upset stomach

(image thanks to

The two major factors for defining constipation are the frequency of bowel movements and their firmness. One sign that your digestive system is functioning optimally is that you have at least one bowel movement per day. However, bowel movements that are difficult to pass, very firm, or made up of small rabbit-like pellets qualify as constipation, even if they occur every day. Other symptoms related to constipation can include bloating, distension, abdominal pain, or a sense of incomplete emptying.

If you don’t have these symptoms but you rely on extra fiber (such as Metamucil), a stool softener, a laxative, or some other method to prevent these symptoms, then you also have constipation.  Constipation is one of the primary symptoms defined as IBS – irritable bowel syndrome.

Constipation is a symptom of slow transit time, not unlike rush-hour traffic. When the colon is backed up, the small intestine is also backed up. And when the intestines are backed up, the stomach can be delayed in emptying itself of food matter. This is why some people with constipation also experience heartburn and reflux.

Constipation of course affects digestion and therefore can contribute to the malabsorption of nutrients, which can lead to a wide spectrum of health problems. It can also delay the removal of waste from the body, and not just from the colon. The liver is responsible for removing a majority of toxins (including pollutants, hormones, drugs, heavy metals, and even cholesterol) from the blood stream. Much of this waste is then dumped into the gastrointestinal tract for final disposal. If the intestinal tube is slowed in its transit time, then these toxins are not removed in a timely manner and may even be reabsorbed. This is akin to setting the garbage out at the curb but not having it picked up for several weeks. It’s not good for the neighborhood, so to speak.