Natural Ways to Fight Constipation

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bathroomWhile it may not be the most comfortable subject to talk about, it is one that almost everyone is familiar with. It is estimated that one quarter of Americans have been affected by constipation. In fact, constipation is the most common digestive complaint in the United States, outnumbering all other chronic digestive conditions.

So what constitutes constipation? Well, constipation can mean different things to different people. Many people confuse constipation with regularity and think if they have a bowel movement two or three times a week, they’re fine. All too often doctors and other health professionals shrug off this condition as long as there is regularity. However, the best definition of constipation would be “a lack of regular and easy defecation on a daily basis.” Constipation is directly associated with the hardness of the stool and the frequency. At least one stool movement daily, or more, is desirable for the elimination of waste and toxins from the body. Normally it takes about 12 to 18 hours for food to move through the digestive system, therefore a person should have a bowel movement 12 to 18 hours after any meal. If you consume two major meals a day you should expect two bowel movements.

So if you aren’t having 2 bowel movements day, here may be some reasons why.

Lack of exercise.The colon responds to activity. Good muscle tone in general is important for regular bowel movements. The abdominal wall muscles and the diaphragm all play a crucial role in the process of defecation. If these muscles are weak, they’re not going to be able to do the job as well. But exercise is not a cure-all. Increasing exercise to improve constipation may be more effective in older people, who tend to be more sedentary, than in younger people.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Some people who suffer from IBS have sluggish bowel movements, straining during bowel movements, and abdominal discomfort. Constipation may be the predominant symptom, or it may alternate with diarrhea. Cramping, gas and bloating are also common.

Abuse of laxatives. Laxatives are sometimes used inappropriately, for example, by people suffering from anorexia nervosa or bulimia. But for people with long-term constipation, the extended use of laxatives may be a reasonable solution. In the past, long-term use of some laxatives was thought to damage nerve cells in the colon and interfere with the colon’s innate ability to contract. However, newer formulations of laxatives have made this outcome rare.

Changes in life or routine. Traveling can give some people problems because it disrupts normal diet and daily routines. Aging often affects regularity by reducing intestinal activity and muscle tone. Pregnancy may cause women to become constipated because of hormonal changes or because the enlarged uterus pushes on the intestine.

Ignoring the urge. If you have to go, go. If you hold in a bowel movement, for whatever reason, you may be inviting a bout of constipation. People who repeatedly ignore the urge to move their bowels may eventually stop feeling the urge.

Diet. A diet too low in fiber and fluids and too high in fats can contribute to constipation. Fiber absorbs water and causes stools to be larger, softer and easier to pass. Increasing fiber intake helps cure constipation in many people, but those with more severe constipation sometimes find that increasing fiber makes their constipation worse and leads to gassiness and discomfort. In these cases, introducing fiber slowly over a period of time can help.

Other causes. Diseases that can cause constipation include neurological disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord injury, stroke or multiple sclerosis; metabolic and endocrine disorders, such as hypothyroidism, diabetes or chronic kidney disease; bowel cancer; and diverticulitis. A number of systemic conditions, like scleroderma, can also cause constipation. In addition, intestinal obstructions caused by scar tissue (adhesions) from past surgery or strictures of the colon or rectum, can compress, squeeze, or narrow the intestine and rectum, causing constipation.

What can you do naturally for constipation?

Eat more fiber: The national fiber recommendations are 30 to 38 grams a day for men and 25 grams a day for women between 18 and 50 years old, and 21 grams a day if a woman is 51 and older. Most Americans do not get half of the recommendation. Whole foods, consisting of unrefined grain products, fruit, and vegetables, are all good sources. Flax seeds, oat and wheat bran, as well as psyllium husks are fiber products that absorb many times their own weight in water and add bulk to the stool. Bulk helps the peristaltic action and water helps lubricate the stool and is therefore very important. If you do not get enough fiber in your diet, increase your daily intake over a few weeks to avoid gassiness and bloating.

Drink more water: Adults should drink six to eight glasses of water per day. Adequate fluid intake is another essential for maintaining a healthy bowel pattern. Over-consumption of caffeine and alcohol can lead to dehydration, creating or adding to the problem.

Exercise: Regular exercise stimulates peristalsis and facilitates lymphatic flow, essential to good digestion.

Supplements: If you have tried diet and exercise and constipation is still an issue, talk to your natural health practitioner to determine if natural laxatives or a gentle cleanse may be appropriate for you. Taking a  good quality probiotic can help with constipation. Lubricating the colon is essential for smooth and gentle elimination. Good-quality natural  essential fatty acids like flaxseed oil and fish oils ease movement through the bowel.  A fiber supplement that contains soluble and insoluble fiber, can help gently cleanse the colon and keep things moving.

Photo from here, with thanks.

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January 2023