You might call me a coward for handing this particularly sticky subject over to someone else to cover. I promise it’s not shame. It’s more that this particular blogger – Dana Trentini at Hypothyroidmom.com – has done such a great job of covering it that it made sense. OK? Dana lost her unborn baby to hypothyroidism and set out on a mission to build awareness on the topic. Her blog tackles all the fun tricky stuff. Like constipation.
The interesting thing is that, in hindsight, it was her constipation that signalled her thyroid disorder and Dana’s big message today is that if you have chronic constipation you need to get your thyroid tested. And you need to get on top of your constipation. Her suggestion comes with a warning – at 33, following her Dad’s colon cancer diagnosis (routine colonoscopies are not advised until we’re over 50), she went in for a colonoscopy herself. They found a huge polyp, diverticulosis pouches in the wall of her colon and an internal haemorrhoid, all caused by lifelong constipation, all caused by thyroid issues. Although which comes first is hard to say. For me, it doesn’t too much matter as the management plan is the same for both.
While we’re talking about me… I, too, suffer from the same affliction and was lucky enough to undergo a colonoscopy last year that found – and removed – a cancerous polyp. I now know I need to test for (and tackle) this health issue. It’s pretty much the last frontier of my ongoing management of my thyroid issues. I’ll write more on this soon, just as I’ve promised to write more on my menstrual issues. All of which will definitely help my dating prospects!! For now, some wisdoms from the most cerebrally unclogged Dana…
The hypothyroidism and constipation connect
Constipation is one of the classic signs of an under-active thyroid. Without enough thyroid hormones many of the body’s functions slow down. Muscles line the digestive tract, including the small and large intestines. Theses 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.
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 on my site 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 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.
- Fiber-rich foods. 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).
- Gluten-free. 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. Here is an article with a list of gluten-free and Paleo resources that include great recipes.
- Healthy oils. 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. Healthy fats lubricate the intestines. Fiber-rich extra virgin coconut oil is another great option.
- Probiotics. 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, which contains 14 probiotic strains.
- 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. 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. 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. I take magnesium glycinate every night before bed. I 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 on my blog. 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, haemorrhoids 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.
I know this is a tricky subject to talk about…but do feel free to discuss and ask Dana and I questions below…