In a healthy body, waste travels through the digestive tract in a predictable, 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 con- stipation. 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 dis- tended 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.
Many people think of constipation as an uncomfortable but essentially harmless condition. In reality, recurring
long-term bouts can lead to other problems, some merely distressing and others very serious. Constipation has been linked to the following disorders:
Mood disorders, including depression
Irritable bowel syndrome
Fatigue Hemorrhoids Hernias Insomnia
movements for fear of pain or inconven- ience.
A poorly functioning digestive system can also be a major contributor to constipa- tion. 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.
• 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
• Laxative or enema abuse
• Magnesium deﬁciency
• Underactive thyroid
• Liver problems
If you’re unaccustomed to a high-f iber diet, move into these recommendations slowly. A sudden increase of dietary ﬁber can be quite a shock to the system and can even cause further digestive problems.
The basic, wholesome diet recommended at the beginning of this book is an excel- lent 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 vegeta- bles 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 bal- ance. 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 wak- ing hours is usually an adequate amount.
Food 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.
New England Journal of Medi- cine study of children with chronic constipa- tion reported that cow’s milk was the cause of it for two- thirds of the children involved in the study.
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. See page 548 for details on the 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.
The following tests help assess possible metabolic reasons for constipation: Stool analysis for good bacteria levels, parasites, and infection
Thyroid hormones—blood, saliva, or urine
Super Seven Prescriptions—Constipation
Super Prescription #1 Flaxseed oil
Take 1 to 2 tablespoons daily for adults and 1 to 2 teaspoons for children. Flaxseed oil lubricates the colon for an easier passage.
Super Prescription #2 Probiotic
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
Take 1 teaspoon or 5 grams of psyllium husks twice daily or as directed on the con- tainer. Take it with 10 ounces of water. Psyllium acts as a bulk-forming laxative.
Super Prescription #6 Homeopathic Nux Vomica (Strychnos nux vomica)
Take a 30C potency twice daily for relief of acute constipation. See the homeopathic description further on of Nux Vomica, as well as of other indicated remedies.
Super Prescription #7 Magnesium
Take 250 mg two to four times daily for the relief of acute constipation. Magne- sium 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.
Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) improves liver function and bile ﬂow. Take 200 to
250 mg of a product standardized to 80 percent silymarin with each meal.
Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) is an herb that improves bowel contrac- tions. Take 250 mg or 2 ml twice daily with meals.
Aloe vera juice improves bowel movements. Take a quarter cup twice daily or as directed on container.
Gentian root (Gentiana lutea) improves overall digestive function. Take 300 mg or 10 to 20 drops ﬁve to ﬁfteen minutes before meals.
Enzymes improve digestive function. Take 1 to 2 capsules with each meal.
Pick the remedy that best matches your symptoms in this section. Take a 6x, 12x, 6C, or 30C potency twice daily for two weeks to see if there are any positive results. After you notice improvement, stop taking the remedy, unless symptoms return. Consul- tation with a homeopathic practitioner is advised.
Alumina is for someone who goes many days without a stool. Stools are hard and dry. The person must strain to pass even a soft stool, and the person may have mem- ory problems.
Bryonia (Bryonia alba) is helpful when there is no desire to pass stool. The stool is dry and hard. The person has a great thirst, is irritable, and may have a headache.
Calcarea Carbonica is for the chronically constipated person who feels chilly, with clammy hands and feet. The person feels overwhelmed.
Lycopodium (Lycopodium clavatum) is helpful when a person has constipation and problems with gas and bloating. There is a craving for sweets, and symptoms are worse in the late afternoon. The digestive system feels better with warm drinks.
Natrum Muriaticum is for people with constipation who have a strong craving for salt and water. The person may suffer from depression and is often sensitive to the sun or the light.
Nux Vomica (Strychnos nux vomica) is helpful when one has an urgent feeling but can’t pass stools or stools are never completed. The person feels irritable and over- stressed. Nux Vomica works well for people who work too hard, exercise too little, and eat and drink too much. It also helps those who have become addicted to laxatives.
Sepia is for constipation accompanied by hormonal issues, such as PMS and menopause. The person feels irritable and chilly and has stools that are hard to pass. A heavy sensation in the rectum and the lower abdomen may be present.
Silica (Silicea) helps when a person strains for a long time to have a bowel move- ment. Stool may come a little way out and then recede back in. The person is gener- ally chilly and thin.
Sulphur is helpful if you have constipation alternating with diarrhea. The stool is often dry and hard, and the rectum is inﬂamed and burning. The person has a strong thirst for ice-cold drinks.
Use these points twice a day until you get relief. For chronic, recurring cases, you may have to work these points for several weeks before the fundamental problem is addressed. For more information about acupressure points and administering treat- ment, see pages 668–675.
• In acupressure, the most effective point for constipation and abdominal cramps is Conception Vessel 6.
• Another point that stimulates intestinal contractions is Large Intestine 4.
• Large Intestine 11 will strengthen the colon.
• Stomach 36 is a good general toner that strengthens the digestive system.
A self-massage of the abdomen feels quite relieving if you’re constipated. Better yet, it can induce intestinal contractions. Lie down with your knees bent, and massage your abdomen with the ﬂat of your hand, using pressure that’s ﬁrm but gentle. Add the stim- ulating oils listed under Aromatherapy in this section for a more potent effect.
If you prefer, you can also get a professional massage of your lower back and pelvis.
Work the areas corresponding to the colon, the liver, the gallbladder, and the adre- nal glands.
If stress is a cause or a result of constipation, also work the area that corresponds to the solar plexus.
In cases of chronic constipation, massage the entire foot and hand to address the systemic damage.
Constitutional hydrotherapy is excellent to help with long-term and acute problems with constipation.
Black pepper and marjoram stimulate and warm the digestive system. Add them to a carrier oil, and use it in an abdominal massage or a bath.
If you need to relieve stress, you can experiment with many different oils and rotate your favorites so that you don’t build up a tolerance to them. See page 658 for details on oils; you may want to start off with bergamot, jasmine, lavender, rose, sandalwood, or ylang ylang. Use them in any preparation you like.
General Stress-Management Therapies
Yoga and Pilates can be a wise choice for people suffering from constipation.
Laugh often. Laughter produces endorphins, the feel-good hormones, and takes you away from your worries, even if just for a few moments. It also stimulates and strengthens your digestive organs.
Bach Flower Remedies
Select the appropriate remedy, and place 10 drops of the liquid under your tongue. Hold the drops in place for thirty seconds and swallow. Use as often as needed.
If you feel tense but try to hide it, and if you often give in to others in hopes of avoiding conﬂict, use Agrimony.
Mimulus is the remedy for people whose fear, shyness, and sensitivity leave them too upset to act.
If you are stubborn, with a strong sense of duty that often leads you to ignore your own needs, take Oak.
• 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 train- ing your bowels to misbehave. The result is often chronic—even lifelong— constipation.
• It 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.