Most people experience constipation at some point in their life. They make a note to eat more fiber and expect everything to go back to normal in a day or two. Luckily, for the better percentage of those inflicted, this method works. Not so lucky are the ones who are battling something much more serious than the occasional bout of constipation.
Constipation is a condition that can be very difficult to find the originating cause. There are so many different causes, from medicines to lifestyle changes, that pin-pointing the true cause of the constipation can be like finding a needle in a haystack.
One potential cause that medical experts are looking very closely at is the relation of high blood sugar and constipation. What effect does blood sugar have on the digestive system? Are diabetics at higher risk for constipation?
As it turns out, diabetics are definitely more at risk of experiencing constipation. Nearly 60% of all diabetics also suffer from constipation. Abnormal blood sugar levels can negatively affect many of the body’s systems and functions. When blood sugar levels are elevated, the nerves in the intestines that control the length of time waste stays in the body can be seriously damaged. The nerves can’t do their job properly and food waste begins to build up in the intestines. This doesn’t happen over night, of course. This condition affects type 1 diabetics who have been using insulin for a number of years.
Another disastrous effect high blood sugar has on the gastrointestinal system is Gastroparesis. Gastroparesis is when nerves in the stomach are damaged to the point that they can no longer work properly. The stomach doesn’t know when to send the food through the digestive tract. Up to 75% of diabetics also have Gastroparesis.
How Does High Blood Sugar Damage the Nerves of the Intestine?
High blood sugar damages the actual blood vessels that carry oxygen and essential nutrients to the nerves of the stomach and intestine, or the vagus nerves. With the necessary nutrients and oxygen severely reduced, or stopped from reaching the vagus nerves, the digestive system goes into a state of shock. The food waste backs up and it can cause terrible complications.
The difference between Gastroparesis and constipation is that with Gastroparesis, food waste gets stuck in or near the stomach, and in constipation the waste builds up in the small intestine. How can one tell a difference? Here are some of the symptoms of Gastroparesis:
- Vomiting of undigested food
- Bloating and loss of appetite
- Heartburn, acid reflux and nausea
- Weight loss and stomach spasms
Gastroparesis can be a chronic condition and in severe cases require surgery to remedy.
Constipation can be diagnosed in a patient exhibiting the following signs:
- No bowel movements for 3 consecutive days
- Hard stools 25% of the time during bowel movements
- Straining at 25% of bowel movements
- Have two or less bowel movements per week
Treat the Cause, not the Symptom
It’s important to understand that constipation is a symptom and not the disease. By that, I mean there must be an underlying reason for the constipation. In this case, it’s the high blood sugar level that’s causing the constipation, not the other way around. You need to treat the cause to remedy the symptom. Treat the high blood sugar and your chances of experiencing constipation will decrease.
Constipation, while very dangerous if left untreated, is usually an easy condition to get rid of. Eating a healthier diet, with more fiber and water can greatly reduce the chances of constipation. Exercise can also have a great impact on keeping a healthy digestive tract. With both conditions, the key is to control your blood sugar levels. Healthy diets, exercise and water can help keep blood sugar levels closer to a normal level, but of course diabetics may still require assistance in controlling their sugar levels.
The New England Journal of Medicine did a study of class 2 diabetics and the effects that eating a high fiber diet can have on blood sugar levels. There were 2 groups of participants. In the first group, they were instructed to follow a diet that included 24 grams of fiber per day for six weeks. The second group did the same thing, but had to have 50 grams of fiber per day. After six weeks, the two groups switched diet regimens and followed that diet for six more weeks. It was found that when both groups were on the higher fiber diet, their blood sugar levels were lowered by 10%.
If you are diabetic and you are suffering from severe constipation, it’s time to get your blood sugar tested. The longer you wait, the more serious it can become.