“Letting Go” of Constipation
Not too many people are comfortable talking about their bowel habits. I talk to all my patients about their regularity, and it’s surprising how many people are constipated; some don’t even realize it. Everyone knows that everyone poops, so ditch the embarrassment around it, and make sure your bowels are working well. Your health really depends on it!
Normal bowel frequency is minimum once per day. Anything less than daily is not enough, and impairs your body’s detoxification functions. A couple to three times a day is good too.
Normal stools should be some shade of brown – not pale beige, not black, and certainly not red. They should be formed, solid, but not difficult to pass. Stools that are small and pebbly, disintegrate, are very soft, liquid, or require a lot of straining are all signs of unhealthy digestive function.
Please keep in mind that we’re talking about adults here, not infants.
The simplest causes of constipation are usually insufficient water or insufficient fiber intake. Correct those, and often bowel regularity follows.
Other causes are not so simple. Those include irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), specific food sensitivities, high stress levels, hypothyroidism, sedentary lifestyle, travel, certain medications, pregnancy, and more.
Try starting with the simplest solutions: water and fiber. Some patients simply don’t eat enough to have a regular bowel movement; a fiber-rich breakfast maybe he only thing that’s missing. An average adult ought to get between 30 and 50 grams of fiber per day. Check out this link: http://huhs.harvard.edu/assets/File/OurServices/Service_Nutrition_Fiber.pdf
Use the chart to get a clue of how much fiber you typically get, and what you can eat to boost the numbers.
Try for 1.5-2L of water per day. To jazz up the water, toss some blueberries, raspberries, mint, lime and/or lemon in your water. A big glass of warm lemon water first thing in the morning can sometimes be enough to stimulate your bowels.
Probiotics are those good bacteria that inhabit our digestive tracts, and do oh-so-much for us. One of their services is promoting good digestion and bowel transit. If the probiotic population gets disturbed, it can lead to constipation or diarrhea. Probiotics are generally safe to take, but don’t take them without a doctor’s ok if you suffer from Crohn’s or colitis.
Magnesium citrate is a form of magnesium that is not absorbed in our intestines so well, which means that in a high enough dose, it can be a laxative. It won’t treat the cause of chronic, long-term constipation, but we can use that to our advantage if we suffer from a one-off, like while travelling.
Marshmallow root or Slippery Elm are herbs that are very gentle and safe to use, and they will act like lubricants in the bowel to soothe and ease transit.
Castor oil tummy rubs can also be effective, and are safe for any age. Start in the lower right side of the abdomen, rub upwards, across, and down the other side to the lower left, and back over to the lower right. The castor and the massage gently nudge the bowel to move along.
Stimulant laxative herbs like Senna, Cascara, or Aloe should only be used for acute constipation on the advise of a practitioner, and never long term.
If your body isn’t moving, why would your bowel? Getting some regular exercise may be all you need to kick start regular elimination.
A caution about laxatives
It may be tempting to use an over-the-counter laxative to relieve constipation (that includes the herbal ones like Senna), but there are cautions to be aware of. Laxatives must never be used for more than a week as that can lead to dependence. They should also not be used during pregnancy as they can be too stimulating. Laxative abuse leads to a completely still bowel, and a vicious cycle of more constipation and more dependence on the laxative.
If you think that your constipation is caused by something more complicated, or you aren’t finding any cause or relief, it’s a good idea to see a licensed ND and get to the root of the problem.