There can be multiple reasons for not being able to have a bowel movement. Some of them can require medical attention. I will start with the simplest reasons and cover how to correct them here. If these don’t correct your problem, please seek medical attention.
One of your colons jobs is to reabsorb water. Water is vital to our body. We need it to live. Without the right amount, we can have brain fog, stutter, stagger, or lose consciousness. Our bodies go to great lengths to maintain the right balance. When we eat, we mix the food with saliva (water), then stomach acid (more water), then bile, pancreatic enzymes and other substances (still more water) to make a slurry that allows the food to flow through the digestive system and be broken down and absorbed. Once this process has completed, our body recovers as much water as it can to conserve our supply. This mainly happens in the colon.
When we are taking the right amount of water into our diet, the body (and colon) has enough and can afford to give up a bit. Our feces come out coated in a bit of mucous as a lubricant and we consider that normal. Bowel movements don’t hurt and they happen regularly.
If you are a bit low on water, the body reduces the mucous and things don’t slide as well. Painful bowel movements or tears around the rectum can result.
If you are more dehydrated, the body hangs onto the stool a bit longer to pull out more water. Now we have constipation. It can get bad. I once had a patient who only had a bowel movement once every six to eight WEEKS!
This is a cycle that, unfortunately, can cause some lasting problems. The gut is a muscle. It needs water and exercise to stay healthy. If you are dehydrated and the gut slows down as a result, this can lead to slower movement through the gut tube. While correctable for most people, maintaining good health is easier and trying to recover from poor habits.
Most animals eat and then poop (watch your dogs and cats). We should be similar if our gut is in good shape. Having a bowel movement once per day is the minimum I define as healthy. If you are having less than that the food in your gut has a prolonged time to create toxins and we don’t need an excess of them nowadays.
To make sure you have enough water coming in, use this simple formula – drink ½ of your body weight in pounds in ounces of water daily. (Coffee, Tea, Soda Pop, and Alcohol are all diuretics (make you pee out more water than they give you) and should not be counted in the above formula). That is going to get you in the ball park for having enough fluid.
Once there, if you are still having problems, try more water, then you can first add bulk forming agents. These are usually the husks of seeds (psyllium, wheat germ, senna) that have been dried and ground. When they get wet, they swell. This adds bulk to the stool. This bulk can trigger a bowel movement. Try not to rely on these long term. They are OK to help return your bowel health to normal, but should not be life long additives.
If the bulk forming agents don’t help, you can add laxative agents. These help to relax the gut muscle. My first recommendation is pure MSM (with nothing else added). Take one gram every 15 minutes until you have a bowel movement. Vitamin C works the same way and in the same dose (don’t use chewable vitamin c in these amounts). You can also use magnesium. MOM (milk of magnesia) and Epson Salts (magnesium sulfate) can be used as laxatives. Smaller doses of magnesium (usually in pill form) can be added to the diet daily to help keep things flowing.
If these simple methods don’t solve your constipation, then ask a doctor before going to more aggressive treatments. I am happy to work with my patients to help them restore bowel health and regularity.