By Dr. Julia Lizy, MBBS (KEMU)
Constipation is bad enough, but functional constipation can be even worse.
Although functional constipation is a disorder of the gastrointestinal tract, it does not result in any significant changes to the stomach or intestines. The stomach and intestines appear healthy, even when examined with a microscope. It is easier to manage constipation when there are observable physical causes.
With functional constipation, there are no bacterial problems, no amoebas, and no lesions. Therefore neither surgery or antibiotics offer a solution.
Since functional constipation is not the result of a physical problem with the body, the only way functional constipation can be diagnosed is through observing patient history.
• Patients just don’t feel healthy.
• Their constipation may be painful, caused by bowel obstruction and an inability to evacuate
• There may be a painful, distended abdomen due to an inability to defecate
Functional constipation can be further complicated by anorexia (loss of appetite) and insomnia (loss of sleep).
It is difficult to determine the cause of functional constipation.
The disease can be erratic, yet with no observable changes to the gastrointestinal tract. It was only after large clinical studies using real-time ultrasounds, microscope biopsies, and other techniques that the term “functional constipation” was adopted.
In these studies, an extensive record of patient history was maintained to determine what factors lead to functional constipation. There were a number of factors common in most of the patients in these studies. These factors can be useful in preventing and diagnosing functional constipation. They include:
Diet: This may be the most important factor of all. There are two important points.
A diet that slows bowel movements is a possible cause of functional constipation in 30-40% of patients.
Discontinuation of a healthy diet that tends to increase bowel movements has been reported to cause functional constipation in 60-70% of patients, because of withdrawal mechanisms.
1. Foods that lead to slowed peristalsis and cause constipation include foods low in fiber and complex sugars and high in simple sugars and salts. Meat is also slowly digested and slows bowel movements, leading to constipation.
2. No longer eating foods that increase bowel movements is responsible for causing functional constipation through a withdrawal mechanism. Foods like dairy products, high starch meals, and fiber-rich diets increase bowel movements.
Their continuous and regular intake makes the intestines become habituated to them, just as the body can become addicted to alcohol, caffeine, or any drugs. When such foods are discontinued, there can be a massive decrease in bowel movements, resulting in functional constipation.
Many people who have regularly consumed dairy products in childhood and changed their eating habits in adulthood suffer from functional constipation. This can only be treated with dietary supplements that induce peristalsis and increase bowel movements, or with osmotic products.
Magnesium salt supplements are the medication of choice for most patients.
Chronic Dehydration: If the human body has too little water, it tends to absorb more from the intestines. Absorption of larger quantities of water make intestinal contents dry out. This is a cause of functional constipation.
Lack of normal gut flora: The gastrointestinal tract houses a lot of bacteria that are responsible for normal bowel function. Any decrease or alteration in proper gut flora can lead to functional constipation.
Medication: Most medications have direct or indirect effects on the intestines and gut flora. Many medicines, when used for a prolonged period, can cause functional constipation. However, even a single course of antibiotics can greatly alter normal gut flora.
Complicated medical conditions: There are a lot of medical conditions like diabetes, endocrine disorders, or even pregnancy that may precipitate functional constipation.
The problem of functional constipation is easy to overcome when the following instructions are followed:
• Consuming food items that prevent constipation is helpful.
• Probiotics are much more effective against functional constipation than antibiotics.
• Natural remedies have also proven helpful in combating functional constipation.
• There are 10 first-line remedies which can be employed to fight against functional constipation.
Magnesium is key
When used against functional constipation, the magnesium found in a magnesium supplement may help to do the following:
• Make stool bulkier and softer for easier elimination
• Extra bulk can stimulate peristalsis
• If constipation is due to withdrawal from dairy products or laxatives, magnesium is the most effective agent
Benefits of supplemental magnesium
In the USA, more than 75% of the population does not consume enough magnesium in their diet. Magnesium supplements may be the best way to deal with this deficiency.
They help both as a diet supplement as well as an effective, safe, and inexpensive remedy for constipation.
Regular use of a magnesium supplement may help with the following:
• Decrease constipation
• Help to improve absorption of nutrients
• May improve general body health