Constipation is defined as “a condition in which there is difficulty emptying the bowels, usually associated with hardened feces”. Bowel movements are the process through which food and other toxins are eliminated from the body. This is a normal process that keeps our bodies healthy after ingesting foods. It is important because once the body has absorbed the nutrients it can from the foods we have eaten, they no longer have use. They can cause inflammation, infection, and take up space when they are left in our bodies for too long. Because of this, if you are eating daily, you should also be having a bowel movement daily.
The nervous system is made up of nerves coming out of the spine and going to your brain, all the muscles, tissues, and organs in your body. There are certain nerves that go directly to your digestive system, small intestine, large intestine, etc.. They aid in the process of having a bowel movement and prepare the stool to be healthy to eliminate everything that needs to be eliminated. When there is dysfunction in the spine or musculoskeletal system, the nerves that innervate or connect the areas can have dysfunction, and communication with the brain can be lessened.
I see a lot of moms who bring in their kids due to constipation, as well as adults who are dealing with it. Some people don’t even realize it as they think their ‘normal’ is not having a bowel movement daily when in actuality it is common, but certainly not normal. There are things that I always check, especially when someone has been dealing with constipation:
1. Specific adjustments to remove any dysfunction in the nerves that help the body with digestion and bowel movements.
2. Checking the Ileocecal valve (this connects the large and small intestine) which can get “stuck closed” or “stuck open” and lead to either too much bacteria getting through or not enough. This is released by light pressure in the lower right abdomen.
3. Checking the diaphragm.
4. Releasing any other tension, especially dural tension in babies.
There are supplements and at home things to consider when dealing with constipation:
1. Magnesium Citrate: this is a supplement that acts as a mild laxative by increasing water in the intestines. This is one of the most common supplements we use for constipation for kids and adults alike!
2. Probiotic: probiotics help support the good bacteria in the gut so infection is less likely and proper functions are promoted rather than inhibited. We have probiotic options for all ages.
3. Hydration: without proper water levels in the body, the intestines can have a hard time absorbing enough water to create a healthy stool. Having enough hydration can make a huge difference!
4. Vagus nerve stimulation: the vagus nerve is one of the cranial nerves. It is called the “wanderer” because it travels all the way from the brain down to the kidneys and to the uterus. One of its many functions is to stimulate the small contractions to move the stool through your digestive system. When the vagus nerve isn’t properly stimulated, this process can become much more difficult! There are many ways to stimulate the vagus nerve – so find one that works best for you. A couple of options are gargling water, singing loudly, or splashing cold water on your face. For a baby, I recommend a parent holding an electric toothbrush on the back of their neck.
5. Fiber intake: eating plenty of fruits and vegetables is key! Try to get a variety throughout the day. For kids who are picky eaters or have a difficult time eating any vegetables besides carrots, try smoothies that are sweetened by fruit and filled with leafy greens or recipes where you can “hide” vegetables such as lasagna, stir-fries, or soups.
Dr. Sophie Mill, Chiropractor