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a person sitting on a sofa and holding their stomach in pain
a person sitting on a sofa and holding their stomach in pain

Some of the first things that might come to mind when you think of gut health are probably digestion, regular bowel movements, and healthy stool formation.

However, a healthy gut can involve many different organs and bodily processes, ranging from the intestines to the liver and pancreas functions, and even the brain. Naturally, having optimal gut health can play a major role in how you feel and can have a big impact on overall health.

As an important element of gut health, stool can be an indicator of potential health problems. While there are many different definitions of what characterizes "unhealthy stool", we'll be focusing on one specific issue in this article: constipation.

Read on to learn how constipation can affect your blood glucose, plus a few tips for healthy stool formation.

A Recap on Gut Function and Glucose Levels

a doctor feeling a patient's stomach

Gut health and glucose levels may not sound like they have much to do with each other, but they're more interconnected than you might think.

As we discussed in our recent article on the importance of a healthy gut, your gastrointestinal health greatly affects your glucose levels. By lowering inflammation in the gut, the risk of insulin sensitivity and metabolic disease are both reduced, which can also help prevent type 2 diabetes.

During the digestion process, the small intestine works to further digest the food once it leaves the stomach, then absorbing nutrients and converting carbohydrates into glucose. As this organ plays a key role in the breakdown of the nutrients you consume, healthy gut function is crucial for maintaining healthy glucose levels.

A healthy GI tract with a strong intestinal barrier (the mucus layer that surrounds your intestines to absorb nutrients) can also help reduce inflammation and produce metabolites called short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). These beneficial SCFAs, such as butyrate, are thought to promote healthy blood sugar levels and support metabolic health.

Blood Sugar Levels and Constipation

someone pricking their finger with a glucose test

So, does constipation cause high blood sugar levels? Or is it the other way around?

Constipation is a common gastrointestinal issue that results in infrequent or hard stool, blockage, or difficulty in passing stool. For healthy stool to form, the intestines need to be able to absorb nutrients, bulk stool, and use peristalsis (wave-like movements) along the digestive tract to push the stool out.

High blood sugar levels can damage blood vessels in many tissues in your body, including the intestinal wall tissues that support digestion. When the intestinal wall is damaged, the body has trouble digesting food, which directly affects proper stool formation.

This damage caused by high blood sugar levels can lead to symptoms like constipation, bloating, and abdominal pain. In some cases and especially in individuals who have diabetes, chronically high blood sugar levels can also be a risk factor for kidney disease, which also can lead to constipation.

The Link Between Diabetes, Constipation, and Blood Sugar

Diabetes is characterized by chronically high blood sugar levels as well as symptoms like diabetic neuropathy and high blood pressure.

Because of the negative effects high blood sugar can have on the digestive process, individuals with diabetes have poorer gut health and may be more prone to constipation. Research shows that constipation is one of the most common GI symptoms experienced by people with diabetes mellitus.

One reason for this may be gut dysbiosis, or an imbalance of the gut microbiome, which can lead to high blood sugar levels and even increased risk of type 2 diabetes. Diabetes can also cause nerve damage, or autonomic neuropathy, which can prevent the brain from sending signals to the colon to release stool.

Other research associates a higher risk for constipation in individuals with diabetes who have poor glycemic control, diabetes duration, low BMI, and nephropathy. These factors drastically increase your likelihood of experiencing constipation or bowel dysfunction.

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Can Being Constipated Affect Blood Sugar?

someone holding their stomach in pain

Now, let's look at the other side of the coin. Can constipation itself lead to higher blood sugar levels?

The gut plays an important role in glucose metabolism and gastric emptying, which is one of the key processes of the digestion process. When gastric emptying is slowed down (a health condition called gastroparesis), it can lead to unstable blood sugar levels. At first, it causes the glucose level to spike (hyperglycemia) and then dip too low (hypoglycemia).

As we discussed previously, gut dysbiosis can lead to both constipation and poor glucose levels. The intestinal microbiome plays a role here by working to break down carbohydrates and thereby influencing glucose levels.

Another common factor that can make constipation worse and cause irregular blood sugar levels is not getting enough dietary fiber. As you digest your food, fiber can add mass and weight to your stool, along with drawing water into the large intestine, making it easier to pass and preventing constipation.

The specific types of fiber, soluble and insoluble, each serve their function in preventing constipation (or helping to eliminate it). That is why it's important to include a wide variety of fiber sources in your diet by incorporating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes.

Overall, it seems that constipation and poor blood glucose levels can both be connected to factors such as gut dysbiosis or a poor diet.

What Are the Consequences of Neglecting Constipation?

Aside from the physical discomfort and inconvenience, neglecting constipation can have serious consequences on your overall health. Chronic constipation can lead to complications such as rectal prolapse, anal fissures, and hemorrhoids, which occur when there's pressure or strain during bowel movements.

Long-term constipation, fecal impaction, intestinal obstruction, and slow movement of stool have also been linked to an increased risk of developing gastrointestinal disorders, such as ulcerative colitis and colorectal cancer. This is because when fecal matter remains in the colon for extended periods of time, it can damage the cells lining the colon.

Furthermore, severe constipation can also lead to nutritional deficiencies and malnutrition if not properly addressed. When stool stays in the intestines for too long, nutrients from food aren't properly absorbed, leading to deficiencies in essential vitamins and minerals.

For people without diabetes, constipation can cause an imbalance in the gut microbiome. This problem can eventually cause insulin resistance, which makes it harder for the body to regulate blood sugar levels. This can lead to prediabetes or type 2 diabetes if left untreated.

How to Improve Constipation

someone with stomach pain

While constipation can be hard to deal with, there are steps you can take to improve or completely resolve it.

Before we get into these tips, it's important to note that if your constipation is a result of an underlying medication condition, you'll want to work with your doctor and nutritionist to create a plan of action for your specific health needs.

Common Underlying Causes of Constipation

Medical conditions that are commonly associated with chronic constipation (or that can be causes of constipation) include:

  • Diabetes (as we discussed, constipation can be a complication of diabetes, not a cause)
  • Medical history of irritable bowel syndrome or IBS-C
  • Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (also known as SIBO)
  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome (also known as PCOS)
  • Family history of Hypothyroidism
  • Obesity
  • Medical history of pelvic fracture and pelvic surgery
  • Currently taking iron supplements

Hidden Common Symptoms of Constipation

Aside from the slow passage of stool, you may experience bloating, abdominal pain or discomfort, and dry stool. You might also feel like you have incomplete bowel movements or a constant urge to go to the bathroom. Other hidden symptoms include:

  • Weight loss
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Low energy levels or fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating or brain fog

Tips to Improve Constipation

If you don't have an underlying condition and have noticed yourself feeling constipated regularly, here are some tips you can incorporate to promote healthy stool.

Focus on the Basics

a glass of lemon water

If you're experiencing discomfort and are unable to pass stool, there are a few basic tips you can try implementing daily to encourage a higher frequency of bowel movements.

Drinking plenty of water, reducing stress, and eating a whole food diet are a few great ways to promote healthy bowel movements.

You can also try doing deep breathing exercises and even meditating to help moderate your stress and even regulate your blood sugar levels.

Eat a Diet Rich in Fiber

As previously mentioned, it's important to include lots of fiber in your diet to promote healthy digestion. Fiber can be found in a variety of foods, including oats, potatoes, vegetables, legumes, fruits, and nuts.

If you're working to increase your fiber intake, do so slowly, as quickly increasing the amount of fiber you consume can cause abdominal discomfort and bloating. Eating fiber foods, such as bran cereals, wheat bran, and whole-grain bread, can also help promote regular bowel movements.

There's also the option of using insoluble fiber supplements, such as psyllium powder, which can be added to smoothies or sprinkled on top of oatmeal in the morning. Remember that while fiber supplements can be a convenient way to boost your intake, eating whole-food sources of fiber is the best way to ensure you eat plenty of other nutrients.

Be Cautious of Laxatives

a woman taking a laxative

While they may work for the short term, stimulant laxatives, mineral oil, and stool softeners aren't practical long-term solutions for getting to the actual root of a gastrointestinal issue like constipation.

If you have any questions or concerns about how laxatives should be used, consult with a healthcare professional to see what may be the right treatment option for you.

Stay Active

Physical activity stimulates the colon (and the digestive system overall) and encourages healthy bowel habits. Plus, getting lots of exercise has countless other benefits that promote things like cardiovascular health, weight management, steady blood sugar levels, and healthier joints.

If you find yourself regularly constipated, try incorporating extra steps into your daily routine by taking a walk around the block, going for a short jog, dropping into the gym, or trying some yoga or pilates moves that engage the pelvic floor muscles.

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Engage with Your Blood Glucose Levels with Nutrisense

No one wants to live with constipation, and no one wants to talk about it. But if you're struggling with constipation, know that you aren't alone.

While fiber supplements and exercise help alleviate the issue, tracking your blood glucose levels with a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) offers an in-depth insight into potential underlying causes of constipation.

At Nutrisense, you'll get access to a community that embraces and addresses these issues with the support of a team of expert nutritionists and dietitians. So you can find ways to help improve your digestive health as well as your overall well-being.

Don't let constipation hold you back from living a happy, healthy life. Jumpstart your journey with Nutrisense.

Engage with Your Blood Glucose Levels with Nutrisense

Your blood sugar levels can significantly impact how your body feels and functions. That’s why stable blood glucose levels can be an important factor in supporting overall wellbeing.

With Nutrisense, you’ll be able to track your blood glucose levels over time using a CGM, so you can make lifestyle choices that support healthy living.

When you join the Nutrisense CGM program, our team of credentialed dietitians and nutritionists are available for additional support and guidance to help you reach your goals.

Ready to take the first step? Start with our quiz to see how Nutrisense can support your health.

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Natalie Carroll, MS, RDN, CDN, CLC

Reviewed by: Natalie Carroll, MS, RDN, CDN, CLC

Natalie received her degree in Dietetics from Mansfield University and a Master’s in Clinical Nutrition from the University at Buffalo. Her career has included nutrition education and program development in her local community, adjunct faculty at several collegiate institutions, and clinical nutrition in both inpatient and outpatient settings.