Updated: Sep 2
I find that most people are unaware of what is 'normal' and what is 'abnormal' as far as their digestive health.
I think this is due to the embarrassment people have when talking about digestive health - which is unfortunate, because usually a few simple changes can fix longstanding problems like irregularity, slow digestion and constipation.
Are You Regular?
'Normal' is generally classified as having one bowel movement per day.
A healthy person can have up to three bowel movements a day and still be in the normal range of function. If you have more than 3 bowel movements per day, or do not have at least one, then your bowel movements are considered 'irregular'.
Your bowel movements may also be considered irregular if they are too loose, too hard or painful.
In this article we will focus primarily on constipation.
Constipation is when you have a bowel movement less than once per day, but it is also when the stool is hard and you feel like not everything has been eliminated from your colon.
Causes of Constipation
This is by far the most common cause of constipation. Your body will take needed moisture from your stool to stay hydrated if you are not drinking enough water. Aim for 8 glasses of water every day.
Too Much Caffeine
Many patients notice an improvement of digestive function after they reduce or eliminate coffee consumption. This is because too much caffeine taxes the liver and disrupts normal stomach acid production.
Caffeine is also a diuretic, drinking coffee throughout the day can quickly lead to dehydration.
Try to taper off caffeine over the course of a few weeks as quitting caffeine abruptly can cause digestive upset, migraines, irritability, anxiety and sleeplessness.
Too Much Animal Protein
Excessive animal protein can be a burden on your liver and will consequently decrease digestive motility (how quickly food moves through your digestive tract). High animal protein/high fat diets are extremely popular at the moment, but they do not work for everyone.
There are those who thrive on diets like Keto and Paleo and there are those who, no matter how hard they try to force their body to use fat and protein as primary fuel sources, do not thrive.
Consider any symptoms you are having as potential signs that your diet may not be right for you.
Stomach pain, low energy, trouble sleeping, weight gain, mood swings, irritability, anxiety, constipation, food sensitivities, migraines, and diarrhea are all potential signs that your body is not thriving on your diet.
Mineral deficiency is common in those with constipation. Poor diet, stress and chronic illness can tax the body and drain it of vital minerals.
When your body is stressed either biochemically (with a bacterial infection, autoimmune condition or food allergy) or psychologically (through past trauma, toxic relationships, or an unhealthy work environment) your kidneys excrete magnesium, which can lead to magnesium deficiency.
It is best not to guess what vitamins and minerals you may be deficient in based on symptom lists online.
Functional medicine testing can determine what vitamins and minerals you are deficient in and the best way to replete your minerals. Keep in mind minerals and vitamins have complex relationship with one another, if you take too much of one vitamin, you may be causing an intrinsic deficiency of another.
A functional medicine practitioner can give you the best form of each vitamin or mineral so your body can absorb those vitamins optimally.
Different forms of vitamins make a major difference in efficacy. For example, magnesium citrate is typically used for constipation issues and general magnesium repletion. Another form of magnesium - magnesium malate - is more suited for metabolic health and energy production. Magnesium threonate is best for supporting nerve and brain health.