The Poop On Poop: Constipation 101
By Dr. Denise Tarasuk, ND, RN
Studying the stool is one of the best ways to evaluate wellness. Healthy stools are well-formed, brown and not foul-smelling. Many children with developmental delays have never had a healthy poop. Constipation can be one of their most challenging issues.
What Are the Symptoms of Constipation?
- Abdominal pain. Sixty percent of children with constipation present with abdominal pain.
- Stool withholding. Healthy people poop at least once a day. Hard, dry, stools are difficult to eliminate, causing a child to withhold.
- Infrequent passage of stool. After a long period of constipation, fecal material may leak out around the hard mass of poop; the child appears to have soiling or diarrhea.
- A poor appetite. When children are stopped up with stool, they may feel "full" and thus have a decreased appetite.
- Sluggishness. Children who are constipated move slowly both mentally and physically.
What Do I Do If I Think My Child Has Constipation?
Make an appointment with a health care professional. Write down key points about your child’s symptoms and history to discuss during the visit.
First is a physical exam. The doctor listens to the abdomen a stethoscope and lightly palpates it. A hard abdomen, bloating and discomfort on palpation help determine a diagnosis. Lab tests can assist the doctor with more information.
Which Lab Tests Should I Ask For?
I recommend several specialty tests for gastro-intestinal problems. The Comprehensive Digestive Stool Analysis (CDSA) is at the top of my list. The CDSA provides valuable information about beneficial bacteria, (the good bugs), parasites, bacteria (the bad bugs), and yeast (the most talked about bugs).
Another test, developed by Dr. William Shaw, of the Great Plains Laboratory, is the Organic Acid Test (OAT). It is "the scoop on poop." It provides information about the Krebs Cycle and how a child’s body uses nutrients to send energy to the body during this process. Furthermore the OAT identifies bacteria and yeast byproducts which can cause toxic effects on the brain and affect a child’s neurological function. These also be a culprit in your child’s constipation.
The Peptide Test is great, especially for children newly diagnosed with autism or PDD. It provides information on dairy and wheat proteins (casomorphins and gluteomorphins), which are large peptides that mimic opiate receptors. Peptides that turn on opiate receptors and act like opium, can have a constipating effect.
How Can Constipation Be Treated Simply and Naturally?
As a naturopathic physician, I have developed some non-invasive techniques which can alleviate constipation.
- First, change the diet. Decrease processed food and incorporate more fresh fruits and vegetables. Remove all possibly allergic foods, such as those containing casein and gluten. A casein- and gluten-free diet helps many children.
- Increase fluids. Water is great. Prune other juices can be diluted and drunk in small amounts.
- Reassess pharmaceuticals. Some drugs are constipating and others can wipe out good gastro-intestinal bacteria and allow yeasts to proliferate.
- Consider the use of enzymes. The gastro-intestinal system usually needs support for digestion in the treatment of constipation. Enzymes aid in the digestion of proteins, fats and carbohydrates. They are essential for the treatment of constipation, gas and bloating. (See "E is for Enzymes," 9:1)
- Add probiotics. These "good bugs" or friendly bacteria will crowd out the "bad bugs," including bacteria and yeast. Probiotics support healing of the intestinal mucosa and help establish a healthy immune system for the child.
- Try herbs. Chamomile with its natural anti-inflammatory actions can reduce intestinal spasms and calm down an upset stomach. It heals wounds especially in the intestines. Triphala is an Indian herbal formula containing a large amount of vitamin C, is an anti–spasmodic bowel tonic which aids in digestion, and a mild laxative. It is very safe for children. Take Triphala before going to bed to aid with elimination in the morning. Slippery Elm, another herb, is also a gentle laxative which contains special proteins that heal the intestinal mucosa. It is a mucilaginous herb and a demulcent which means it brings moisture to the gastro-intestinal system. Eat slippery elm as a gruel or sip it hot as tea. Mix Triphala or Slippery elm powder with applesauce or pears.
- Use a multi-vitamin containing magnesium and no copper. Treating a child with constipation can be a challenging experience. Become knowledgeable about the signs and symptoms of constipation.
Choosing natural treatments for constipation can have positive effects on a child’s entire well being, and thus assist in the developmental process. For more on this subject read Lipski’s Digestive Wellness: Completely Revised and Updated Third EditionDigestive Wellness.
Dr. Tarasuk is a naturopathic physician with an office in Campbell, CA. You can reach her by email.[Initially published in New Developments: Volume 10, Number 4 - Summer, 2005]