Ever felt completely stressed out, tense, and irritated, only to realise hours later that you just really needed a poo?
If you have, you’ve been constirated, as we’re calling it (constipated plus irate, get it?).
Much like the realisation that you’ve been snappier than usual thanks to PMS, or being hangry, getting constirated is a natural response to feeling bunged up.
Being constipated affects not only our physical wellbeing, but our mood, too. If you’re struggling to maintain a regular toilet schedule, it’s natural that you start to feel a tad grumpy.
There’s a scientific reason for that.
A significant portion of the body’s serotonin – known as the happy hormone – is produced in the gut. So when your bowel movements are off kilter, your mood will be too.
Dr Gill Hart, a biochemist and the scientific director of YorkTest Laboratories, says: ‘If you’re experiencing irregular bowel activity you could indeed also encounter low mood and there are studies to back this.
‘The gut is home to hundreds of trillions of microorganisms which form part of the gut-microbiome-brain-axis.
‘Mood states have been linked with the composition of the microbiome in mentally and physically healthy adults.
‘If your gut is unhappy, it’s likely to affect your overall wellbeing too, physically and mentally.
‘If things are not working consistently this can affect mood. But when constipation is finally relieved, a person’s mood is elevated as the gut is working more efficiently.’
A sudden mood boost after a trip to the toilet makes sense, as you’re experiencing relief from the discomfort of bloating.
Steve Horne, former president of the American Herbalists Guild, explains: ‘A person in a bad mood may actually be constipated or at least have serious issues with the health of their intestinal tract.
‘Researchers now realise that we have a ‘gut brain’ that produces neurotransmitters that directly influence our emotional state.
‘If you think about it, you will readily recognise that constipation impacts your mood. When you’re physically ‘full of it’ you feel weighed down.
‘You feel heavy and have less energy. Once you let go of it, you feel lighter and your energy and mood improve.’
That’s the case for just the occasional constipation episode, but regular bowel issues can have a deeper impact.
A recent study from the department of Medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre in Boston, Massachusetts, suggests the relationship between chronic diarrhoea and constipation being more common in depressed individuals.
‘Chronic diarrhoea was significantly more prevalent in depressed individuals than non-depressed individuals,’ says lead author Sarah Ballou.
‘Chronic constipation was also more common in depressed individuals than non-depressed individuals.
‘Mean depression scores in patients with chronic diarrhoea and with chronic constipation were significantly higher than mean depression scores for individuals with normal bowel habits.
‘Our findings provide support for the relationship between mood and specific bowel habits.’
Another report conducted by microbiologist Jeroen Raes, at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium, studied 1,054 Belgians to assess ‘normal’ microbiome. Out of the group, 173 had been diagnosed with depression or had scored poorly during the quality-of-life survey, indicating they had a low mood.
Researchers compared the microbiomes with others taking part in the trial. They found two kinds of microbes, Coprococcus and Dialister, were missing from the microbiomes of the subjects who were depressed, but not the happier subjects.
The report concluded that ‘the results provide population-scale evidence for microbiome links to mental health.’
So we know that feeling constipated can make you constirated. But what can you do about it?
First off, it’s vital to chat to a GP about your bowel movements if they’re regularly causing you stress. There may be a physical health issue that’s contributing to mental illness.
You may find that chronic constipation or diarrhea is down to a food intolerance, so it’s worth keeping a poo diary to track when your bowel movements occur and how your diet affects them.
The NHS recommends drinking plenty of fluids, avoiding alcohol, and increasing the fibre in your diet to make your number twos easier to pass.
Regular exercise can help, too, which has the added bonus of getting those endorphins going.
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