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Symptoms can be simply annoying, downright life-changing, or anything in between.  But symptoms aren’t there for no reason. As with most things in life, there is a reason and a purpose for symptoms.


We typically ignore the annoying ones if they have been persistent for a while, or not altering our lifestyle – constipation, low grade headaches, and cold hands and feet are some examples – unless, of course they become severe. But even the little ones have meaning, even if they are easy to ignore.


Let’s take constipation. Most people don’t know what is normal in bowel movements. A perfectly running digestive system ends up generating a nice soft bowel movement about 30 minutes after each meal. That means, if you are eating 3 full meals a day, you should be having 3 bowel movements per day. About 50% of that waste consists of the previous days’ food waste, and the other 50% is dead cells and other waste metabolites.


We are told that you are not considered constipated unless you have skipped a day or two without a bowel movement. You are then considered medically constipated. However, it’s a problem even at one/day - just not as critical. What is the body telling us?


Most people recognize that insufficient water intake is causative. Hard and dry stools are likely a result of dehydration. But it may not be just that. One common reason, rarely acknowledged, is a lack of fat in the diet. Fat causes the gallbladder to release copious amounts of bile to emulsify the fat. This dictates color and texture. If you don’t have a gallbladder because it was removed, the dysregulation of bile could cause either constipation or horrible diarrhea - fortunately, there are things that we can do to help, even then.


Digestive insufficiency starting at the stomach level, or even higher in the mouth can contribute. Digestive enzymes that are inhibited either because of dry mouth, anti-acid medication, poor chewing habits, stress or other reasons can affect digestion.


Malnutrition or inadequate quantities of food can also cause constipation. This can be either because the person is eating tiny amounts with the fear of gaining weight, or trying to lose weight, or because of eating nutrient-poor processed foods. Inadequate fiber content, can cause stools to be pasty and sticky. Foods such as dairy products, particularly cheese, and also bananas, can be constipating.


Lack of muscle tone, either because of chronic deficiencies or muscular or neurological disorders such as Multiple Sclerosis or Parkinson’s, Muscular Dystrophy, spinal injuries or such can also cause constipation.


This is just the tip of the iceberg of a “simple” symptom that can have many causes. Learn more next week, in Part II of What Your Symptoms are Telling You.


© 2018 Holly A. Carling, O.M.D., L.Ac., Ph.D.




What Your Symptoms Are Telling You - Part I

Doctor of Oriental Medicine

Licensed Acupuncturist

Doctor of Naturopathy

Clinical Nutritionist

Master Herbologist



Dr. Holly A. Carling

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Dr. Holly Carling is a Doctor of Oriental Medicine, Licensed Acupuncturist, Doctor of Naturopathy, Clinical Nutritionist and Master Herbologist with nearly four decades of experience.  Dr. Carling is a “Health Detective,” she looks beyond your symptom picture and investigates WHY you are experiencing your symptoms in the first place. Dr. Carling considers herself a “professional student” – she has attended more than 600 post-secondary education courses related to health and healing. Dr. Carling gives lectures here in the U.S. and internationally and has been noted as the “Doctor’s Doctor”. When other healthcare practitioners hit a roadblock when treating their patients nutritionally, Dr. Carling is who they call. Dr. Carling is currently accepting new patients and offers natural health care services and whole food nutritional supplements in her Coeur d’ Alene clinic.  Visit Dr. Carling’s website at to learn more about Dr. Carling, join our e-mail list and read other informative articles.  Dr. Carling can be reached at 208-765-1994 or and would be happy to answer any questions regarding this topic.