One of the worst parts about dealing with “IBS” for years was dealing with constipation, bloating, and distention.
Once I understood the science behind constipation, I finally was able to take control of my gut health and make the necessary changes to feel great everyday.
So what exactly is constipation? Let’s get official for a minute:
Constipation occurs when bowel movements become difficult or less frequent. This can result from LOTS of factors, including but not limited to poor diet, lack of exercise, dehydration, certain medications, and conditions like SIBO/IMO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth/Intestinal Methanogen Overgrowth).. too much or too little fiber (and what kind of fiber matters too), pelvic floor disfunction, medical conditions like Parkinson’s – you get the idea. There are a ton of reasons for slow motility.
We recently asked clinician, researcher and microbiome expert Dr. Jason Hawrelak about motility. He said that the ideal transit time from eating to going to the bathroom is 14-24 hours. If your bowels don’t move around the same time every day, this can be a sign of suboptimal functioning or slow bowel transit time. The body loves to be free of toxins and waste on a good schedule.
Side note: When I first visited Dr. Siebecker in 2016, I was fascinated by the fact that she made it a point to eat every day on the same schedule. She wanted her body functions to have regularity. I had never thought about that before other than with sleep. I just ate when it was convenient and when I was hungry – I am a pretty casual person in that way. I now try to eat at the same time every day too. I’m so not perfect at it but.. what I have been able to pull off has helped. Consider how you might do the same. If you are already doing this – you are way ahead of the game.
Have you normalized your constipation? Is it something you just deal with but are miserable about it? Please search for your underlying cause. It is important. Constipation is bad for your health, lifestyle and how you feel on a daily basis – it is associated with Parkinson’s disease and cardiovascular disease, and can also cause headaches, fatigue, brain fog, skin problems, bad breath, and hair loss.
I also just read a study about how people who rely on laxatives are at a higher risk for Alzheimers because they are wiping out their microbiome so frequently. Wait, what?
Please take a breath. There is hope.
What can we do about it? Lots!
One thing you can do is eat some fruit. No, it is not an oversimplification.
That’s right: FRUIT! (Studies have been done..)
Research has shown that some fruits are particularly effective in relieving constipation. Studies show that prunes, kiwi, red dragonfruit, and mango have all shown improvements for constipation.
But what makes fruit so special?
Fruit plays a vital role in regulating gut motility, thanks to a combination of fibers, sorbitol, and polyphenols that fruit contains. These three components in fruit make incorporating fruits into your diet a powerful way to combat constipation.
DISCLAIMER: I know that there are FODMAPS in some of these fruits. Don’t take this as a sign to eat an entire fruit platter, but just introduce some smart experimentation into your diet! Do you – and take your time introducing new foods as you treat your SIBO.
Let’s break down why fruit is important and a potential answer to constipation:
First, fruits are high in fiber. You’re probably thinking: Shivan, I’ve heard so much about the importance of fiber in my diet. But.. I avoid eating fruit, because it makes me bloat!!
As a SIBO patient, I completely get it! But there is a a case for eating a few certain fruits in proper portions for you.
Fiber is a type of carbohydrate found in plant-based foods that cannot be broken down or digested by the human body. Instead, it passes relatively intact through the digestive system. The overgrowth of the organisms in the small intestine do love fiber – this is why eating too much fruit without moderation can lead to excess bloating. However, eating certain fruits with careful intention and in the portion size that works for you is a great idea to combat constipation and keep your digestive system moving. Plus it is yummy and the nutritional values are so important. #DontGetScurvy
Next, fruits contain polyphenols.
Polyphenols are a large and diverse group of naturally occurring compounds found in plant-based foods. They are are loaded with antioxidant properties. Research has shown that polyphenols have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects, as well as the ability to improve gut microbiota and cognitive function.
Polyphenols prevent constipation by promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut and increasing the volume of stool. They also reduce inflammation in the gut, which can contribute to a healthy digestive system and improved stool movement. Some polyphenol-rich foods include berries, kiwis, plums, figs, prunes, and flaxseed.
Finally, while too much sorbitol can lead to diarrhea, getting a healthy amount in your diet is crucial in having regular bowel movements. Sorbitol is a type of sugar alcohol that is naturally present in many fruits, including pears, peaches, and prunes.
When sorbitol is consumed, it is poorly absorbed in the small intestine, and it passes relatively intact into the large intestine. There, it draws water into the stool, making it softer and easier to pass. Basically, sorbitol acts as a natural laxative by increasing water content in the stool to promote bowel movements.
If you’re struggling with constipation, try slowly introducing fruits into your diet to use your meals as medicine.
Here is a fruit-centered, constipation-kicking recipe from Dr. Hawrelak:
Smoothie Bowl Recipe: Using Food as Medicine
© Dr Jason Hawrelak
•Nancy’s Organic Greek yoghurt (at least ½ cup) (or homemade Lactobacillus reuteri DSM17938 fermented soy/nut milk) ( I couldn’t find Nancy’s at my local market- you may have to do some searching for it. You can find the ingredients on the web and they have a store locator on their site.)
• 2 sliced green kiwifruit
• 1-2 Tablespoons ground flaxseeds
• 2 1/4 teaspoons (10g) dragonfruit powder (yum)
• a pinch of +/- partially hydrolyzed guar gum- find the right amount for you
If you’re stumped about finding Nancy’s yogurt or want to make your own at home, here’s a yogurt recipe from my cookbook to help get you started.
24 Hour Yogurt
- Yogurt Maker
- Candy Thermometer
- 2 quarts whole milk or half-and-half
- 1 packet Yogourment yogurt starter or another SIBO-friendly starter of your choice
- Make an ice water bath by placing two trays of ice cubes and cold water in a pan large enough to hold the saucepan you will use to heat the milk.
- Place the milk in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Attach the thermometer to the side of the pan and heat the milk to 180, stirring frequently.
- Place the pan in the ice water bath until the milk cools to 110 F, stirring frequently.
- Add ½ cup of the cooled milk to the yogurt machine container. Add the yogurt starter and whisk to combine thoroughly with the milk.
- Whisk in the rest of the milk and place the top on the yogurt container.
- Heat at 110 degrees for 24 hours, then refrigerate for about 3 hours until firm. Cooking the yogurt for 24 hours removes all the lactose, making it low fermentable and a probiotic powerhouse
In healthy young adults, a single ingestion of red dragon fruit significantly sped bowel transit time from a mean of 26.0 hours to 21.9 hours, and 54.5% of constipation patients had significant improvements in digestion and stool movements after eating 2 kiwis a day!
If you’re looking for more information on constipation and how to improve your gut health, good news..
Dr. Allison Siebecker and I co-hosted Dr. Hawrelak for a masterclass and LIVE Q&A: Constipation – Get Your Bowels Moving! (Sexy title, I know.)
In his class, he discusses studies (evidence!) on fruit along with other natural foods, probiotics, prebiotics, and what to test for when treatments don’t work or make things worse (hint: you might have SIBO/IMO).
- Specific strains of probiotics for resolving constipation and methane SIBO
- Herbal treatment options for resolving constipation and methane SIBO
- What is normal? A home test for transit time.
- SIBO/Methane Breath Testing – a novel approach
- All evidence based research combined with clinical experience
- The connection between constipation, Parkinson’s Disease, cardiovascular disease, and more.
- Yummy foods proven for constipation relief
Here’s a preview of the class with Dr. Hawrelak: