Can't Poo?

A very common symptom I hear of cancer patients is their inability to eliminate - either as a pre-existing condition, or brought on by diagnosis and/or medication.  Unfortunately, constipation can exacerbate symptoms, since the body is unable to eliminate waste and will start reabsorbing toxins. As a bandaid or for a quick fix you may turn to laxatives for help.  While this is okay short term, long time use of any pill or herbal laxative puts added stress on the kidneys and liver, and has the propensity for creating a lazy elimination system.  In other words, your body gets used to the help and stops worrying about having to do it itself.

Also keep in mind that fiber supplements can be more problematic than helpful.  Ones like psyllium seed husks can cause more binding rather than loosening because of the lack of water.

So what should you do?  Besides diet changes, supplements, and exercise, here are my top suggestions for getting things moving:

First and foremost - relax.

Stress, nervousness, anxiety, etc. causes tension in the body - including your sphincter muscle! Think back to a time when you were traveling or visiting others… During my college years, I spent a few months abroad in Mexico living with a host family. Every morning the mother would slice me up a huge bowl of mangos, and almost immediately I would feel the urge to go -- you would too!  However, because the bathroom was next to the living room where everyone hung out, I would have trouble actually eliminating. I was too uptight about others knowing or hearing me make my bowel movements. I couldn't relax.

I have friends who can't seem to make a bowel movement for an entire week while traveling, but upon arrival at home will have no problems. Whether or not you are traveling, the same concept applies. A cancer diagnosis is stressful. Period. And if you had a pre-existing condition, the cancer diagnosis is basically the loud speaker in your ear saying it's time to make some changes.

A great way to help eliminate stress and get your bowels moving is through focused breathing.

Sit in a comfortable position and take a series of slow deep breaths. I like using Ujjayi breathing, as used in Hatha yoga. Simply breath in and out through your nose while making a soft audible sound in the back of your throat. Breathe like this for 5- 15 minutes. This slows down your nervous system and engages the relaxation response.  Feel yourself melt.  Maybe even visualize the waste moving out. A relaxed body will naturally open for you.

Combined with a glass of water, you double your chances of a good bowel movement!

If you feel the urge to go and once on the toilet seat are still having trouble, return to breathing. Pushing or trying to force things out can be counterproductive by causing more tightening and frustration.  Find your happy place on the toilet :-). Become aware of the pulsations that move your stools down and out.  When breathing in feel your body opening up and expanding. On the out breath feel the breath moving down through the rectum, as if you were letting the breath out through it. The point is to stay relaxed through the process- nothing forceful. Your body knows what to do, and given the opportunity will naturally release.

And last but not least, assume the proper position.

The Chinese have it right - squat.  Since our toilets aren't designed for squatting, I recommend purchasing (or making) an elimination stool.  This raises your knees above your waist, tilting your pelvis in a more suitable position for elimination.  There are many brands out there to choose from:  Squatty Potty and Stool Steps are just a couple. Let gravity work for you!

If you feel like you've tried everything and are still experiencing constipation:

  1. Evaluate how consistent you are with the implementation of diet and lifestyle changes.  You wouldn't expect to build bulging arm muscles in a week by only working out a few times a week, would you?  Give your body time to respond to the changes and readjust.
  2. Consider scheduling a colonic with a professional.  This can help get things moving, or at the very least give you some relief from the toxic burden.
  3. Approach it from a metaphorical perspective.  It may be time to address the emotional issues of being backed up, holding onto things, uptight, anal-retentive, not letting go, out of the flow…  The power of the mind and the emotional baggage we carry around has more implications on our health than one might think. Wellness Within is here to help with that too.

As Certified Holistic Health Coaches, Diane and I are here to help you make lasting and appropriate changes to your diet and lifestyle.  If you are a cancer patient or survivor, schedule a free health coaching consultation with one of us, or register for one of our nutrition classes.  It just may change your life and your bowel movements for the better!

photo credit: Arno Meintjes Wildlife via photopin cc