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.
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:
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”
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.