How Constipation Saved My Life
June 2003, New York City
“Dana, we recommend the first colonoscopy at age 50. You are only 33 years old. I highly doubt it is necessary. However given your father’s recent colon cancer diagnosis and your current symptoms, we will schedule your colonoscopy.’
“Dana, we will begin the procedure now, it shouldn’t take long.”
“Dana, we removed a large size colon polyp. Fortunately it is benign. I can’t believe the size of this polyp considering you are only 33 years old. I don’t know what would have happened if you had waited until age 50 for your first colonoscopy. Thank your father. He may have saved your life today.”
I would like to thank my father for encouraging me 10 years ago to speak with my doctor about a topic that was too embarrassing to discuss – my lifelong constipation. My dad is no longer with us, but I know he is watching over me right now as I type this article. By sharing our story, we may save the life of a reader here today. Thank you Dad.
My Lifelong Constipation
Constipation is a taboo subject that no one likes to discuss. However it is a very real issue for hypothyroidism sufferers. In order to make real change at Hypothyroid Mom, we must discuss all the issues including the most embarrassing ones. So here it goes.
I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism following the birth of my first son in 2006, however I have really suffered from hypothyroidism symptoms ever since I was a baby. To tell you the truth, constipation has been an issue ever since I can remember. I even landed in the emergency room from severe constipation once during a vacation.
In 2003, my husband and I decided to take a trip of a lifetime to Asia visiting Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Cambodia. It was an incredible trip. However like all vacations, constipation was an issue during this trip especially when I returned home. This particular time I found some blood when I used the toilet, not a great deal but enough to catch my attention. It went away and I almost passed it off as normal from the constipation.
My father had been diagnosed with colon cancer that year. He insisted I get myself checked out. I went to my doctor with my symptoms along with my family history of colon cancer. At that time I was only 33 years old.
“Dana, the blood you experienced in your stool was from an internal hemorrhoid. In addition to your colon polyp, you have diverticulosis, pouches in the wall of the colon. Your chronic constipation is a serious health issue that needs to be resolved.”
Hypothyroidism & Constipation
Have you ever checked the drugstore aisle for laxatives and stool softeners? Have you ever noticed how many products are on those shelves?
Constipation is one of the classic signs of hypothyroidism. Without enough thyroid hormone, many of the body’s functions slow down. Hypothyroidism slows the action of the digestive tract causing constipation. Muscles line the digestive tract including the small and large intestines. The muscles contract to move the stool through the intestine to the rectum. Hypothyroidism can weaken the contraction of these muscles causing the stool to move too slowly.
The Thyroid Federation International estimates there are up to 300 million thyroid sufferers worldwide, yet over half remain undiagnosed. With millions of undiagnosed hypothyroidism sufferers worldwide and millions more insufficiently treated, is it really any wonder why the shelf for constipation remedies is stocked so high?
Looking back I’ve suffered from hypothyroidism symptoms including chronic constipation ever since I can remember. When I landed in the emergency room during a vacation from severe constipation, my thyroid was NOT tested. Even when my colon polyp was discovered in 2003, my thyroid was NOT tested. It took landing in the emergency room after my first son was born with excruciatingly painful kidney stones in 2006 to finally receive my hypothyroidism diagnosis.
Are you reading this article right now and suffer from constipation but you’ve never had your thyroid tested? Please get tested.
It wasn’t until I found a great thyroid doctor who listened to my symptoms and worked with me to find optimal treatment that I was finally on the road to overcoming the constipation that had plagued me my whole life. I knew the time had come to open up about my constipation and share with my doctor exactly what was happening. I am so happy I did.
How I Reversed My Constipation
We are each unique in how our bodies react to different substances. Consult with your doctor before trying any supplements mentioned at Hypothyroid Mom to be sure they are right for you and to determine the ideal dosage for you.
Optimal Thyroid Treatment
In mainstream medicine Levothyroxine drugs are the gold standard for the treatment of hypothyroidism. While these drugs work for some, for many they fail to relieve symptoms. Levothyroxine drugs contain T4 thyroid hormone only. Our bodies are supposed to convert that T4 thyroid hormone to the active T3 hormone our cells need. For many of us our bodies don’t convert T4 to T3 properly, leaving us symptomatic. Many of us do better on a combination of T4 and T3 thyroid hormone replacement treatment.
It wasn’t until I found a great doctor open to exploring the thyroid drug options to find what was right for me that my constipation began improving. It wasn’t a quick fix. For me it took about 6 months to reach optimal. My doctor did comprehensive thyroid testing including TSH, Free T4, Free T3, Reverse T3, and thyroid antibodies. My doctor prescribed natural desiccated thyroid and it changed my life. She retested my levels regularly in the beginning and increased my dosage each time until one day I felt incredible. All my hypothyroidism symptoms had improved including my life-long constipation. I felt so good I cried.
If you are reading this article right now and you suffer from chronic constipation but you’ve never been diagnosed with hypothyroidism, please get your thyroid properly tested. If you are being treated with thyroid medication but you still suffer from common symptoms like constipation, take a closer look at whether you are being optimally treated.
Finding a doctor open to comprehensive thyroid testing and thyroid treatment options is key. Sadly not all doctors are open to the options and it can be a very frustrating journey. I’ve put together resources to help readers locate great thyroid doctors across the globe.
A diet too low in fiber was also to blame for my sluggish digestive tract. While I included fiber-rich foods to my diet, I realized that I wasn’t consuming enough. The average adult needs between 20 and 35 grams of fiber a day to ward off constipation. To avoid bloating and cramping, I increased my fiber intake gradually and made sure to drink plenty of fluids.
I had no idea how many delicious fiber-rich foods there were to eat. My diet is now loaded with beans (navy beans, kidney beans, lentils, garbanzo beans, pinto beans), nuts (almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, walnuts), seeds (sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, flaxseeds, chia seeds), green peas, squash, grains (gluten-free grains include buckwheat, quinoa, amaranth). I also include green leafy vegetables in moderation such as spinach, collard greens, and Swiss chard (cooking cruciferous vegetables reduces the goitrogenic effect).
When I first started reading about the connection between gluten and thyroid, I was reluctant to make the switch. I grew up with my Italian mom who makes the best pasta on the planet, so you can imagine the idea of going gluten-free was not easy for me. However once I gave it a try and noticed not only my constipation improving but also my other hypothyroidism symptoms, I was hooked.
In my research, I’ve read about the connection between dairy and constipation. I decided to give dairy-free a try. While this did not have a significant effect on my constipation, I still included it here in this article especially given all the food sensitivities and intolerances that I hear about from Hypothyroid Mom readers. We’re all different in terms of what works best for us, so it’s well worth a try.
Omega-3 oils help lubricate the intestines so stool can move more easily through the colon. I increased the intake of fish oil by taking cod liver oil daily, careful to select mercury-free brands, and I’m amazed at how this has helped.
Probiotics are live microbial organisms that are naturally present in the digestive tract. Beneficial bacteria are necessary to properly digest food and to absorb nutrients. I’ve added probiotic rich fermented foods like Kombucha to my diet. When you are looking for a good probiotic supplement, choose one that contains a mix of a number of different probiotic strains. I take a probiotic supplement from a brand called Bio-Kult Probiotic, which contains 14 probiotic strains.
Warm Lemon Water
A few years back I had consultation services with an Ayurveda specialist in NYC. For constipation, she recommended drinking warm water with lemon in the morning. The warm water stimulates the muscles lining the intestinal walls to contract and keep the stool moving and lemons help flush out toxins.
Lemon juice alkalizes the body. Yes lemons are acidic outside the body, but inside the body they have an alkalizing effect. An alkaline body helps prevent disease and maintain wellness.
I take my thyroid medication with plain water first thing when I wake up. Then I wait at least an hour to have breakfast to ensure nothing interferes with the absorption of my medication. I have warm lemon water just before my breakfast. (I wait several hours after taking my thyroid meds to take other medications, supplements, and vitamins to ensure there is no interference with the thyroid hormone absorption.)
Magnesium has been a real life-changer for me. All the things that I’ve mentioned above have been helpful in improving my constipation. However the real change came when my doctor tested my magnesium and found it to be far below the normal range. Nutrient deficiencies including magnesium are a common issue for those of us with hypothyroidism and should be tested. As with all supplements, speak with your doctor about whether this is right for you and what dosage you should take. My doctor regularly tests my magnesium levels.
Magnesium is the relaxation mineral. Constipation is a common symptom of magnesium deficiency. Muscles line the digestive tract. Magnesium relaxes the muscles and helps the stool move more easily.
I take Pure Encapsulations Magnesium Glycinate every night before bed. I also take hot baths with Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate) and rub Magnesium Oil on my body to increase my magnesium levels. I now go ‘number 2’ regularly every day. That’s a miracle for me!
For weeks I went back and forth on whether this was a topic that I wished to write about here on Hypothyroid Mom. It is very embarrassing to talk about my constipation and I hesitated about sharing it. However I hope that by writing about my personal experience, those of you suffering with constipation will see how important it is to discuss with your doctor. I am not saying that everyone will have colon polyps, hemorrhoids or diverticulosis from chronic constipation as happened to me or develop colon cancer, but an unresolved constipation issue could put your life at risk and should be discussed with your doctor.
By shining light on our symptoms, even the most embarrassing ones, we will CONQUER them!
This article was originally published on hypothyroidmom.com
*Image of “hands” via Shutterstock