Constipation could signal bigger health problems ahead

Constipation is a modern-day problem. And natural medicine considers it a risk factor for many chronic health problems. Mainstream medicine, on the other hand, does not seem to take it as seriously as they should. It’s all part of paying attention to diet, nutrition and digestion — or not.

Recent research links constipation with two common, deadly diseases.

While I was a research investigator at the National Cancer Institute, Dr. Nicholas Petrakis, a distinguished medical scientist at University of California San Francisco, developed an interesting hypothesis about constipation.

He believed that women with constipation have higher rates of colon and breast cancer. His studies indicated that the body absorbs toxins that accumulate in the GI tract when constipated. These toxins then concentrate in secretory fluids in different tissues, including cerumen (ear wax) and breast fluid. In the breast, the toxins can cause breast cancer.

His observations were based on relatively small groups of women that he saw in his practice, so he suggested we study the question using the huge database from the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (U.S. NHANES).

We found a strong correlation between the frequency of bowel movements and the risk of breast cancer. In fact, women with the least-frequent bowel movements (constipation) had double the risk of breast cancer.

This finding makes constipation as big of a risk factor as other known factors for breast cancer.

Natural medicine has known about dangers of poor digestion for centuries

In natural medicine, this concept is related to the idea of “entero-toxicity” and it goes back centuries. In Ayurvedic medicine, where they have the concept of “ama,” it goes back even further.

The idea is simply that undigested and poorly-digested foods accumulate in the GI tract, instead of being regularly eliminated, where they can create toxins, which get absorbed back into the blood.

It also makes sense that microbial flora in your microbiome can act on improperly digested food, producing toxic metabolites, which are absorbed back into the body.

At the time, we published our findings in the American Journal of Public Health. It should have led to more serious investigations about how women can prevent breast cancer by improving digestion and nutrition for “regularity.”

Instead, the NCI senior division director visited us and advised us that in the future, we should research “serious” topics, such as finding supposed “biomarkers” for breast cancer. He said we should drop the basic biology…because, well, medical doctors no longer believed in the old ideas of “entero-toxicity.”

Thirty years later, they have yet to find those illusory biomarkers. And they still have no real solution for preventing breast cancer. Despite all the pink ribbons flying from every possible lapel, loophole, football shoe, and other locations, mainstream medicine still has nothing much to really offer women to prevent breast cancer.

But breast cancer isn’t the only serious, potentially fatal condition linked to constipation.

New dangers of constipation discovered

In a new study, researchers reviewed medical records of 3.5 million U.S. military veterans. Those with constipation were ranked by severity according to how often they used laxatives.

After sifting through seven years’ worth of data, they found people with constipation had 13 percent higher risk of kidney disease and a 9 percent higher risk of kidney failure. Kidney function also deteriorated more rapidly in people with more severe constipation.

The researchers suggested that changes in the microbiome associated with constipation could be responsible. Likewise, toxins produced in the GI tract that are absorbed back into the blood can harm the kidneys, which must filter the blood.

Chronic kidney disease affects more than 10 percent of the population. And while high blood pressure and high blood sugar (diabetes) are major culprits of this condition, constipation may be a significant overlooked factor as well.

It’s time to take basic biology — and the concept of entero-toxicity — seriously. No matter what the NIH says.


  1. “Link between constipation, kidney disease uncovered,” Science Daily ( 11/10/2016