*image by the hilarious (and constipated) Natalie Dee.
Constipation is something that most people experience at some point. While this is never a good thing, there are some reasons for constipation that can be hard to avoid, and which don’t necessarily indicate an unhealthy lifestyle. For example, pregnancy can cause constipation as the baby grows and pushes the mama’s insides around. This is temporary and normal; once the baby is born, things can settle back into place and bowel habits can regulate again.
But chronic, long-term constipation is dangerous for your health. Let’s have a look at why that is.
First of all, it’s important to understand the purpose of the colon. The main functions of the colon, a.k.a. the large intestine, are to reabsorb nutrients and water into the body, and to eliminate toxic wastes. In order for the food we eat to move through us, it has to be quite liquid-y. The body adds a lot of fluid to the chewed up food-mass in our digestive system, which is one reason why it’s so important to make sure you are properly hydrated before you eat something – eating while dehydrated will ultimately make you even more dehydrated.
If we released all that extra fluid with our stool each time we had a bowel movement, we would become very dehydrated. In fact, when this happens it’s called diarrhea, and you probably know that that feels quite unpleasant, too.
So the large intestine reabsorbs that liquid in the last few feet of the digestive tract, forming what remains into stool.
So now there’s stool sitting at the end of the digestive tract, ready to come out. But if you’re constipated, then it doesn’t come out.
Now consider: if the colon’s job is to reabsorb liquid, then it’s going to simply keep performing its task like a good worker. This means that the longer the stool sits there, the drier it is going to become. And as it becomes drier, it also becomes harder, making it more and more uncomfortable to pass. And not only more uncomfortable, but also physically more difficult.
(Side note: to those of you who choose not to poop when you feel the need, because you’re at work or don’t like the bathroom available: don’t make it worse; just honour your basic needs and poop, gosh darn it!)
But water isn’t the only thing that gets reabsorbed. That stool is full of wastes – toxins! – that the body is trying to get rid of. It’s not meant to sit in the colon unmoving. When it does, these toxins can start to be reabsorbed.
What’s more, our bodies produce the hormones we need for the day, every day. Once they are used up, they are processed by the liver, which basically passes them on to the colon for removal. Theoretically we poop the used hormones out, and our bodies stay in balance.
In a state of constipation, as wastes are being reabsorbed in the colon, so are these hormones. If the used hormones are reabsorbed into the body, they circulate throughout the system along with the new batch of hormones, and now there are twice as many hormones circulating. Or if you haven’t pooped in 4 days, then possibly there are four times as many hormones circulating your system as there should be. And now the liver has to detoxify these hormones again, which means adding to the liver’s burden (which is already very substantial).
In this way, long-term constipation cannot only make a person more toxic, but it can also lead to a hormonal imbalance – namely estrogen dominance, which can lead to a host of other serious health problems.
(I’m not trying to scare you – I’m trying to convince you to look after your bowel health! We can’t be scared to talk about this stuff.)
Anyone seeking to do a detoxification or cleanse program of any sort must first make sure that they are having regular bowel movements. If you are going to release a bunch of stored toxins from your system, you’d better first make sure they have a way to get out of your body.
Likewise, if you are trying to rebalance your hormones, then the first thing to do is to make sure you are excreting your hormones at the end of their life cycle daily!
Finally, if stool is left sitting in the colon, then the bile acids (a product of digestion) and toxins in it start to seriously irritate the inner lining of the intestines. Imagine snuggling some nettles or poison ivy. Ick.
Have I convinced you yet? You’ve gotta poop, peoples!
Now that you understand why constipation is serious business, stay tuned for an upcoming article series about how to deal with digestive issues such as constipation, and ultimately how to poop like a champ.
Poop on, friends!