In a healthy body, waste travels through the digestive tract in a predicable, regular cycle, usually taking between six and twenty-four hours to pass. Sometimes, however, waste matter passes through the large intestine too slowly, and the result is called constipation. When the bowels are constipated, it may be difficult or impossible to pass stools; in fact, the urge to pass may be absent altogether. Sometimes constipation has no signs other than the lack of bowel movement, but, usually, it is accompanied by a host of uncomfortable symptoms, ranging from a general feeling of malaise to a distended abdomen and painfully hard stools.
A healthy person generally has one to three complete bowel movements daily. Although constipation is the number-one gastrointestinal disorder in the United States, its unwelcome effects are actually rather easy to avoid. Our Western diet-high in fat and low in fiber and fluids-is the cause of most constipation. When fiber and fluids are lacking, the contracting motions of the large intestine are not stimulated in a regular fashion, and waste is therefore not propelled through the tract. Treatment, then, relies largely on dietary changes. Other factors, such as stress, inactivity, and certain medications, can cause or contribute to constipation as well. Dietary changes are still encouraged in these cases, along with the removal, when possible, of the offending factor. No matter how much or how little discomfort you have, it is always important to address the causes of constipation. When waste matter remains in the colon for a long period of time, recent studies show that bacteria and other harmful matter can be reabsorbed back into the bloodstream.
Stress or suppressed emotions are often overlooked factors with constipation. There is a direct connection between perceived stress levels and gut motility. In addition, people with hectic lifestyles often do not take the time for regular bowel movements. And sometimes children hold back on stool movements for fear of pain or inconvenience.
A poorly functioning digestive system can also be a major contributor to constipation. This is particularly true with deficient bile flow from the liver and the gallbladder. Herbal therapies in this chapter work to improve bile production and flow.
The use of over-the-counter laxatives is a significant problem for many people with constipation. Although these medications relieve constipation, many of them make the bowels lazier over time.
Occasionally, constipation signals a more serious condition. If you have bloody stools, intense abdominal pain, or a cut near your rectum, see your doctor. And since chronic constipation can cause other illnesses, make an appointment if you have constipation that recurs or a single episode that lasts longer than a week.
** All of these prescriptions below have been proven effective; the level of effectiveness depends on the individual. Please consult your doctor when taking any and all supplements.
Prescription for Natural Cures by: James F. Balch, M.D. & Mark Stengler, N.D.
Super Prescription #1 Flax Seed Oil - LifeSource Products Take as directed on the container. Flaxseed oil lubricates the colon for an easier passage.
Super Prescription # 2 Probiotics / Dophilus - LifeSource Product Take a product containing at least 4 billion active organisms daily. Friendly bacteria (Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidus) help with digestion and elimination.
Super Prescription #3 Cascara sagrada
Take 250 mg or 2.5 ml of tincture two to three times daily for the relief of acute constipation. This herb should not be used as a long-term solution for constipation.
Super Prescription #4 Dandelion root (Taraxacum officinale)
Take 250 to 500 mg or 2 ml with each meal. Dandelion stimulates bile flow and improves constipation.
Super Prescription #5 Psyllium Husk - LifeSource Product Take 1 teaspoon or 5 grams of psyllium husks twice daily or as directed on the container. Take it with 10 ounces of water. Psyllium acts as a bulk-forming laxative.
Super Prescription # 6 Magnesium - LifeSource Product Take 250 mg two to four times daily for the relief of acute constipation. Magnesium improves gut motility and retains water in the colon. Do not use on a long term basis, as it can lead to malabsorption and electrolyte imbalance.
See All of our Products for Constipation
- Difficulty passing stools
- Decreased frequency passing stools
- Bloated, tender abdomen
- Loss of appetite
- Poor diet (low fiber, low water intake)
- Intestinal parasites
- Lack of beneficial intestinal flora
- A laxative or enema abuse
- Magnesium deficiency
- Under active thyroid
- Liver problems
If you're unaccustomed to a high-fiber diet, move into these recommendations slowly. A sudden increase in dietary fiber can be quite a shock to the system and can even cause further digestive problems.
The basic, wholesome diet recommended is an excellent source of fiber. Eat lots of whole grains, especially brown rice; raw or lightly cooked fruits and vegetables; and beans, nuts, and seeds. Chew thoroughly, and don't eat too much at one sitting, even of healthful foods.
People with constipation often have a magnesium deficiency. Green leafy vegetables are high in this mineral, as well as in fiber, so now you have another reason to eat kale, broccoli, spinach, brussels sprouts, and the like.
Prunes and figs are time-honored sources of dietary fiber. You may want to plan on making one of these items a regular part of your breakfast.
Flaxseeds are a lesser-known but highly concentrated source of fiber. Don't cook with flaxseeds or subject them to heat; instead, sprinkle them on cereals or salads. Adults should take 1 to 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseeds daily, along with 10 ounces of water. Children can take 1 to 2 teaspoons.
Hot cereals or warm liquids at breakfast can stimulate contractions of the lower intestine. Enjoy some hot oatmeal or herbal tea, or do as our grandmothers did and add lemon juice to a glass of warm water.
Consume fermented products on a regular basis to keep your intestinal flora in balance. Kefir and sauerkraut are good choices, as is live unsweetened yogurt once the acute constipation is relieved.
Drink plenty of water to keep stools soft. A glass of clean water every two waking hours is usually an adequate amount.
Foods to Avoid
Do not eat foods that are fried or otherwise high in saturated fat. Fat slows travel time through the intestines.
Avoid mucus-forming foods, which also slow the transit time of waste matter. Foods that encourage mucus production include all dairy products, fried and processed foods, refined flours, and chocolate.
Caffeine and alcohol are hard on the digestive system and are dehydrating as well. During an episode of constipation, avoid them entirely. When you're regular again, consume them only in small quantities.
In severe or recurring cases of constipation, you may wish to undertake a three-day vegetable juice fast. Juices that are especially supportive of a cleanse for constipation include aloe, cabbage, apple, and green drinks. You still need fiber during a constipation cleanse, so add psyllium husks or flaxseeds to your juices.
- Exercise helps to stimulate intestinal contractions. You don't need to run a marathon: mild to moderate aerobic exercise should be enough. A brisk walk, taken thirty minutes every morning, is a goal most of us can easily achieve. Crunches done properly are also helpful to strengthen the abdominal muscles.
- Beware of over-the-counter laxatives. They are extremely harsh and can create an unhealthful dependency.
- Never repress the urge to defecate. When you hold back, you are actually training your bowels to misbehave. The result is often chronic-even lifelong-constipation.
- If is possible to retrain your bowels, if necessary. Sit on the toilet at the same time every day, even if you don't have an urge. Early morning or directly after exercise are usually good times. Do not strain-you'll only create hemorrhoids or varicose veins. Instead, breathe deeply, using your abdominal muscles, and try to relax.