Bowel movements are one of those topics that many keep on their ‘taboo’ subject list. However, if you have ever been to a naturopath, you’ll know that this is a vital topic in the naturopaths’ quest for getting to the underlying cause of health issues.
So what is constipation?
In a nutshell – constipation is infrequent, difficult passage of stools (less than three times a week.) There may be a sudden and significant decrease in frequency of bowel movements, or its like that all the time. Stools are harder than normal, and may be pebbly or huge. There is a sensation of incomplete bowel emptying, and the person usually feels quite bloated.
What are the causes of constipation?
There are a number of possible causes –
a decrease in frequency of exercise or activity (often occurring with illness and travel)
dietary changes (such as stopping eating a particular food, or being out of routine)
use of many medications (ie codeine)
low fibre diet / not drinking enough water
‘holding on’ when busy or not at home
Strictures or hemorrhoids
Is constipation bad for me?
Constipation isn’t beneficial for the body long term. As well as discomfort in passing a bowel motion it can contribute to the reduction in the recognition of the signal for the need for a bowel motion. The waste products that are ready to leave the body may become reabsorbed. They can become impacted over time. There are some complications with long term constipation such as intestinal obstruction or the development of weak spots in the colon with the risk of diverticula forming.
How do I help with constipation?
Take time to eat in a relaxed atmosphere, breathing slowly and chewing food thoroughly.
Eat smaller, more frequent meals and avoid overeating at one sitting.
Drink at least 6-8 glasses of water daily!!
Eliminate refined foods, sugars, caffeine, alcohol, and dairy products.
Increase intake of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and water.
Stewed or soaked prunes, 1 to 3 a day, have a slightly laxative effect.
Warm lemon water taken before meals stimulates digestion.
Bitter foods such as radicchio, endive, barley and dandelion stimulate digestive function.
Always listen to your body when you feel the urge to go.
Gentle massaging of the abdomen in a clockwise direction can help move colon contents along the gut.
Castor oil packs to the abdomen may be useful in resolving constipation. Used externally, castor oil is a· powerful anti-inflammatory. Apply oil directly to skin, and cover with a clean, soft cloth (e.g., flannel) and plastic wrap. Place a heat source (hot water bottle or heating pad) over the pack and let sit for 30 to 60 minutes. For best results, use three consecutive days in one week. Contrast hydrotherapy may help to tone and strengthen bowel function.
With children – make it a daily routine to sit on the toilet at the same time for a particular length of time.
Psyllium husks taken on a daily basis with your cereal or smoothie help with bulking out the stool.
Slippery elm (powder or capsules) reduce inflammation and help with both diarrhoea and constipation.
Weleda Digestodoron – this helps regulate the bowel motions. The 3x is suitable for babies.
Dandelion root tea/coffee (or Senna tea/ Alpine tea) – drinking this helps to stimulate digestive secretions and subsequent bowel movements.
Probiotics can help with balancing out the gut flora
Liver/ digestive/ bitter herbal tonics – I love making these up for my clients, as I can put the specific herbs in for their symptoms.
There are many other remedies that you can try.
Colonics are another option, as they will clear everything out! And a good practitioner will give you advice on what is causing the constipation.
The beetroot test! Have a good serve of beetroot (grated, roasted, picked, any way!) and not how many days it takes for your bowel movement to become purple...this will give you an idea how long something is in your system!
Do consult your health professional if you have had long term constipation, or blood in your stool.