"I have been dealing with constipation for years now and I'm so tired of it. It's making me cranky, bloated and it's messing with my appetite," a social media follower recently wrote. "I feel like I'm doing everything right, but I can't poop. Help!"
Unfortunately, I see many patients who struggle with constipation and other bathroom issues. Sometimes they are too embarrassed to admit their problem until it becomes too painful to bear.
My patients aren't alone. Researchers find that roughly 12 to 19 percent of the U.S. population (about 63 million people) suffer from constipation. And while constipation might be common, it's definitely not normal and it can have disastrous consequences.
Having healthy digestion and eliminating waste every day (ideally twice—yes, twice—a day) is critical to your overall health. Remember—your liver flushes out toxins and dumps them into your intestines. If your digestive system isn't working optimally, then all those toxins and waste gets reabsorbed into your body. So, it makes sense that constipation has been linked to multiple diseases, including cancer and even Parkinson's disease, plus it actually makes you feel like crap!
Then there are the practical problems. Constipation is often uncomfortable and can lead to symptoms including bloating, irritability, lack of appetite and vomiting.
I often ask my patients if they are regular. One answered yes, but when I followed up with how often she eliminated, she replied "once a week." Trust me: That is not regular. Other patients think constipation is normal but after treating them, their whole world turns around once they eliminate normally. Again, common does not mean normal, nor does it mean it's okay.
We now know so much about how to fix your gut, how to tend your inner garden (the flora in your gut), and how to reset your system, yet many of us maintain poor ways of eating and living. Like most problems, constipation is usually fixable without pharmaceutical drugs or other invasive procedures.
The first most important thing to get things moving consistently is addressing your diet, which causes most constipation. While chronic stress and antibiotic overuse can mess up your gut, a diet that is high in processed foods and sugars does great harm and promotes constipation.
Incorporating the following simple hacks will help most people get things moving:
Eat whole, real foods in their unprocessed forms. This is the first and easiest and healthiest first step to healing.
You need lots of fiber. Back in the day, as hunter-gatherer, we humans ate 100 to 150 grams of fiber a day. Today most modern humans are lucky if they get 8 grams daily. Fiber comes from plant foods. Besides eating lots of colorful fruits and vegetables, I like "super fibers" like ground flax seed. Try adding 2 tablespoons a day to your smoothies or salads for an easy fiber boost. Nuts, seeds and beans also contain high amounts of quality fiber; however, remember that beans can cause insulin spikes—so go easy if you are prone to blood sugar imbalances. You'll also want to avoid foods that cause constipation. Dairy tops this list, and gluten is a close second. I challenge you to give those up for at least three weeks and see how your digestion and overall health improve.
And here's something that often surprises my patients: Low-fat diets can contribute greatly to constipation, despite still being touted as healthy.
A clinical study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition put 11 men on a high-fat diet for two weeks and found that, when compared to a low-fat diet, a high-fat diet accelerated gastric emptying.
You'll want to incorporate lots of smart healthy fat sources include wild fatty fish like sardines and salmon, olive oil (which lubricates the digestive system) and avocados.
One of the best "laxatives" is MCT oil, which I recommend in my book Eat Fat, Get Thin. You can put it in your coffee (which, by the way, also helps you go) or use it in your smoothies and salad dressings.
Another big constipation culprit is magnesium deficiency. We don't eat enough of this underrated mineral (magnesium-rich foods include nuts, beans and greens), plus things like chronic stress, too much caffeine and sugar and toxic overload often deplete magnesium levels.
Even if you eat plenty of magnesium-rich foods, you probably need to supplement to get optimal levels. Use 200 mg to 1,000 mg of magnesium citrate daily. Gradually increase the dose until you go once or twice a day. If you take too much, you will get loose stools. If that happens, back off a bit.
Vitamin C is another great poop inducer. You can take 2,000 to 4,000 mg or more a day, along with magnesium supplementation. The same principle applies here: If you begin to get loose stools, just back off a bit.
Many patients are often deficient in healthy gut bugs, which is why I also recommend adding probiotics.
Exercise is a great laxative. So move your body everyday to help move those bowels.
And lastly don't forget water: Hydration is critical, so drink at least 6 to 8 glasses of water each day.
Simply put, to optimize bowel function:
- Eat a whole foods, high-fiber diet (check out the Pegan Diet I explain in my book Eat Fat, Get Thin).
- Add 2 tablespoons of ground flax seeds to your daily diet.
- Eat more good fats and try MCT oil.
- Supplement with magnesium, vitamin C and probiotics.
- Drink 6 to 8 glasses of water a day.
- Exercise daily.
If you're still struggling after using the above tips, then consider having your thyroid looked at. An often-overlooked culprit is a sluggish thyroid, which affects 1 in 5 women and 1 in 10 men (about half of whom are not diagnosed or not treated properly). Check out my e-book, The UltraThyroid Solution, to figure out if this is a problem for you and what to do about it.
And there could be other underlying problems that a Functional Medicine practitioner could help address.
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By Alexandra Rowles
Oregano is a fragrant herb that's best known as an ingredient in Italian food.
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By Emily Grubert
Natural gas is a versatile fossil fuel that accounts for about a third of U.S. energy use. Although it produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants than coal or oil, natural gas is a major contributor to climate change, an urgent global problem. Reducing emissions from the natural gas system is especially challenging because natural gas is used roughly equally for electricity, heating, and industrial applications.
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="6bd9fda1316965a9ba24dd60fd9cc34d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/3KaMnkmf0tc?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
What RNG Is and Why it Matters<p>Most equipment that uses energy can only use a single kind of fuel, but the fuel might come from different resources. For example, you can't charge your computer with gasoline, but it can run on electricity generated from coal, natural gas or solar power.</p><p>Natural gas is almost pure methane, <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/" target="_blank">currently sourced</a> from raw, fossil natural gas produced from <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/where-our-natural-gas-comes-from.php" target="_blank">deposits deep underground</a>. But methane could come from renewable resources, too.</p><p><span></span>Two main methane sources could be used to make RNG. First is <a href="https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/inventory-us-greenhouse-gas-emissions-and-sinks" target="_blank">biogenic methane</a>, produced by bacteria that digest organic materials in manure, landfills and wastewater. Wastewater treatment plants, landfills and dairy farms have captured and used biogenic methane as an energy resource for <a href="http://emilygrubert.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/eia_860_2017_map.html" target="_blank">decades</a>, in a form usually called <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/biomass/landfill-gas-and-biogas.php" target="_blank">biogas</a>.</p><p>Some biogenic methane is generated naturally when organic materials break down without oxygen. Burning it for energy can be beneficial for the climate if doing so prevents methane from escaping to the atmosphere.</p>
Renewable Isn’t Always Sustainable<p>If RNG could be a renewable replacement for fossil natural gas, why not move ahead? Consumers have shown that they are <a href="https://www.nrel.gov/analysis/green-power.html" target="_blank">willing to buy renewable electricity</a>, so we might expect similar enthusiasm for RNG.</p><p>The key issue is that methane isn't just a fuel – it's also a <a href="https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/ghg_report/ghg_overview.php" target="_blank">potent greenhouse gas</a> that contributes to climate change. Any methane that is manufactured intentionally, whether from biogenic or other sources, will contribute to climate change if it enters the atmosphere.</p><p>And <a href="http://doi.org/10.1126/science.aar7204" target="_blank">releases</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wasman.2019.07.029" target="_blank">will happen</a>, from newly built production systems and <a href="https://theconversation.com/why-methane-emissions-matter-to-climate-change-5-questions-answered-122684" target="_blank">existing, leaky transportation and user infrastructure</a>. For example, the moment you smell gas before the pilot light on a stove lights the ring? That's methane leakage, and it contributes to climate change.</p><p>To be clear, RNG is almost certainly better for the climate than fossil natural gas because byproducts of burning RNG won't contribute to climate change. But doing somewhat better than existing systems is no longer enough to respond to the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2923" target="_blank">urgency</a> of climate change. The world's <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/spm/" target="_blank">primary international body on climate change</a> suggests we need to decarbonize by 2030 to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.</p>
Scant Climate Benefits<p><a href="https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/ab9335/meta" target="_blank">My recent research</a> suggests that for a system large enough to displace a lot of fossil natural gas, RNG is probably not as good for the climate as <a href="https://investor.southerncompany.com/information-for-investors/latest-news/latest-news-releases/press-release-details/2020/Southern-Company-Gas-grows-leadership-team-to-focus-on-climate-action-innovation-and-renewable-natural-gas-strategy/default.aspx" target="_blank">is publicly claimed</a>. Although RNG has lower climate impact than its fossil counterpart, likely high demand and methane leakage mean that it probably will contribute to climate change. In contrast, renewable sources such as wind and solar energy do not <a href="https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/carbon/" target="_blank">emit climate pollution directly</a>.</p><p>What's more, creating a large RNG system would require building mostly new production infrastructure, since RNG comes from different sources than fossil natural gas. Such investments are both long-term commitments and opportunity costs. They would devote money, political will and infrastructure investments to RNG instead of alternatives that could achieve a zero greenhouse gas emission goal.</p><p>When climate change first <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/1988/06/24/us/global-warming-has-begun-expert-tells-senate.html" target="_blank">broke into the political conversation</a> in the late 1980s, investing in long-lived systems with low but non-zero greenhouse gas emissions was still compatible with aggressive climate goals. Now, zero greenhouse gas emissions is the target, and my research suggests that large deployments of RNG likely won't meet that goal.</p>
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By Charli Shield
When an elephant dies in the wild, it's not uncommon to later find its bones scattered throughout the surrounding landscape.
Elephant Burial Grounds<p>Highly social creatures that form deep familial bonds, elephants have long been observed gathering at the site where a peer or family member has died — often spending hours, even days, quietly investigating the bodies or the bones of other dead elephants.</p><p>Although the popular idea that dying elephants are instinctively drawn to special communal graves — so-called "elephant graveyards" — is a myth, their tendency to go out of their way to visit the bones and tusks of the deceased isn't unlike human rituals at graveyards, says animal psychologist Karen McComb.</p><p>"They spend a lot of time touching and smelling skulls and ivory, placing the soles of their feet gently on top of them, and also lifting them up with their trunks," McComb, who's been studying African elephants for 25 years in Kenya's Amboseli National Park, told DW.</p><p>The most striking part of watching an elephant experience loss, Poole recalls, is the quietude. She still remembers one of the first elephant deaths she witnessed; a mother who birthed a stillborn calf. That elephant stayed with its baby for two days, trying to lift it and defending it from vultures and hyenas.</p><p>"I was so struck by the expression on her face and her body. She looked so dejected. It was really like, 'Oh God, these animals grieve…'. It was just so different," Poole told DW. </p>
Witnessing Emotions in Animals<p>Not all scientists are comfortable concluding that elephants grieve. Among the more than 30 reports of elephant reactions to death that Wittemyer co-reviewed in <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10329-019-00766-5" target="_blank">a study published in November 2019</a> were accounts of "enormous variation and nuance" he says. "It can be incredibly involved and intricate for extended periods or can be relatively cursory checks."</p><p>In Wittemyer's own experience, it can be difficult not to attribute some kind of emotional experience to the more involved interactions between elephants and their dead.</p><p>He shares the story of an "extraordinary event" involving the death of a 55 year-old matriarch in Kenya in a protected area that happened to be near his place of work. She was visited by multiple unrelated families while she was dying, including another matriarch that exerted such enormous effort attempting to lift her to her feet that she broke her tusk, which Wittemyer says, is "like breaking a tooth." </p><p><span></span>"It was a remarkable example of this heightened emotional state, it was very clearly a very stressful interaction," he says.</p>
A Different Sensory World<p>One factor that limits our ability to fully grasp the way elephants process and respond to loss is our markedly different sensory experiences of the world.</p><p>An elephant's world is fundamentally olfactory — based on smell. Ours is visual. Previous <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25053675/" target="_blank">research</a> has shown elephants possess the most scent receptors of any mammal, and can <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17949977/" target="_blank">use smell</a> to discern the difference between different human tribes from the same local area.</p><p>That could explain why elephants exhibit such interest in sniffing the bones and tusks of others, as a <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1617198/" target="_blank">2005 study</a> from McCombs highlighted. When presented with the skulls and ivory of long-dead elephants and those from other large herbivores, including rhino and buffalo, McCombs and her team found elephants approached and were specifically attracted to the remains of their own species. </p><p>Without access to the smells an elephant picks up on, Wittemyer says "an enormous amount of stuff" could be missed by humans when studying these behaviors.</p>
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