identifies the root cause of constipation and suggests specific nutrition, supplements, or lifestyle remedies to fix the issue.

What is constipation?

Many people struggle with constipation as well as other toilet issues. Sometimes they're too ashamed to admit their problem until it gets too painful to bear. It makes people bloated, irritable and off-balance in desire patterns. Researchers find that roughly 63 -113 million people in the US alone suffer from constipation. And while constipation might be common, it can have disastrous consequences.

Traditional medicine defines constipation as having hard stools with a bowel movement fewer than three times each week, and severe constipation as less than once weekly. In functional medicine, however, decent elimination is having one to three healthy bowel movements every day. Although harsh laxatives can override constipation, it is ideal to deal with the underlying causes of lasting success.

Regular bowel movements are the body's way of removing toxins, metabolized hormones, and waste from the body. When you are constipated these chemicals sit idle in the intestines and are absorbed back into the blood for flow. This can sap energy, make you cranky, hinder the ability of your body to function optimally and improve health risks like heart disease. Regardless of sitting immobile in the digestive tract promotes an overgrowth of harmful bacteria and yeast. This produces inflammation in the gut and other digestive ailments, such as gas, bloating, pain, allergies, and food sensitivities. Yeast overgrowths also encourage itchy skin, vaginal yeast infections, fungal infections, and much more.

Constipation is also embarrassing, if not painful. It makes people feel bloated and heavy, occasionally resulting in abdominal cramps, hemorrhoids, or rectal fissures.

See: Ayurvedic Approach to Gut Health & Constipation

How does Functional Medicine view constipation?

A wide selection of medical conditions and lifestyle factors can lead to constipation. A bad diet, such as one that includes too many rich and fatty foods and too little fiber, puts someone at risk of constipation.

Other common issues that may increase the risk of constipation include:

- stress

- being dehydrated

- not going into the bathroom enough or ignore the urge

- travel

- dietary changes

- not getting enough exercise

We now know so much about how to fix your digestive issues due to proven scientific studies, and how to reset your system, yet a lot of people maintain poor methods of living and eating. Like many problems, constipation is generally fixable without medications or other invasive surgical procedures.


See: Foods to avoid when constipated

Functional Medicine views constipation or daily bowel movements similar to not taking the leftover garbage out of your own kitchen if and when the can is full. Things begin to spill over and get messy and smelly. Harmful bacteria flourish as your feces continue to ferment. Waste products continue to irritate and possibly toxin your gut lining. Worst of all, your body will gradually start to reabsorb the garbage. It is like eating out of the kitchen garbage all over again.  Your stool is the principal exit pathway for waste in the human system. It is also not simply talking about leftover fiber out of your fruits and salads. A substantial portion of your body's waste is radicals, things like pesticides, medications, chemicals, plastic, heavy metals, damaged cholesterol, and excess estrogen. So Functional Medicine is very clear what needs to be done with trash - it needs to be thrown out.

See: Ashwagandha benefits for anxiety

Functional Medicine remedies for constipation

The first most important thing to get things going consistently is addressing your daily diet, which causes most constipation. While chronic tension and antibiotic overuse can mess up your gut, a diet that's high in processed foods and sugars does great harm and promotes constipation.

Adding the following simple functional nutrition tips can help most people get constipation relief:

Eat whole, real foods in their unprocessed forms. This is the first and simplest and healthiest first step to recovery.

You need a great deal of fiber. In the early days of human evolution, people ate 100 to 150 g of fiber every day. Nowadays most modern people are lucky if they get 8 g daily. Fiber comes from plant foods. Besides eating a lot of colorful fruits and vegetables, "super fibers" like ground flaxseed provide a healthy dose of fiber. Consider adding two tablespoons per day to your salads or smoothies for a simple fiber boost. Nuts, legumes, and seeds also contain high levels of superior fiber; however, bear in mind that beans can lead to insulin spikes -- so go easy if you're prone to blood sugar spikes.


See: Homeopathic medicine for constipation

You will also need to avoid foods that cause constipation. It may be counter-intuitive but dairy and gluten are well-known foods that can cause constipation. Try that for three or more weeks and see how your digestion and general health improve.

 mctAnd here is something that is surprising to many: Low-fat diets can contribute greatly to constipation, despite still being touted as healthy.

 You will want to incorporate a lot of smart healthy fat resources including wild fatty fish such as salmon and sardines, olive oil (which lubricates the digestive tract) and avocados.

 Among the best "laxatives" is medium-chain triglyceride MCT oil, commonly extracted from coconut oil. You can put it in your coffee, smoothies and salad dressings.

 Another huge constipation offender is magnesium deficiency. We do not eat enough of the underrated mineral (magnesium-rich foods include legumes, nuts and greens), and things such as chronic stress, too much sugar and caffeine and toxic overload often deplete calcium levels.


Even if you eat a lot of magnesium-rich foods, then you probably need to supplement that some more to get optimum levels. You can start at 200 mg of magnesium citrate and gradually increase the dose until you resume normal bowel movements.

Vitamin C is another great poop inducer. You may take 2,000 to 4,000 mg or more a day, together with magnesium supplementation. The same principle applies here: If you start to become loose stools, back off a little.


Many patients are often deficient in healthy gut bugs, which can be fixed by adding probiotics.


Exercise is an excellent laxative. So move your body regularly to help move those bowels.


And lastly, do not forget water: hydration is critical, so drink at least as many as 8 glasses of water every day.


See: Ayurvedic herbs for constipation relief

Tests for evaluating constipation

According to Cleveland Clinic, most individuals do not require extensive testing to evaluate constipation. Only a few people with constipation have a significant underlying medical problem (for example, poor function of the thyroid gland, diabetes, or colorectal cancer).

In case you have constipation that has persisted for at least two weeks, you should see a physician find out if you require further evaluation. For a patient with colorectal cancer, early detection and treatment could be life-saving.

The standard test for constipation includes performing blood tests and analyzing the colon by colonoscopy, especially for individuals older than 50 years. Other evaluations include colonic transit studies (the time it takes for stools to move through the colon) and rectal manometry (measures pressure and muscle function in the rectum and anus).

See: How Adding Fiber in your Diet Helps Type 2 Diabetes


For some individuals, the reason for constipation is really straightforward and simple to address. They should simply eat a whole foods diet rich in fiber and remain sufficiently hydrated. For people used to eating a diet heavy in fast foods, consuming loads of veggies and fruit can significantly improve bowel function. Nutritional support, such as with essential fatty acids, vitamin D, and quality minerals and vitamins, may also promote healthy gut function. Probiotics are another effective tool. Whatever the root cause, working with a Functional Medicine practitioner will make your constipation issues disappear.

See: Why Magnesium is important for your diet


1. U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020 External link(PDF, 10.3 MB). 8th ed. Published December 2015. Accessed May 1, 2018.

2. Liu LW. Chronic constipation: current treatment options. Can J Gastroenterol. 2011;25 Suppl B(Suppl B):22B–28B.




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