CONSTIPATION

I really enjoy hearing from prospective patients and welcome all of your complex questions and thought-provoking comments. I often receive phone calls and emails from the browsers of this website asking: "What can naturopathic medicine do for my condition?" As a naturopathic doctor, what natural treatment do you recommend for my illness? What can I do naturally to improve my ailments?" Naturopathic medicine is very effective for many different conditions. As a naturopathic doctor, I have experience using many different treatments to help individuals feel their best. There are numerous different natural treatments available to address many health ailments.

To illustrate, I will use four cases of individuals suffering from constipation which is a common concern in a doctor's office, reason for hospitalization and a generator of laxative sales. As a naturopathic doctor, I take a whole person approach to diagnosing the cause of sluggish bowel and difficult evacuation. Constipation can be a symptom of many underlying causes including structural, biochemical, psychological, or a microorganism imbalances in the body, among many others. Therefore, each case of constipation is treated differently than the next, based on the underlying cause, and determined with the help of a complete personal and family history, review of symptoms, a thorough physical exam, and, if needed, laboratory testing.

Constipation and the spine

Although the medical community defines constipation as a functional gastrointestinal disorder, underlying spinal structural imbalances often affect gastrointestinal function. For example, Bill Bowel has been suffering from constipation and chronic laxative use since he was in high school, the same time he was diagnosed with scoliosis (curvature of the spine). The whole person evaluation of Mr. Bowel's complaint showed that his case of constipation was caused by nervous system dysfunction secondary to the curvature of his spine. Mr. Bowel’s scoliosis was affecting the blood flow to the nerves supplying the colon with the resultant symptom of chronic constipation. By treating the underlying imbalance in the spine, the blood flow can to the nerves supplying the colon can be restored, constipation can be resolved, and he will no longer need to take laxatives.

Constipation and thyroid function

Although constipation is a gastrointestinal symptom, the cause can be traced to a metabolic or a biochemical imbalance in the body. For instance, Connie Colon who has chronic constipation, was not satisfied with taking a daily laxative. She consulted with a nutritionist who recommended that she increase her fiber and water intake. Unfortunately, Ms. Colon's constipation did not respond to these dietary changes. A whole-person assessment of her constipation would show that in addition to constipation, Ms. Colon experienced cold intolerance and low basal body temperature - symptoms of thyroid imbalance. The diagnosis of hypothyroidism can be confirmed by testing thyroid hormones in the blood. Once Ms. Colon begins to address the underlying cause of her hypothyroidism in addition to working with her nutritionist on making dietary changes, her bowel movements will become regular.

Constipation and conscious control

Constipation involving incomplete evacuation can have a psychological origin. For instance, Saul Sphincter was seen by a specialist for his complaint of feeling the urge to have a bowel movement with an inability to evacuate. The specialist found no discernible neurological or anatomic problem for this symptom. Because of the psychological component to his constipation, Mr. Sphincter may be a candidate for biofeedback treatment. Biofeedback can help to increase awareness of a physiological function (in this case the contraction and relaxation of the anal sphincter muscle) and enable Mr. Sphincter to learn voluntary control of his pelvic floor muscles that he usually did not monitor on a conscious level. With the help of this conditioning treatment, Mr. Sphincter will be able to evacuate his bowels whenever he feels an urge.

Constipation and gut flora

Trillions of microorganisms inhabit our gastrointestinal tracts, including health promoting (probiotic) and disease-causing bacteria. Constipation can be a symptom of dysbiosis, an imbalance in the intestinal ecosystem. For example, Phylis Flora's constipation began following antibiotic treatment prescribed for an ear infection. The antibiotic helped to resolve Ms. Flora's infection and ameliorate the pain, however, she was in discomfort from resultant constipation. Because the antibiotic kills good and bad bacteria in the gut, it can cause unpleasant side-effects from resultant intestinal dysbiosis. The cause of her constipation is the loss of health promoting bacteria and can be treated with probiotic supplementation to resolve her constipation.

As you can see, chronic constipation can negatively affect an individual's quality of life. It can also lead to hemorrhoid protrusion, pain and bleeding, as well as reabsorption and recirculation of toxic waste products from the colon. The most sensible solution is prevention. The second most sensible solution is, as illustrated by above cases, one that addresses the underlying cause by removing obstacles to and establishing favorable conditions for healthy elimination.

I hope this article helps to broaden your understanding of naturopathic medicine and natural treatments. I trust you are more certain that I can help you improve your health so that you can follow your passions and pursuits. I look forward to meeting you.

Definition of constipation:

Diagnosis of constipation must include at least 2 or more of the following symptoms during at least 25% of bowel movements for at least 3 months with an onset of more than 6 months:

  • Straining
  • Lumpy or hard stools
  • Sensation of incomplete evacuation
  • Sensation of ano-rectal obstruction or blockage
  • Manual maneuvers used to assist with defecation
  • Fewer than 3 bowel movements per week

Sources:

Amenta M, Cascio MT, Di Fiore P, Venturini I. Diet and chronic constipation. Benefits of oral supplementation with symbiotic zir fos (Bifidobacterium longum W11 + FOS Actilight). Acta Biomed. 2006 Dec;77(3):157-62.

Chiarioni G, Heymen S, Whitehead WE. Biofeedback therapy for dyssynergic defecation. World J Gastroenterol 2006 November;12(44):7069-7074

Collins, SM. Translating symptoms into mechanisms: functional GI disorders. Adv Physiol Educ 31:329-331, 2007.

Epidemiology Profiles: Constipation. Pri-med updates syllabus: Phoenix, AZ 2007.

Johanson JF. Review of the treatment options for chronic constipation. MedGenMed. 2007 May 2;9(2):25.