Can Stress Cause Constipation?

Can Stress Cause Constipation?

When I worked as a Colon Therapist, there were a few times I felt more like a “therapist” Therapist. The truth is that your gut and brain are connected, and mental states like anxiety or stress may be a cause of chronic constipation.

Imagine the scene…

It’s your 3rd colonic. You’re lying on a massage table in a small, plain room, covered only by a thin sheet. There’s a toilet out in the open, a chart of the Human Bowel on the wall, and a water fountain bottle is slowly infusing you with water... via a tube inserted into your butt.

But although your colon’s working hard at pumping that water back out, your labor is fruitless.

Instead of the huge release of stuck poops you were led to expect, it’s just empty gushes of clear water.

So. Disappointing.

Key Takeaway

If you have looked at the physical  and nutritional reasons for your constipation and you're still experiencing the same symptoms, it might be time to address your stress. Take a walk in the woods once in a while, breathe deeply, and see what you can let go of!

The question colon hydrotherapists know to ask

Chronic constipation is a bitch.

It makes you feel rotten and heavy, and if you’ve become so bunged up that you’re willing to pay $75 for a colonic, you have expectations.

So why isn’t it working?

Once it gets to the third colonic, the practitioner has already gone through all the physical tricks… warmer water, colder water, maybe adding something to soothe the muscles or massaging the belly from the outside.

If the physical stuff isn’t working, then it’s time to move on to the emotional. And here’s how that conversation goes:

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    me: “You don’t have to tell me, but is there anything you’re holding onto emotionally that you should be letting go of?”
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    client: Silence
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    me: Silence (waiting for it)
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    client: “....well…….. There is this one thing….”

Que the floodgates!

THAT’s the exact moment the “release” of physical built-up crap would start to come pouring down the tube.

Every. Damn. Time.

Without even getting into the details (a colonic isn’t a therapy session after all), just making that connection between “holding on” mentally and physically can get things moving.

The Gut-Brain Axis

Considering that you grow from 2 cells into the complex human that you are, it’s not much of a stretch to understand that every part of your body is connected.

Research is starting to unravel the many intricate links between the gut, brain chemistry, bacteria and how we feel emotionally.

But it doesn’t take a scientist to know it.

The bowel is the organ that lets go, so it can also be the organ that holds on.

Nina Simone on Letting Go

Nina Simone

“You have to learn to get up from the table when love is no longer being served”

Fight or Flight

One way that “holding on” can play out during times of stress is because of “Fight or Flight”

Fight or Flight is when you perceive a threat, any threat, and your adrenal glands flood your body with stress hormone such as Cortisol.

Cortisol is a slower acting stress hormone which helps your body to prioritise functions during times of stress.

Cortisol makes sure you’re ready to fight or run by:

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    Regulating your hydration
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    Sending water away from digestion
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    Sending water TO your muscles, heart, lungs and brain
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    Increasing your blood glucose

When your cortisol levels stay high because of chronic stress, it messes with your blood sugar and can cause sugar cravings that aren’t great for your gut bacteria.

It also dehydrates your bowel and your bowel muscles, slowing your transit time and getting things pretty stuck and dry in there.

The opposite of Fight or Flight

Chronic stress is a real poop-killer. The opposite term to Fight & Flight illustrates this very nicely, it’s “Rest & Digest”

Being in a calm state allows the hydration to flood back into your digestive system, speeding it back up  and letting digestion happen as it should.

What You Can Do About It

There are hundreds of great way to reduce your body’s cortisol levels, and many of them help with any nagging issues you might be holding onto as well!

These are some of my top favourites:

  • Hanging out with friends
  • Taking a Yoga class
  • Decluttering your living space
  • Deep breathing exercises
  • Meditation (for the guilt-ridden you have to check out Ho’oponopono)
  • Forest Bathing (aka a walk in nature)

So tell me…

What are you holding on to?

The Ridiculous Number 1 Reason for Constipation

number 1 reason for constipation

The wilderness years you spend at college or university are some of the most fun you'll ever have. You're finally free to do whatever you want, and of course free to eat and drink whatever you want. Which, for me, mainly turned out to be veggie burgers and alcoholic cider. Those were the days I was going number 2 about once a week, and I had no idea that my diet was a perfect example of the number 1 reason for constipation.

Having grown up in the 80’s, like most kids I was given milk at school and Coke at home. I don’t remember drinking more than one small glass of water a day with lunch. Water just wasn’t a big deal.

So by the time I was 18, I hardly drank any water at all.

Key Takeaway

How much water you drink has a lot more to do with constipation than you think. from lubrication to building enzymes to creating pathways for nutrients, water has roles in the mechanism, texture and function of your gut.

When it was time for my weekly pellet poop, I would know.

That special feeling that my body had had enough and was sounding the evacuation alarm was a combination of:

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    Sudden nausea
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    Chills
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    A deep-down awful feeling like dread
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    Swiftly followed by cramps and a run to the bathroom

I called that feeling “Pale and Shaky”

To think that the main reason I was so terribly constipated was likely the easiest of all to fix makes me sad, because I know I’m not the only one who spent the 80’s and 90’s dehydrated.

I’m pretty sure most of us did. 

Water is More of a Reason for Constipation than you think

The first thing you probably think about when it comes to water as a reason for constipation, is that your food itself needs to be wet enough to be lubricated.

Of course, you do have to drink enough water so that your food goes down the tube easily, but that's not the whole story.

The Mucus Membrane

Your digestive system is lined with a delicate layer of pink, squishy skin called the Mucus Membrane. It’s smooth like the inside of your cheeks, and in some parts it has receptors for how full it is, and cells that absorb nutrients to filter them into your bloodstream.

The mucous membrane is obviously very important to digestion. It’s the gatekeeper.

When you're properly hydrated, the mucous membrane is pink and perky, and able to do its job of moving food along and absorbing the nutrients.

The Road to Absorption

For nutrients (the tiny pieces of protein, carbohydrate, fat, vitamins and minerals) to “drive” from the food to your bloodstream, they need a road.

And water is that road. Nutrients travel in water to get absorbed through the mucous membrane, and to travel from the mucous membrane to your bloodstream.

So you’re able to digest and absorb more from your food when you're hydrated.

Dr. Bernard Jensen

“Most people do not drink enough water; they are chronically dehydrated. This causes all body tissues and fluids to become thicker and more viscid. The mucous lining in the colon changes in consistency, failing to provide a slick lubrication”


Digestive Enzymes

When you think of digestive enzymes, one vivid image that comes to mind is the way bile, full of enzymes from your liver and pancreas,  SQUIRTS out of your bile duct in a hearty spray to be mixed quickly into your food.

Or is that just me?

Ok that's a bit embarassing, but at least now you have that image in your mind too.

Those healthy, wet sprays of digestive enzymes are mainly made up of what?

You guessed it. Water.

The Digestion Marathon

Have you ever watched a marathon on tv and seen a runner’s legs collapse like jelly just before the finish line? I love the trend lately for competitors to stop and help them stagger through that final sprint!

What’s actually happening with that sudden giving out of the leg muscles is a combination of running out of fuel, and dehydrated muscles.

Without water, those leg muscles simply can’t keep going. The runner hits a wall, legs turn to jelly and it’s game over.

Your digestive system is made up of muscles too. They squish and squash food in your stomach. Then a marathon’s worth of waves undulate down the entire 7 meter tube of intestines.

Those waves (aka Peristalsis) are what moves food along. They have to be strong and vigorous to help food get round corners and not stay stuck to the sides.

If your gut is dehydrated, that epic effort can be thwarted. Essentially you can give yourself jelly gut, like jelly legs.

Eventually those peristaltic muscles can become weak and out of shape, so it’s a self-perpetuating problem.

A little note on Priorities

Why doesn’t the body just prioritise digestion if it’s so important?

Well, when you drink a little bit of water but not enough, your primal brain has to make some tough decisions.

Should you prioritise the hydration of your heart, brain and lungs for basic survival?

Arms and legs for fight and flight? (hello stress! Stress answers yes to this question)

Third in line, the digestive system.

It’s totally possible to survive a Sabre Toothed Tiger attack (or Board meeting) with your digestion on lockdown. It’s just not optimal.

Staying properly hydrated means that your body doesn’t need to make that decision - there’s enough water to go round and all systems can function as they should.

What Is Constipation? Symptoms & Silly Mistakes You Might Be Making

What Is Constipation?

When I was a kid, I was really constipated. Going number 2 was a weekend event, a family excursion. The kind of outing you packed a picnic for. I would spend entire evenings sitting on the toilet, sipping on a cup of disgusting black coffee, while my helpful family crowded outside the bathroom door shouting words of encouragement like "Just Relax!" and "Take Your Time!"

And my personal favourite: "Hurry up, I need the bathroom!"

Key Takeaway

Don't stay constipated. As you get older, it can get really bad.... laxatives stop working, and Drs run out of ideas. NOW is the time to do something about it.

At the time I thought it was just me, but now I know I'm not alone. Over 20% of the US adult population suffer from constipation regularly.

If you're having no luck in the toilet department, read on.

I'm going to go into detail about what constipation is and the different things that may be causing your constipation. I'll even give you some ridiculously simple, natural strategies you can try.

And they DON'T include taking a laxative.

The Constipation Symptoms We Learn To Ignore

Most people don't actually realise they're constipated. Going once every 2-3 days has been normal for them their whole lives.

I know because I’ve been there.

Even when you go to the Dr about it, they often say that’s ok for you, that’s “your normal”.

But it's not ok. You're supposed to go to the bathroom at least once a day.

If you don't, it can affect everything from your mood, to your skin, to what clothes you wear. Not to mention it's really not good for your bowels to keep all that crap building up.

What Is Constipation, According to the Experts?

Actually the Mayo Clinic agrees that you need regular number 2's.

Having more than one of these symptoms for more than 3 months puts you into the “Chronic Constipation” category, where they suggest you should see your Dr for help.

Of course going to the doctor is great, but it doesn’t get you off the hook - you still need to do your part too!

You are the person most invested in being healthy, and you're also the only person who really knows what makes your body feel good or bad.

The best way to do this is to start noticing your body's signs. The symptoms that are trying to tell you something. 

Symptoms of Constipation According to the Mayo Clinic 

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    Going number 2 less than 3 times a week
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    Poop that’s lumpy or hard
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    Straining when you do go
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    The feeling that something’s stuck in there and that’s why you can’t poo
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    Never feeling like you’ve properly emptied your bowels
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    Needing to help yourself by pressing with your hand

NOW do you think you’re constipated?

Dr. Norman Walker

“If the sewer system in your home is backed up, your entire home is aff​ected. Should it be any different with your body?”


Why Laxatives Are Not Your Friend

I know that a strong cup of coffee or a laxative can help move things along, but that’s only temporary.

Don’t kid yourself, laxatives are habit forming and can make things worse in the long run. They tire your bowel out and weaken the muscles over time. It's really important to figure out what the root cause of your constipation is.

On-and-off constipation can become a serious chronic problem as you get older, and letting the problem persist without working on it can affect your future quality of life, your health and your mental state.²

You think you’re hiding from the world now, but imagine how you’re going to feel 10 years down the line if you haven’t managed to clear all that junk out of your basement?

... Actually don’t.

It’s time to stand up to constipation and stop letting it run your life.

Up next - The Unacceptable Number 1 Reason For Constipation



References

²Impact of Persistent Constipation on Health Related Quality of Life and Mortality in Older Community Dwelling Women – Koloski et al – Gastro Journal

The Surprising (& Fabulous) Benefits of Fermenting

benefits of fermenting

You can’t get much more trendy than fermented foods these days, friendly probiotic bacteria are SOOOOOOO good for you! They keep your digestive system working smoothly, are an absolute saviour if you have bloating or diarrhea, and they are a must for keeping the bad gut bacteria in check. But did you know that eating fermented vegetables doesn’t just make you a saintly and on-point nutrition hipster? Those weirdly satisfying sour and salty side dishes can actually make you really, really good-looking.

 

It’s no secret that we should all be eating more vegetables so that we can be healthier and live longer. But fermenting one particular food has shown anti-ageing properties on a cellular level, not to mention that it contains a key component that can reduce skin inflammation like Rosacea!

We’re talking actually healing your skin, your body’s biggest organ, from the inside out.

Having suffered from Rosacea throughout my 20’s, I know that looking after your skin, has nothing to do with vanity and everything to do with health.

Wait, don’t go!

Have a look at what I found out, and I’m pretty sure you’ll soon be planning your own sauerkraut fermentation station just like mine.

WHY IS SAUERKRAUT GOOD FOR YOU?

Sauerkraut is made from cabbage, which is a Leafy Green Vegetable (even though it’s white), and we all know that eating more vegetables is healthy. But there’s more to it than that, so in what way is sauerkraut good for you?

Because it’s fermented.

Fermenting veggies gives them a nutrition boost that’s a really big deal when it comes to keeping your cells young and healthy, giving you that vibrant glow from the inside out.

NATURAL PROBIOTICS

Sauerkraut is simply cabbage which has been allowed to ferment, so that the cabbage becomes easier to digest and the natural probiotics increase to billions per serving. In fact unpasteurized sauerkraut is one of the foods highest in probiotics.

Probiotics are the good bacteria that live in your digestive system as well as on your skin, which improve digestion, reduce inflammation throughout the body, and are well known to be helpful in reducing inflammatory skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis and rosacea.

What Are Probiotics Good For?

  • Preventing constipation, bloating and general gut issues by balancing the good bacteria
  • Supporting your immune system (aka fewer colds)
  • Treating and preventing infectious diarrhea
  • Relief from IBS symptoms
  • Weight loss & maintenance, especially for women
  • Soothing inflammatory skin conditions
  • Anti-ageing

A 2008 study showed that people with rosacea tended to have more bad bacteria in their digestive system than the general population, and then they showed how taking probiotic supplements for 10 days eliminated rosacea symptoms for most of them.¹

But that’s not even the half of it! According to Fertility researchers, fermented cabbage is also one of the foods highest in Polyamines.

POLYAMINES FOR HANDSOMENESS

Polyamines are proteins that are naturally produced in the body, and are involved in healthy cell growth. Their levels decline as we get older, which has been associated in research with ageing and disease.

Plant and animal experiments have shown that supplementing with polyamines can slow down the ageing process.² A diet high in polyamines can help women and men to stay fertile longer too, as it keeps those eggs and sperm young and spritely.³

Healthy cell generation is a huge part of anti-ageing and reducing the harmful effects of stresses on the body on the inside. But of course the skin is the body’s largest organ, so having good levels of polyamines has the added bonus side effect of keeping your skin healthy and glowing on the outside.

And guess which food is one of the highest natural sources of polyamines?

That’s right, sauerkraut.

HOME MADE SAUERKRAUT

Natural probiotics, especially when you’re fermenting your own veggies at home, are a lot more potent than most of the store-bought brands, especially if the store bought ones are pasteurized to kill all bacteria.

If you still want/need to buy sauerkraut that is good for you, go to a health food store and get the high end kind from the fridge with active probiotic cultures.

However I read somewhere that home made sauerkraut can be thousands of times more potent than store bought, so I decided to give it a try.

WHY YOU NEED TO MAKE SAUERKRAUT

  • Sauerkraut is cheap, so very cheap
  • It’s unbelievably easy to do
  • Better for you than store-bought
  • Tasty and easy to customize
  • Guaranteed to impress your friends

WHAT IS FERMENTATION?

The first step in making your own fermented foods, according to Cultures For Health where I got my instructions, is wrapping your head around the concept.

So true. I’m not too keen on eating rotten food. How about you?

IS FERMENTATION THE SAME AS LETTING FOOD ROT?

Well apparently the answer is “yes and no”. Fermentation means slowing down the rotting process just long enough to allow the good probiotic bacteria to take hold and push out any bad bacteria.

So you get a whole pile of good bacteria breaking down the food, instead of bad bacteria rotting it.

Cabbage is the easiest vegetable to ferment, because it naturally has a lot of good bacteria already present on it which proliferate very fast, so it’s hard to screw it up.

MY HOME MADE SAUERKRAUT RECIPE

Ok, let’s do this!

Making home made sauerkraut was surprisingly easy. I read the instructions, and simply got started.

One minor flub was that I made a half batch thinking I’d start small. But let me warn you that the mashing step is a lot of work, so I’ve updated the recipe to a whole head of cabbage. That way you end up with a bigger batch (1 1/2 big mason jars) and can let your Michelle Obama arms rest in between.

Other than that bit of hard work, and the unknown of letting something sit out on your counter for days on end (and then eating it!) this was so easy. It was pretty much fool proof, and it didn’t even smell bad.

 

INGREDIENTS

1 head of organic cabbage

3 teaspoons celtic sea salt

METHOD

  1. chop up the cabbage into thin strips.
  2. add the salt.
  3. mash it up for 10 mins (I used both a masher and my hands) till the juice comes out.
  4. stuff cabbage and juice into a sterile canning jar, making sure all the cabbage is submerged in the juice, using a small jar to press the cabbage under the juice if necessary.
  5. Cover with a clean tea towel to let the gas out, and leave out on the counter for 3-10 days. On day 3, start tasting a bit each day until it’s as sour as you like it. Then put the lid on and keep it in the fridge to eat.

How to know if sauerkraut has gone bad

Don’t worry, rotten sauerkraut is both rare, and obvious, and after you’ve made a batch or 2 you’ll know how it’s supposed to taste.

Your sauerkraut might have gone off if it is:

  1. mouldy with white or black mould around the rim
  2. very stinky in a bad way

If that’s what you see/smell, just chuck the lot out and start again. Some say you can scrape mould off the top but I’m not a fan of that idea.

CONCLUSION

The end result was a really tasty sauerkraut that I can now add to my meals as a condiment daily, and reap all of those anti-ageing, good digestion, healthy skin benefits!

Will I do this again? You bet. I’ve already started my next batch.

 

 

References
Cultures for Health
¹”Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth in rosacea”, Parodi et al, 2008
²”Polyamines in Ageing and Disease” Minois et al, Ageing, August 2011
³”fertility Boosting Foods” interview with Dr Knight, Dec 2013
The efficacy of probiotics in the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome: a systematic review.” Moayyedi et al, 2008
“Probiotics for treating acute infectious diarrhoea.” Allen et al, 2010
“Effect of Lactobacillus rhamnosus CGMCC1.3724 supplementation on weight loss and maintenance in obese men and women.” Sanchez et al, 2013