When I started my journey to recovery from my various digestive difficulties in 2014 (chronic constipation being the most predominant) my first step was to educate myself on how my body works. I’m not going to say it was easy, as I’m no medical student. It took me six months just to get through the various medical journals and translate them into layman’s terms and to this day I still learn about how my body does what it does.
I suffered with chronic constipation since the day I was born, no one new why and I even saw some of the top gastroenterologists in London, UK. I’ll be truly honest with you, I’m not talking about the kind of constipation that was just difficult to pass, instead I couldn’t pass anything, and this could last anywhere from 2 weeks to 4 weeks. I remember as a child I would sit on the toilet for hours on end unable to move with pain and at times would pass out and go into shock. However every time I would go to hospital the doctors would treat only the constipation (a symptom of an underlying problem) and never the true cause. I grew up on laxatives, which I became addicted to, and it was the biggest mistake and has damaged my body to the brink of no return.
The reason for me writing this article is that I want to share what learnt and how I have managed to overcome chronic constipation without the use of laxatives, (as not the cure they are often the cause). I hope that once you understand a little more about your body’s digestive system you will be able to take control of symptoms and live life to the full.
Our journey starts with our senses
Smell, sight, sound and taste, are what first triggers our desire to eat. If you’re from the UK you’ve seen the Marks & Spencers food ad’s, they pretty much coined the term ‘Food Porn’. Your senses are what trigger your saliva glands, which prepare you in taking your bite and also awakens your gastric juices.
First Stop: The Mouth
The minuet food touches our lips we begin the digestive process. Our Saliva helps to brake down food and keeps our mouth clean. Our teeth are also designed to make food easier to swallow and gentler on our stomach.
*Tip to better digestion: Always eat slowly and chew your food well. Over eating will not only make you gain weight (it can take up to 20min to feel satisfied), but it will also be easier on your digestive process.
Down the Rabbit Hole…The oesophagus
The moment you swallow a piece of food, it travels down the oesophagus which leads to the stomach, your gastric juices that we mentioned before are ready and waiting to break the food down even further ad kill of any bacteria. From here the food will move into the small intestine, the food is now turned into chyme.
A long and winding road: The Small Intestine
From here the food will move along the intestines in a wave-like motion called peristalsis, which is triggered by the Gastrocolic Reflex. The Gastrocolic Reflex is, in-turn trigged by the ingestion of particular foods, such as fats and coffee, it’s also triggered by a flood of hormones, for example after a good night’s sleep your body will have a surge of the hormone serotonin and a depletion of melatonin, which wakes you up, serotonin always plays a major role in gut function and motility and it helps in the triggering of peristalsis to move food along the digestive tract.
The small intestine is vital to the digestive process and for the overall functioning of the body. If you have an unhealthy gut your whole body is out of balance. The small intestine is where the body absorbs nutrients from the food we eat and whatever it doesn’t want, will be excreted out. The nutrients are used up for energy or stored for later. Proteins are also absorb and are building blocks to repair and recover the body. However for those who eat high quantities of protein are more susceptible to constipation and the liver uses high quantities of the body’s water supply to brake down post digested proteins which are delivered to the bloodstream this in-turn can dehydrate the bowel and as a result dry out stool, making them difficult to pass. This why body builder’s biggest complaint is constipation.
For those of us who have IBS, the main problem starts in the small intestine as it does not have the appropriate enzymes to absorb particular sugars and there for will cause inflammation and other symptoms. People with insufficient levels of good bacteria are also at risk of digestive problems, SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacteria Overgrowth) can cause harmful gases within the gut such as the production of methane gas (Constipation Dominant) or an over production of hydrogen gas (Diarrhoea dominant). If your small intestine is weak it can affect your immune system and cause an array of common ailments such as acne, dysmenoria (painful menstruation), headaches, poor sleep, weight gain, weight loss and much more.
Tip: There are many reason behind chronic constipation, hormonal imbalances, gut bacteria levels, hypoactive/hyperactive Gastrocolic reflex, the ingestion of certain foods that slow down digestion. My advice would be to speck to your doctor and ask if he can run some tests to find the root of your digestive troubles.
All Aboard The Large Intestine
The large intestine is where we keep the stool hydrated by the bowel pulling the water in from elsewhere in the body. This is why it is so important to stay well hydrated if you suffer with slow transit (colonic inertia) your body will steal water from the bowel which results in hard, large difficult to pass bowel movements. The stool with move further down towards the exit.
Final Stop… The Exit
Once your body’s waste is ready for it’s break for freedom (sorry, tying to make light of a taboo topic) your internal sphincter contracts to give you that “knock-at-the-door” to let you know you need the bathroom. If your thinking “I’ve never had that ‘knock-at-the-door’ feeling before you could have a hypo-sensitive sphincter which means your sphincter muscles are weak or have been damaged, this can also cause constipation as you are unable to know when your bowels needs to emptying and their for hold in what is trying to get out and creates large stools. As of right now there is no clear treatment, out to find out more about hyposensitivity, click here.
What to remember…
The gut is a muscle, right now your bowel may be weak and lazy, but you are able to strengthen it to enable it to produce bowel movements alone. It takes time, dedication, healthy eating (without cheat days) and mental stamina but if you want to improve your quality of life this is what is needed.
Learn to listen
Once you understand how the body works and look out for your body’s way of telling you it needs this or that, you can really start to get to the root of the problem. I haven’t touch a laxative or any other form of bowel stimulant in 1 whole year and I don’t plan to, they weaken and cause digestive upset for months, they are one of the most misunderstood ‘over-the-counter’ drugs available on the market today.
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