Guest Author - Colleen Forgus
Constipation may be a subject we don’t "want" to talk about, but maybe we "need" to talk about it. It is one of the common symptoms associated with thyroid disorders. Constipation is most commonly associated with hypothyroidism, or an underactive thyroid gland. However, people who have hyperthyroidism, may also suffer from constipation at some point if their thyroid gland has been slowed down too much as a result of thyroid removal or medication.
As the control center of your body’s metabolism, when the thyroid is slow, many of the processes associated with digestion take longer. Food generally exits the body 24 to 48 hours after eating. Since we eat several times a day, it only makes sense that we would expect to eliminate the waste material on a daily basis.
Digestion actually begins when we chew our food and salivary enzymes begin to break down the food. When we swallow, food passes down the esophagus through the stomach, the small intestines, and the large intestines. Throughout the 30-foot long digestive system, enzymes and acids break down the food and the body absorbs nutrients. If the waste material resides in the large intestine too long, the stool can become hard and the body risks absorbing unwanted waste material.
Constipation is defined as having less than three bowel movements per week. Ideally, a daily bowel movement is desired, but doctors do not consider frequency an issue unless it is longer than three days between bowel movements. But remember, as with many bodily functions, what is normal for one person, is not necessarily normal for another.
Certain medications such as anti-depressants, narcotics and iron can also interfere with bowel function. If you are taking thyroid medication and still experiencing bouts of constipation, it could be an indication that the dosage may need to be adjusted.
Here are a few tips to help keep your system “regular”.
• Start with the food you eat. Try to eliminate as many processed and sugary foods as possible. Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables to incorporate fiber naturally. Meat and dairy foods often slow the digestive process. And, remember, digestion starts in the mouth, so chew your food adequately – if you swallow large pieces of food, it will take longer to break down in your stomach and beyond.
• Drink plenty of water. Keeping your body fully hydrated will help the elimination process operate smoothly. Remember that caffeinated and alcoholic beverages are dehydrating. Nothing beats pure water. Drink a large glass of water first thing in the morning and last thing before going to bed.
• Give yourself time. So often our lives are hectic and over scheduled. We may not have the “time” to go to the bathroom when our body is ready. If it means getting up a little earlier in the morning to have a cup of hot tea or coffee, it may make the difference between feeling bloated and lethargic all day, or having a productive, energetic day. Warm beverages can often stimulate a bowel movement. Never resist the urge to go.
• Exercise and massage. Moving your body on the outside is important to keeping things moving on the inside. Walking, jogging, yoga and Pilates are great forms of exercise to stimulate a bowel movement. Gently massaging the lower left side of your abdomen, where your descending colon and sigmoid colon transition may also help.
• Natural “laxatives”. Prunes, prune juice, vegetable juicing, magnesium and probiotics are excellent choices to add natural methods to encourage regularity. Be careful with using supplemental fiber, such as psyllium husk. If supplemental fiber products are used without enough water, it can worsen the symptoms of constipation. Taking 250 mg of magnesium with a large glass of water before going to bed encourages restful sleep and helps to maintain regular bowel movements.
If constipation is a new problem for you, or continues for longer than three weeks, you should consult your physician. Severe pain during elimination, blood in your stool or unexplained weight loss are all symptoms that should be discussed with your doctor immediately.
Please note that the information provided on the Thyroid Health site on Bella Online is for information and educational purposes only and may not be interpreted as medical advice.
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