Last post was my personal gastrointestinal story. Did you come back for more? Really? I know. Forget Freud and his envy idea. Freud had it all wrong. I have the real psychological envy theory figured out. What is it you ask? Drumroll. We all desire something actually within our reach. More drumrolling. Whether male or female. Final drumroll. Colon health. Yep. Forget those nether male parts. I want none of that. But colon health? Sure. A little bit of “colon envy?” Probably so.
How did I achieve the object of my heart’s desire, colon health? Let me tell you. (But let me first remind you that this is a personal story. It is not intended and should not be used as medical advice. Eating real food could be dangerous for your health, and I must tell you so for your own good.)
1. Massive nutritional intervention (aka dietary overhaul):
Did I say massive? Oh, man. Was it. My nutrition has changed so much, I don’t even recognize food served at potlucks and ball parks anymore. (Our soccer club is begging for parents to work in the concession stand. Not this mama. I’d lose sleep if I handed any of that stuff out.) I started a diet called GAPS and followed it for 18 months before diversifying what I ate. People really get hung up on names of diets, which I disagree with, but I certainly now know that a person has to have a blueprint to follow to start changing their diets. I would have failed without a guide. What people eat has become so off base, so unnatural, that we CANNOT see it. A real food-based diet was key.
So what do I eat? The bottom line is I eat REAL, unprocessed food and I usually try to avoid grains. My diet is rich in vegetables (all types but particularly greens), fats (plenty of it), fruits, and fresh meats. You will find my diet devoid of processed foods, sugar, processed flours, low in grains, and devoid of processed oils like vegetable oil. Did I mention that my diet was rich in vegetables? Well, my diet is rich in vegetables.
But diet alone wouldn’t kick the colon and relieve my envious spirit.
2. Identification of food intolerances:
I was shocked, appalled, and disgusted when the GAPS introduction diet helped me identify food intolerances for two reasons. One, I love to eat. Two, food intolerances seemed so, oh, I don’t know, just so weak and finicky. (I didn’t like the thought of being that dinner guest.) For awhile, I told myself the intolerances were just in my head. But careful exclusion and reintroduction revealed that I had sensitivities to dairy, nuts, coconut, chicken, eggs and certain fruits and vegetables. I also knew that gluten was problematic too. Definitely some of those foods slowed my gut down and I had to take them out. Out. Out. Out. Dairy, nuts, gluten, and eggs were worst offenders for me. (This will lead to my next saga of curing my leaky gut. Leaky gut leads to food intolerances.)
But diet and removal of problematic foods were not Holy Grails in my colonic development.
3. Experimented with probiotics:
I have used many types of probiotics and probiotic foods (and drinks). I don’t always use the same kind. My gut is moving now with one called Jarrow Ideal Bowel Support (lactobacillus plantarum). But last fall before I got pregnant, it was moving with VSL #3. (VSL#3 increases butyrate.) There was a period where it moved with GI Pro Health’s lactobacillus acidophilus. But never could I deviate from my diet and high dose magnesium. Some people have success with S. boulardi and soil based organisms, but these didn’t help me when I tried them. For me, it does seem valuable to drive up the dose to about 40 billion colony forming units daily. That is usually much higher than the labeled dose. Probiotics may help decrease inflammation, provide a better environment for the host’s normal bacteria, and may also make metabolites to feed other host bacteria.
Although much improved with diet, intolerance identification, and probiotics, my colon was still in Freudian-like angst.
4. Removed Mirena IUD:
I do not recommend this if you REALLY do not want an addition to your family. (For us–Welcome Baby Girl Number Four!) But progesterone is known to influence GI peristalsis, so to gain any edge I could, I had my Mirena IUD, which provides a little progesterone, removed. Incredibly, for about two weeks after the Mirena was out, my gut moved well on its own, only to revert to its usual slow self. Hormones definitely play a role in constipation. I hope to have more posts on this later.
Colon health still evaded my pursuits…
5. Working on GI colon barrier:
The integrity of the GI tract, its bacterial flora, and its mucous layer is important. If I can help these to be restored, I can decrease chronic inflammation in the gut which could irritate and exacerbate my bowel troubles. To work on my GI colon barrier I incorporate homemade broths and gelatin into my diet. I remove known inflammatory foods and foods that I am intolerant to, which would increase inflammation. I use the probioitics. Butyrate is known to be anti-inflammatory in the gut, and I started taking that.
Yee-haw. That just about takes care of it!
For me, this supplement called butyrate (butyric acid) finally allowed me to stop taking anything for constipation. Now I have to get off of the butyrate again (like last fall)! I have loads of posts on butyrate, and although it seems very safe, I still don’t like supplements. Assuming you have the appropriate bacteria in your colon, you can eat particular foods to increase butyrate production. After having a baby recently, I have once again resumed butyrate and will try to transition to butyrate-producing foods once again to see if I can be supplement-free for my GI tract like I was briefly last fall!
Colon envy averted.
7. Other implemented changes that don’t work in isolation but help in a minor way:
- Find quiet time to sit without interruptions: Not an easy task to accomplish but it seems to help. No TV. No cleaning. Just sitting and reading. The gastro-colic reflex is great in the morning, and so getting up early before everybody else and before the stress of the day helps capitalize on this natural reflex. If I miss this window, I may skip that day.
- A warm drink in the morning: It seems to offer a slight nudge. Caff, decaf, or tea.
- Feet on a stool to help anatomical alignment: I used my kids’ little step-stool for a long time. Then I bought a Squatty Potty, but my step stool was just as good. Let me tell you, a Squatty Potty or step stool is NOT going to get your bowel MOVING again if you don’t even have urges. But it may provide better anatomical alignment so that if you have stool in your rectal vault and an urge, it is easier to pass.
- Large meals rather than grazing: A large meal stimulates the gastro-colic reflex more than a small snack. The term gastro-colic reflex refers to the movement of the colon in response to a meal.
- Cherries: I hate to mention one food which helps. For so many years I had to listen to people tell me to just eat prunes, sauerkraut, pickles, or watermelon. “If that doesn’t do it–you’ve got problems.” Well, yes I did. No food ever, ever helped me. If it had, I would have been content to stop right there. But this past summer, I found that those large, red cherries actually did help peristalsis. Of course, bowls of them. So I tried some dried cherries. Worked, too.
- Bowl retraining: As the rectum and colon are under chronic distention from chronic constipation and stool in the rectal vault, they will “reset” themselves to accommodate more stool. Thus, it will take even more distention and pressure to make it push stool out the vault. If you’ve had constipation long enough, you may need to have some bowel retraining, which you can ask your doctor about. It may require biofeedback exercises and enemas. Enemas are not good to use routinely.
Despite my attempts at humor, if constipation is your problem, so much so that you’re considering a colectomy, then I strongly encourage you to ask your doctor if it’s okay to try the things I talk about above. I know some of you are just about unresponsive to anything. You may not achieve complete success, but maybe if you can get some of the simple over-the-counter meds working for you again, you might be able to avert a huge surgery. When I started this journey, I had to take high dose over the counter meds to get my GI tract to move three days later. Slowly, with these changes, magnesium started working again. And now, I’m actually confident I’ll be med-free for constipation in the near future. And along the way, I’ve shed headaches, fatigue, and allergy prescriptions. I’ve left some things out that I’ve tried since they didn’t seem to contribute greatly, but maybe they did more than I know. I don’t mind questions. Good luck. The best to you.
Remember, this is my story. Please seek the advice and treatment of a real, live doctor you trust.