Thinking back to when you were an infant, or for those of you lucky enough to still be in their presence, it was fairly predictable when you would soil your diaper with #2. Usually you would take in a good meal (breast milk or formula) or even some semi-solids. Then, like magic, you would have a bowel movement. Oftentimes there would be some playtime activity just before the big event.
Somehow over the ensuing years many of us go from “going” 3 times a day or more to going once every 3 days (or more). What gives?
The principle causes of constipation are inadequate fluid intake and low fiber consumption in the diet. Chronic constipation can lead to diverticulitis which affects many older adults. So an increase in these two dietary practices - more water and more fiber - can help. There are two main types of fiber - soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber acts like a sponge and absorbs toxins and liquids in it’s cleansing action. Insoluble fiber acts as a scrub brush to physically scour the intestinal walls. Check your food facts to see that you are getting both types if possible. Of course, one type is better than no type.
Some cases of constipation result as a side effect of prescription medications you may be taking for other health conditions. Ask you doctor about this possibility and what you can do about it.
The enzyme content of the food you eat is also an important factor in digestive health. The over processing of many of the foods we eat destroy the enzymes that nature has built in to foods in their natural state. The further away from raw and unprocessed you get, the more you need to supplement with enzymes. If you microwave your food at all you are killing off all enzymes in the food and your digestive system will have a harder time processing it. The mouth (saliva), small intestines, pancreas, liver and gall bladder all dump enzymes into the food mixture to break down carbohydrates, proteins and fats. You must provide the body with the proper nutrition to have the raw materials to manufacture the enzymes, so you may end up in a downward spiral of dis-ease leading to constipation due to poor digestibility of the food mixture.
There is also a possibility of emotional upset, past or present, that contributes to the sluggish bowels. Going back to those wonderful days of potty training, you may have internalized some of your parent’s expressed frustration with your lack of timely cooperation in becoming continent, especially as those pull ups become more “interesting” and aromatic. You may have heard of the phrase “scared sh--less” which could involve shutting down the system or quickly evacuating the system on the spot. Stress can cause your digestive system to shut down. It is a natural reflexive activity of the flight-or-fight response. The normal balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems swings more toward the sympathetic side which slows digestive activity and shunts blood to the muscles and elsewhere.
The digestive tract relies on a series of hormonal signals and nervous system reflexive signals to operate efficiently. That is one reason infants and dogs can be so predictable. The eliminative function of the colon can also be consciously controlled and over-ridden when having a moving experience is inconvenient from a social perspective. So, we purposefully hold it in.
The colon is partially responsible for water control in our body and will absorb water/fluids from the contents as long as the contents remain in the colon. This is how some people become impacted.
Posture and Movement
Your posture has something to do with the healthful functioning of your colon, too. If your abdomen is being compressed by rounded shoulders and a caved forward ribcage you may be compressing your colon and inhibiting the normal flow through the system. Weak abdominal muscles contribute to poor digestion in that they are responsible for massaging the organs and toning the muscular walls of the colon. If your breathing is shallow your digestion is often affected.
Movement is important as well. Remember the infant/toddler playing and moving prior to having a bathroom visit? If you have a dog or other pet, you may notice that once they are out for a walk and get moving their intestines get moving, too. Why is it any different for you?
Massage is very effective for constipation when applied to the abdominal area by tracing the path of the large intestine and small intestines. Start from the tail end of the colon (near the sigmoid colon on the lower left of the abdomen) and work your way towards the beginning of the colon if you are constipated. See the illustration.
Aromatherapy applications include the use of peppermint essential oil which has been used for digestive health for hundreds of years. Other single oils include ginger, fennel, tarragon and anise seed. The Young Living blend of DiGize has been used effectively around our house for several years to address digestive disorders. Apply the oils to the abdominal area, reflex areas on the foot or ingest them. Young Living also has a pre-packaged gel cap called Digest and Cleanse formulated to support digestive system function. To learn more about Young Living and order oils click here.
Reflexology would address the same organs through the reflex areas on the foot and hand.
Spiral Synergy for the abdominal area and the low back can be very effective for relieving stress in the abdominal area.
A Chapman’s Neurolymphatic Reflex for the large intestine is located to the side of the thigh from the hip down to the knee on both thighs. You can find out more about these reflexes in the e-book available on this website.