According to new data, the increased frequency and rising costs associated with constipation represent an escalating burden on the health care system.

Researchers analyzed the National Inpatient Sample Database (1997-2010), focusing on cases for which constipation was the principal discharge diagnosis. Their findings showed a 128.6% increase in discharges with a principal diagnosis of constipation, from 21,190 patients in 1997 to 48,450 (P<.001) in 2010. Even with the 14% increase in population, this is a 42% increase in constipation cases. The average hospital charges for these patients increased 239.3% ($8,869 in 1997, adjusted for inflation, to $17,518 in 2010). The findings showed that the elderly (patients aged 65 to 84 years) made up the largest portion of constipation discharges (38% in 1997; 29% in 2010). However young patients (aged one to 17 years) had the highest frequency of constipation per 10,000 discharges (16.59 in 1997; 50.58 in 2010).

There is a cost, however, far greater than financial when it comes to constipation: your health. While some present-day doctors still maintain that everyone has a different schedule and may eliminate (waste) a variable number of times per week, Chairman & CEO Dr. Lindsey Duncan would disagree. “When a baby eats, he poops,” says Dr. Lindsey. Nature reveals the truth. Babies (unless experiencing a health condition) and animals eliminate their waste shortly after eating. So, why are so many Americans constipated? The biggest reason is that the modern, standard American diet is highly processed and void of fiber needed for healthy bowel function. Consequently, the healthy “two to three bowel movements per day” is significantly dwindled to once or twice a week, with some poor souls not even that frequent.

So, why does it matter how frequently you eliminate your waste? Think of a toilet. If everyone used the toilet, but didn’t flush it, bacteria would form and it would become an unhealthy environment. Additionally, the toilet would be so full, that it may get clogged when you do finally flush it. The pipes may even become deteriorated, making it difficult for the waste to pass. Now, I know that’s a really gross concept, but I want to impart on you the severity of not properly eliminating your personal waste.

In order to maintain healthy bowel activity you need to 1) eat a proper diet, 2) drink plenty of quality water, 3) exercise regularly, and 4) maintain healthy stress levels. Let’s break each of these down further:

Eat a Proper Diet

What is a proper diet? I can say it does NOT include soda, sugar, baked goods, fast food, or processed foods. What it DOES include is whole, fresh fruits and vegetables that contain nutrients and fiber, plant-based proteins like nuts and seeds, which also contain fiber, and whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, amaranth, millet, and oats that contain….drum roll…”fiber.” I’m sure you can see now how important fiber is to healthy bowel function. You may be wondering why I didn’t mention meat. First, the meat of animals does not contain any fiber. This should be a big clue that animals should be a very small, if any, portion of your meals. The healthiest populations around the world consume plant-based diets and very little animal protein. An egg would be the best, most complete source of protein and offer the least negative impact to the body compared to the meat of the animal. Dairy has no place, other than an occasional special treat, in the human diet. If you do choose to consume animal products, be sure they are organic, naturally-raised animals that were humanely treated.

Drink Plenty of Quality Water

Water helps hydrate the body, including the digestive tract. Dehydration is a common culprit for constipation. Be careful, however, drinking the wrong kind of water may be counterproductive to your overall goal of health and well-being. Be sure to do your research on water and choose water that contains the fewest contaminants, while maintain minerals and the proper pH.

Exercise Regularly

Your digestive tract is one long muscular tube from your mouth, all the way down to your anus. When you exercise, you tone ALL muscles in your body, including your digestive tract. Exercising also helps stimulate peristalsis, which is the contraction of the muscle tissue in the intestines.

Maintain Healthy Stress Levels

Stress in any form may impede the body’s ability to eliminate waste. When the body tenses up, it is unable to flow and perform optimally. Look for ways you can mitigate your stress throughout the day. Adopt a breathing technique, take a walk, do a five minute meditation. In the evening before bed, try taking a warm bath, doing some gentle stretching, or engage in meditation to relax your body in preparation for sleep. Getting healthy sleep at night will help you better manage stress during the day and maintain your body’s natural flow.

Creating healthy bowel habits takes time. Be patient with the process; but also be consistent. For example, even if you do not have the urge to eliminate first thing in the morning, sit on the toilet for three to five minutes anyway. Create the space for your body to do what it is naturally designed to do, and it will likely follow suit. The bottom line is developing healthy bowel activity may help you maintain better health and well-being, and keep more of the money you earn in your pocket instead of the doctor’s. 

By Gina Van Luven
Director of Nutrition Education

This article is for nutrition information purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Always seek the advice of a qualified health provider with any health concerns you may have. The information in this article is not intended to promote any specific product, or for the prevention or treatment of any disease.