What Causes Constipation?
By Tyler Woodward
According to estimates, 9-20% of Americans are chronically constipated, that’s almost 30 million Americans! And at the minimum! To understand how to cure our constipation, we must understand what's causes it in the first place.
To understand constipation we first must understand the digestive process. The Gastrointestinal Tract or “GI tract” for short is the path that food takes through our body from start to finish. As you might imagine, the GI tract begins in the mouth with the chewing of food and ends with the excretion of waste aka poop out of our anus. To make the digestive process simpler we’ll break it down into 6 steps
The Digestive Process:
1. The Mouth - This is the chewing of food or “mastication” and is known as physical digestion, as you physically break down your food into smaller, more digestible pieces. Saliva produced in your mouth while eating helps to lubricate the food as it is transported through the esophagus and also begins to break down the food.
2. The Esophagus - As you swallow, the chewed food heads down into your esophagus into your stomach.
3. The Stomach - The stomach is the first part of chemical digestion. The stomach primarily secretes HCl (hydrochloric acid) and the digestive enzyme, pepsin. These mostly help to break down protein in your food into individual amino acids, but also break down any remaining food into a liquid.
4. The Small Intestine - The small intestine is the workhorse of the digestive system. The small intestine works with the liver and pancreas to break down any remain food, absorb ~90% of the nutrients found within the food and then reabsorb water among other products to be recycled back into the body and digestive process. The small intestine is made up of three parts, starting with the duodenum. The duodenum is where the rest of your food gets broken down before it is absorbed into the bloodstream.
- The Liver - The liver converts HDL cholesterol into bile where it is transported and stored to the gallbladder
- The Gallbladder - The gallbladder secretes the stored bile into the small intestine. Bile “emulsifies” fats meaning it basically declumps groups of fat molecules into much smaller particles and allows for them to be further broken down.
- The Pancreas - The pancreas secretes a number of digestive enzymes including:
- Lipase - Breaks down the “emulsified” fats into individual fatty acids
- Amylase - Breaks down starches and complex carbs into individual sugar molecules
- Lactase - Breaks down lactose into maltose and glucose.
- Maltase - Converts maltose sugars into glucose
Next, we have the jejunum where the majority of the digested food and any nutrients begins to be absorbed into the bloodstream.
Lastly, we have the ileum where the digestion of any remaining food and will be completed as well as any remaining nutrients will be absorbed here. The illeum is also responsible for recycling the bile acids and water used in the digestive process back into the system.
5. The Large Intestine - The large intestine consists of 4 parts: the cecum, the colon (which also has 4 parts) and the rectum. The large intestine is responsible for absorbing any last standing nutrients, recycling any water and salts used in the digest and finally the formation, storage, and excretion of feces. The large intestine is where the majority of your gut bacteria subsist and ferment any indigestible foods like fiber or gluten.
6. The Anus - This is the final destination of poop through your digestive tract, as you excrete it fro your body.
What Is Constipation?:
Although it may not be possible for everyone, an efficient digestive system would result in bowel movement for every meal you eat. I would argue that having anything less than one bowel movement daily would constitute some degree of constipation or at least an inefficient digestive system. That being said, constipation is defined as having bowel movements less than three times per week. Constipation occurs primarily due to excess poop building up in the large intestines and inflammation in the intestines from modern diets and lifestyles.
You can think of the intestines like a small multilayer pipe, but unlike a pipe the intestines have a small layer of muscle tissue surrounding them. This muscle tissue is capable of contracting the intestines and basically squeezes the poo in the same way you squeeze out toothpaste, piece by piece slowly moving further along the digestive tract. This contraction is known as peristalsis. When digestion is functioning properly food flows through the intestines without hindrance, but to modern diets and lifestyles for many people this is no longer the case.
Normally, the innermost layer of our intestines, the epithelium secretes a mucus-like substance that helps to keep things flowing smoothly. This layer is also in-part responsible for preventing bacteria from the large intestine from entering our bloodstream. Many people today suffer from intestinal inflammation that damages this inner layer of the intestine. When this layer becomes damaged two things result:
- Inflammation Of The Intestinal Wall - When the intestine becomes inflamed this can often result in swelling of the intestinal wall. As the intestinal wall swells there is a smaller hole for your waste to pass through, literally clogging things up. This is known as decreased intestinal motility, as the ability for the stool to travel through the digestive tract is decreased.
- Leaky Gut - When this layer of mucus becomes inflamed and damaged it increases your intestinal permeability, meaning things that aren’t necessarily supposed to can travel through our intestine into our bloodstream, specifically endotoxin. When endotoxin, also known as lipopolysaccharides (LPS), enters the bloodstream it activates the “TLR4 receptor” in our cells. The activation of this receptor causes the release of inflammatory molecules (cytokines) into our bloodstream, resulting in inflammation throughout the body.
The Constipation Cycle
The decreased bowel movements leads to an increased likelihood of bacterial overgrowth. The overgrowth of the “bad” bacteria means it is more likely to leak through the intestine and get into the bloodstream. This then triggers an inflammatory response throughout the body resulting in more bacterial leakage and less bowel movements.
Read More: 14 Hacks To Eliminate Inflammation Naturally
So What Causes Constipation?:
The root cause of chronic constipation roots back to our diet and lifestyle. Here's how:
- Excess Fiber - Contrary to popular belief you can eat too much fiber. There are two types of fiber, soluble and insoluble fiber. Insoluble fiber means that it does not break down in water, while soluble fiber does break down in water. Humans do not have the ability to break down insoluble fibers like cellulose (found in plants). This can result in these insoluble fibers fermenting in our large intestine and feeding the "bad" bacteria that reside there. This isn't to say fiber is "bad", as it does have some benefits, but excess fiber will certainly do more harm than good.
- Gluten & Gums - Compared to our ancestors we also tend to eat a lot more gluten and synthetically made gums. Gluten is an insoluble protein, while gums like Carrageenan, xanthan gum, guar gum, ect, are insoluble carbohydrates like fiber. Just like the insoluble fiber, these molecules sit in our digestive tract and feed the "bad" bacteria or endotoxin. Except unlike in fiber, these have no nutritional or dietary value and only contribute to decreased digestive health and increased inflammation.
- Gluten in particular can make its way into the bloodstream in which it causes an inflammatory reaction. Some people are more sensitive to this than others and are gluten "intolerant", while others seem to be able to handle it without issue.
- Inflammatory Foods - Modern diets are riddled with PUFAs. PUFAs stand for polyunsaturated fatty acids, unsaturated means that they have at least one double bond and poly means they have many double bonds. If you recall a few years ago there was a Trans Fat uproar in which everyone suddenly realized how bad these trans fats are. Well, PUFAs, also known as cis-fats, are really just trans-fat slightly more stable cousins. The "cis" and "trans" prefix refers to the type of double that exists within them, the "trans" version being less stable. And just like when we consume trans-fat due to our high body temperature the double bond in these cis-fats get oxidized/ broken apart, releasing a highly inflammatory free radical in the process.
- Excess Stress - On top of all the dietary stress and inflammation that result from the foods we eat, many people live extremely stressed lifestyles. The more stressed you are it shifts your body's priorities increasingly from a "rest and digest" state to "survival" or "fight or flight" mode. The more you are in this "survival" mode, also known as the sympathetic state, blood flow is shifted away from your vital organs and towards your muscles. The less blow flow the intestines receive, the less peristalsis (movement of waste through the intestines) that can occur.
The combination of these foods in our diet and stressful lifestyles builds up over time putting a lot of strain on our digestive system and often resulting in conditions like constipation, irritable bowel syndrome or irritable bowel disease. Many americans turn to synthetic laxatives to alleviate their symptoms, but laxatives are not perfect themselves. Synthetic laxatives often come with a host of harmful side effects including: laxative dependence, bloating, cramps, diarrhea, the list goes on. But the biggest issue with these synthetic laxatives is that they attempt to fix the symptom of constipation instead of addressing the root cause of poor gut health.
Read More: The Nonessential, "Essential" Fatty Acids
The zuPOO Solution:
To solve this issue, we created zuPOO. A digestive cleanse supplement aimed at flushing your digestive tract from any excess poop and “bad” bacteria along with it. zuPOO is designed to be cycled every three months to keep things flowing. Here’s how it works:
- Milk Thistle, Senna Leaf Powder, & Buckthorn Powder - Stimulate peristaltic contractions to help get the waste in the intestines moving
- Cascara Sagrada - Stimulates peristalsis, but also may help to reduce toxic load on the liver, improve liver health, and reduce inflammation.
- Bentonite Clay - Is a potent chelator in the body able to bind to and draw out the “bad” bacteria or endotoxin.
- Burdock Root Powder & Fennel Seed Extract - Have antimicrobial properties which can help to fight off the "bad" intestinal bacteria and may help to reduce inflammation of the GI tract.
- Cape Aloe Leaf Extract - Lubricates the intestinal wall allowing things to flow through the intestines smoother
- Cayenne Red Powder - May help to prevent and heal gastric ulcers by stimulating the mucous secretions. Also contains multiple antioxidants which act to reduce inflammation.
- Slippery Elm Bark Powder - Reduces inflammation and irritation of the stomach lining by producing a protective coating over the mucosal layer of the intestines. Also, helps to improve symptoms of IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome).
If you want to try out zuPOO risk-free today click here!
My goal in writing this article, as always, is to provide you with logically-based principles that you can use to form your own conclusions regarding any information you may come across within this subject. Remember, I am not a doctor or medical professional. I just look at the science and put it into layman’s term, so anyone can understand it and make better, more educated decisions for themselves as a result. I really hope you found this article interesting and if you have anything to add to this article, or any comments or criticism, feel free to reach out to me on our facebook groups (The Thermo Diet Community Group, The UMZU Community Group) or on Instagram @tylerwoodward_fit. Also, please feel free to share this article with anyone that might be interested.
Thanks for reading!
Until next time… be good