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Understanding and Overcoming Constipation by Paul Chek

What do going to the gym, performance bars, protein powders, performance drinks, low back pain, protruding lower abdominals, fatigue, skin problems, body odor, unwanted visits to the doctor and late night TV have in common? They can all cause or contribute to or result from constipation!

Constipation is seldom thought of as a problem, particularly among exercise and rehab professionals, but that is not because they don’t suffer from it. In spite of their training, exercise and healthcare professionals have grown to take constipation for granted. In fact, most people in either profession couldn’t properly define what constipation is, yet, as I will show you in this article, many, if not most of what ails their clients can be directly or indirectly linked to constipation and the factors that cause it.

Unlike obesity, constipation is a silent epidemic. While everybody is now aware that Syndrome X and obesity are an international epidemic, few even realize they are constipated. There are now so many obese people in the UK, the US and even Australia that obese teenagers and adults alike are becoming comfortable wearing revealing cloths and just letting it all hang out. Just as children today are losing sight of what a healthy human body should look and feel like, people lost touch with how a healthy bowel should function well before the Syndrome X and obesity epidemics arrived. What may be even more interesting to you is to learn that Syndrome X leading to adult onset diabetes, obesity and constipation all result from mismanagement of lifestyle factors. Before I let that cat out of the bag and describe common causes of constipation, let’s get clear on just how much of a problem constipation is and exactly what it is.

Just How “Full of It” Are We?

In the US, laxatives are the third best selling drug store item, with daily sales being reported at $1,369,863 as far back as 1991 (Bottom Line Personal 4-30-91 p.9). In the UK, 10 million prescriptions are written annually for laxatives and many more non-prescription laxatives are taken (Ref: Bandolier Research). At over £46 million per year in England, expenditure on the four main types of laxative is higher than on hypnotics and anxiolytics (antidepressants) (Ref: Effective Healthcare, 9-2001)!

I have personally spoken to emergency room physicians that have informed me that the incidence of people coming to the emergency room with pain or temporary disability related to constipation is so high that most hospitals in the US had to change the criteria for diagnosing constipation and prescribing laxatives; previously, anyone that had not had a bowel movement within 24 hours was allotted medication for constipation, which was costing the hospitals huge amounts of money due to the massive number of uninsured patients visiting the emergency room; To combat the problem, the criteria for prescribing laxatives was changed to not having had a bowel movement in over 48 hours. There can be no doubt then, that constipation is both common and expensive!

Constipation Defined

While there are a number of medical opinions as to what constitutes constipation, I teach my students that it is best to learn about health by studying healthy populations and learning from healthy doctors, most of which are naturopathic physicians, not traditional medical doctors. Famous naturopathic and chiropractic physician Bernard Jensen (“Dr. Jensen’s Guide To Better Bowel Care”) indicated that on average, any healthy human being should evacuate their bowel within thirty minutes of each meal. He suggested that on average, humans should eliminate at least 12 inches of feces on a daily basis (~ 30 cm.). World respected Naturopathic physician Bill Timmins of “Bio Health diagnostics” in San Diego, Ca. feels that while moving 12 inches of feces daily is a useful guideline, it is more important that one move their bowel at least once daily. Dr. Timmins feels that more important than how many times or how many inches you move a day is that you have a complete sense of elimination. In other words, you should never feel as though you wish you could have eliminated more, you should always feel emptied. The feeling of complete elimination may come as regularly as the morning, noon and evening, or it may come in two six inch (15 cm.) or one large allotment (~30 cm.).

COMMON CAUSES AND EFFECTIVE SOLUTIONS FOR CONSTIPATION

Stress

Stress levels in modern society are at an all time high. Stress disrupts digestion and elimination by activating the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system (fight-or-flight response). The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is designed to activate the musculoskeletal system, making you physically ready for work, be it in the gym, a field or for running or fighting for you life; thus the name “fight or flight” nervous system. Your sympathetic nervous system, which is easily activated by such things as negative emotions, fearful behavior, music that produces dissonance or any number of chemical agents commonly found in processed foods and medical drugs today, is the functional antagonist to the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). The PNS is commonly referred to as the digest and repair nervous system and it is best activated by relaxing music, loving relationships, a calming environment and the smell or taste of food. Because staying alive ranks higher for survival than eating, anytime your are stressed, you body interprets the situation as a threat to your survival, leading to a decrease in the digestive processes.

When the SNS dominates over the PNS, the bodily reaction is to stop the wave-like contractions (called peristalsis) that move food from mouth to anus. There is a tightening of all sphincters in the digestive system and blood is diverted away from the organs of digestion and elimination and into the muscles and skin to ready the body for fight or flight.  The three primary stressors that disrupt our digestion and often result in constipation are infringements upon our:

  • Safety or security:
    • This primarily equates to financial stability in modern man
  • Sustenance:
    • Experienced today as over-eating, under-eating, or eating non-foods; any food that costs more in energy and nutrients to digest, metabolize, assimilate and eliminate than it provides. Almost any food that wasn’t here 10,000 years ago or any food with extended shelf life due to processing falls into this category!
  • Sex/Procreation:
    • Relative to each individual’s needs, too little, too much or challenging sexual beliefs or behaviors relative to the model developed and passed onto us by our parents in childhood will cause stress accumulation.

Consider for example how you feel while on vacation or when camping in the wilderness vs. how you feel on a typical workday. Most people begin their day in a rush, eat poor quality, sugar laden foods and wash them down with caffeine, resulting in a massive sympathetic surge. The drive to work is often stressful, work is commonly stressful, meals are often skipped or replaced with toxic snack foods and blood sugar levels are on a dangerous roller coaster all day long….more stress! Finally, after battling traffic you return home for dinner -- just in time to watch the news and the process repeats itself. It’s easy to get jacked up hearing about the crazy things happening in the world while you chomp away with your head turned to one side, staring in amazement. You get up feeling uncomfortably full, and it’s no surprise -- you have eaten three meals today and none of them have come out the back yet. You’ve created your own private traffic jam!

Over time, digestion becomes progressively challenged. When your body senses that the garbage is not being taken out, it doesn’t want more coming in. Soon, you’ll have a perpetual sense of fullness, but still feel hungry because your body is lacking nutrients.

Healthy Options For Stress Management

  1. Safety/Security: Put your life into priority. Most people today rush around, using their stomach as a garbage can and burn the candle at both ends, only to end up constipated and feeling like crap quite often. Take the time to sit quietly and put your life in perspective. All human beings are concerned about safety/security, sustenance and sex/procreation because they are the three instinctive drives passed on to us from our animal ancestors. Many people work excessively hard for material gain, yet at the end of the day, have no quality of life. I have worked with hundreds of people that had big houses, fancy cars and clothes, yet their family members rarely see them or have any quality time with them. Their bodies hurt all the time and they are usually constipated.

    Spend some time getting clear on just how much financial success you wish to acquire and put together a plan to achieve it sensibly, while maintaining your health or you will not appreciate your achievements when you finally get there and will spend a lot of time and money to get your health back. It is truly surprising how few people today have any goals, yet as several of the great success masters say, “if you’re not working toward your own goals, you are working toward someone else’s!” 

    Set clear goals and learn to use your mind correctly. The Universe doesn’t work on happen-chance. It is governed by Universal Laws. I strongly recommend Bob Proctors’s course “The Science of Getting Rich” for those of you wishing to reduce stressors related to money and wanting to develop a healthy strategy for achieving financial success while maintaining a healthy life and life perspective. 
  2. Sustenance: Read the book The Metabolic Typing Diet by William Wolcott and Trish Fahe and learn to eat the right proportions of carbohydrates, fats and proteins for your unique needs. Each of us is as different on the inside as we are on the outside, yet most nutritionist and diet dictocrats try to sell you on one size fits all diet and supplementation plans. Lets face it, the way you feed an Eskimo is not the way you feed an inland Aboriginal or even someone from central or south America! Once you’ve read this book, read “Nutrition and Physical Degeneration” by Weston A. Price so you can learn the importance of whole-food eating. Put the knowledge you gain from these two books into practice and you will not only see rapid improvements in your health and vitality, your perception of stress will be greatly reduced in all areas. This is because we live our lives through our food and drink, literally! Think about it…you are replacing about 2,000,000 red blood cells every SECOND, not to mention the constant repair and replacement of billions of cells throughout your body every day. What you eat today becomes the person that you are tomorrow! If your diet consists of caffeine, refined foods, additives and processed foods (C.R.A.P.), surely your overall view of life will be S.A.D. (Speedily Advancing Death!). Just remember, anything you put anything in your mouth that your body perceives as a threat to the system, it produces a fight or flight response!
  3. Sex/Procreation: Unfortunately, most people (particularly those under 35) spend a huge amount of time grinding themselves into a financial hole so they can make the money to put on a show for the opposite sex. All you have to do to prove this is look at all the people that don’t even own their own home, who have no real financial assets, yet drive very expensive cars, wear expensive jewelry and clothes; these same people make up a large percentage of those that live off of cheap fast foods each day! Clearly they are working against their own natural survival instincts. When you look at the fact that sympathetic stress diminishes sex drive in females and causes premature ejaculation in males, you can clearly see that what causes stress in many sexual relationships can be tracked back to failure to acquire financial security and eat properly. Not surprisingly, it is when the PNS, the rest, digest and eliminate branch of the nervous system is working well that our bowel movements are regular and women have a healthy sex drive and men can maintain a quality erection and avoid premature ejaculation!

Dehydration

For normal physiological and digestive processes to occur, you must consume adequate amounts of water. I recommend at least half your body weight (in pounds) in ounces of water per day. (Body weight (kg) X .033 = how much water to drink in liters)

A dry mouth is an indication that you’re dehydrated and digestion will be effected. The first physical act of digestion, chewing food, begins in the mouth and requires the production of saliva. Saliva contains digestive enzymes that begin the breakdown of foods, especially carbohydrates. If you’re dehydrated and cannot adequately produce saliva, foods won’t be properly prepared for further digestion in the stomach and intestines.

Once dehydrated, the body will scavenge water from vital organs and eventually your central nervous system. But the body will first draw water from the mucus membrane in the stomach, and the small and large intestines, organs that play a key role in the digestive process.

As food enters the stomach, hydrochloric acid (HCL) is released to break down proteins. Dehydration robs moisture from the mucus membrane in the stomach, leaving it unprotected from HCL –- which is acidic enough to burn a hole through carpet and most certainly capable of causing ulcers. Pain associated with this process commonly causes reflex inhibition of the abdominal muscles, causing susceptibility to injury during physical exertion due to inefficient spine stabilization.

Antacids are a common treatment for indigestion and heartburn though there are unwanted consequences. Antacids contain high levels of aluminum, which is toxic and suspected to be a cause of Alzheimer’s disease. Consuming antacids also inhibits optimal breakdown of proteins before they enter the SI. Aside from water, most of your body is comprised of proteins and fats. If proteins, necessary for repairing cells, are not properly broken down, they’re less likely to be absorbed. The body will then begin to break down it’s own proteins from muscle. Heartburn is a sign of dehydration and should not be treated as an isolated condition.

When the mucus membrane of the colon is dehydrated, the goblet cells are unable to do their job of providing the necessary amount of lubricating mucus. This makes bowel movements hard to pass and leads to constipation. This is compounded by the fact that one of the primary jobs of the colon is to recycle water from feces, as needed. Dehydration on any level will therefore result in the colon squeezingmore fluid from your feces. This water reducing mechanism was surely necessary during our developmental years as hunter-gatherers while on long hunts or trekking in nomadic conditions where water may not have been available. But today, there is no excuse for not consuming recommended quantities of water.

When your water volume drops below optimal and the body retains feces, you cannot only expect hard and hard to pass bowel movements, but a toxic bowel. Today, many experts inform us that 90% of all disease begins in the bowel! It may also interest you to know that today, the number one reason people consult physicians is fatigue, which is a symptom of bowel toxicity. If you consider the other common symptoms of bowel toxicity that commonly accompany chronic constipation, you will soon see that constipation may be responsible for a HUGE number of visits to the doctor each year! These symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Nervousness
  • Gastrointestinal upset
  • Acne, rash or other skin problems
  • Headaches
  • Arthritis
  • Low back pain
  • Neck pain
  • Pain between the shoulder blades
  • Pain in upper right abdominal region
  • Sciatica (pain in the hip and down the back of the leg)
  • Allergies and food intolerance
  • Asthma
  • Eye, ear, nose and throat problems
  • Cardiac irregularities

Healthy Options For Rehydration to Combat Constipation

  1. If you experience any symptoms of constipation or toxicity, consider changing your diet. The most common culprits that lead to a toxic state are and need to be minimized or eliminated are:
    • Processed foods
    • Pasteurized dairy products
    • Processed Juices
    • Dehydrogenated fats
    • Caffeine
    • Drug use (including medical drugs, alcohol and cigarettes)
    • Tap water; usually contains chlorine, which kills your friendly bacteria. Friendly bacteria produce lactic acid, which stimulates peristalsis, as well as producing essential vitamins such as B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B12, A and K. I recommend drinking high quality bottled waters such as Evian, Vittel or Volvic and/or getting a good home filtration system so that you don’t cook, shower or bath in chlorinated water. As I always tell my patients, “If it’s on your skin, you’re drinking it!” Most people don’t realize that about 60% of the amount of chlorine you would absorb by drinking chlorinated water will enter your body through the skin (Ref: “David Getoff” Nutrition video series and course notes).
  2. Drink Water: In addition to drinking at least one half your body weight (or Body weight in ounces each day (kg X .033 in liters/water daily), I recommend 16 ounces (1/2 liter) about 15 minutes before each meal to ensure proper hydration. Adding a pinch of unprocessed sea salt to each liter bottle of water will increase absorption of water as well as aid in HCL production. Absorption is improved by adding quality sea salt because it restores electrolyte balance, while drinking too much naked water tends to wash electrolytes out of the body, leaving people both tired and running to the toiled to pee all the time! I recommend Celtra Salt, which is available in the UK from “Vitae” 5 Saintbury Close Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire CV37 7HD Telephone 01789 297839 Fax 01789 297839 or e-mail: mtsupps@ntlworld.com

Lack of Movement

Our bodies are designed to move. In our natural hunter-gatherer environment, we were quite active by necessity. We were not over-active, but we were active. Some experts suggest that we accomplished our daily hunter-gatherer duties in an average of 3-4 hours a day, leaving plenty of time for rest and relaxation (Ref. “Metabolic Man - 10,000 Years From Eden” by C. Wharton). Performing a few hours a day of movement in the form of natural movement allowed activation of our key pump systems, which are the respiratory diaphragm, the abdominal wall and the pelvic floor musculature. By using the body’s pumps in concert with use of the extremity muscles, not only do we facilitate the return of blood and lymphatic fluid but also we massage the organs, helping to pump fluids through them and maintain optimal motility. In the case of the intestinal tract, functional movements such as squatting are very supportive of bowel function. When we squat, our right thigh presses on the cecum (beginning of the colon) and ascending colon to perform the task of pushing feces up hill, which no other animal has to do! The left thigh in a natural squat will press upon the descending colon, delivering feces to the sigmoid colon region where you sense its presence. When the sigmoid expands, stretch receptors excite the colon and give you the sense that you need to evacuate your bowel. Today, we need to get moving more, which would not only help us increase our metabolic rate and burn more fat, it will help us sensitize our muscles to insulin, thereby reducing the tendency to fat storage and obesity!

Health Options Ffr Functional Movement To Reduce Constipation

  1. Minimize the use of machines or floor exercises that don’t use the trunk and extremity muscles together. Using machines in particular commonly causes problems that contribute to constipation because most machines don’t require the activation of the vital pumps (diaphragm, deep abdominal wall and pelvic floor) in synergy with the extremity muscles.
  2. If you are constipated, try a Tai Chi or Qi-Gong class. These exercise methods, as well as some types of Yoga are well known to activate and synchronize our natural pump systems. Tai Chi and Qi-Gong are very effective for activating the PNS, counterbalancing the stress of the day and improving digestion and elimination. This aids the body in ridding itself of toxins.
  3. Learn to breath correctly. Most instructors of the soft martial arts and Yoga, as well as any CHEK Practitioner can teach you to breath properly. When your breathing mechanics are correct, you will again have synchronicity of your natural pump systems, aiding elimination of waste from the body. Learning to breath through your nose correctly is also very important, both when you are exercising and in general because the nose contains a large population of neurons to stimulate the PNS, while mouth breathing stimulates the SNS. As I have outlined in this article, to overcome constipation requires that we really work to keep balance between the SNS and PNS!

As you can see, poorly managed diet and lifestyle factors are not only stressful to our body and mind, they result in excessive activation of our SNS. This leads to accumulation of toxins via constipation as a byproduct of diminished peristalsis of the entire digestive tract from throat to anus. It is well known that when the liver is not able to effectively process the toxins entering the body, it stores them in fat cells to protect the organs and central nervous system. This leads encourages obesity. Being dehydrated often results from both drinking too many dehydrating fluids such as soda pop, alcohol, tea and coffee, resulting in emergency water recycling by the colon. To recycle water, the colon must hold the fecal material for extended periods of time, often in the presence of a dehydrated mucus membrane. This sets the body up to become toxic, further activating the SNS. By better managing our stressors and setting clearly defined, realistically achievable goals, eating a diet primarily of organic whole-foods in the correct proportions for our unique metabolic type, drinking adequate high quality water and exposing ourselves to at least 30 minutes of functional movement each day, we will surely make great strides toward being thinner, happier and eliminating a healthy 30 cm. A day!

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