Constipation is an annoying and often painful condition that millions of Americans suffer from. If you have less than 3 stools per week you are constipated. If you have less than one stool a week, you are severely constipated.
The cause of constipation can be traced back to any number of things including poor diet, medication, poor bowel habits, dehydration, hormonal disorders and laxative abuse. For many people, the discomfort of constipation becomes so great that they reach for over-the-counter medications for relief. Unfortunately, many of these medications only mask the symptoms and can make the problem worse.
Check Your Diet First
Before doing anything else, it is imperative to have a look at your diet. People who consume remarkably little fat in their diet tend to have a problem using the bathroom more frequently than those who get enough fat. Healthy fats such as that found in olive oil, nuts, coconut oil, avocados, olives, fatty fresh-caught fish and flaxseed oil are great additions to your diet.
These fats not only help keep the digestive system lubricated, but they also fight off obesity, improve cognitive function and increase energy – not to mention that they are great for brain function as well. Aim for a little fat with each meal and stay clear of the fats in processed foods – they will only exacerbate problems in the digestive system.
The benefit of fiber in the diet should never be underplayed. Both insoluble and soluble fiber are necessary for healthy elimination. Insoluble fiber passes through the body virtually unchanged. It provides bulk for stools and makes them easier to pass by keeping the texture smooth.
Foods that have a high amount of insoluble fiber include fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Soluble fiber is found in food such as oatmeal, legumes, fruits and green vegetables. This fiber dissolves in water and makes a gel-type substance in the intestines. Soluble fiber slows digestion and allows the body to absorb as many nutrients as possible from food.
Once you get your diet under control, there are a number of safe alternative therapies you can use to keep your digestive system functioning at top speed and your bowel movements regular.
Yacón: Yacón is a perennial plant that grows in the Andes of Perú. It produces sweet and crisp tubers that taste like a cross between an apple and a watermelon. Known as the “apple from the earth,” or the Peruvian ground apple, this root has been found to be helpful with digestive disturbances including constipation.
Researchers at the University Hospital Bassel in Bassel, Switzerland took at look at just how powerful this sweet tuber really is in fighting constipation. Their research, which consisted of administering yacón syrup (20 g daily) to male and female volunteers demonstrated that stool frequency increased from 1.1 to 1.3 times per day with softer stools.
Some mild cramping was noted but the overall impact of the syrup compared to the placebo group was notable. Researchers indicate that because the root is also low in calories that it may make a suitable natural laxative for obese or diabetic individuals.
- Where to get it: You can purchase syrup online from a number of health outlets or in health food stores.
Calendula: Calendula (Calendula officinalis) is frequently confused with the common marigold plant seen in gardens, however, they are two different plants. This plant has been used medicinally since the 12th century and contains a strong anti-inflammatory component when used topically can heal minor wounds and scrapes due to its antiviral and antibacterial qualities.
This plant is a strong antioxidant and has spasmogenic and spasmolytic constituents which help with abdominal cramps and constipation. For relief of constipation you can steep a teaspoon of dried leaves in hot water for a few minutes. This tea will ease cramping and encourage healthy digestion.
- Where to get it: You can grow and dry your own calendula or you can purchase it as a tincture, tea or dried from most health food stores.
Parsley: This fragrant and attractive herb is best known for its ability to cleanse your breath and as a plate embellishment. However, both parsley juice and fresh parsley have been found to be an effective remedy for constipation. For many years, the laxative effect that parsley had was known only as folk medicine, but researchers at the American University in Beirut confirmed that parsley does indeed have laxative qualities.
- Where to get it: Grow parsley in a window herb garden or purchase at most grocers or whole foods stores.
Lemon Water: Although there is nothing fancy about infusing half of an organic lemon in a cup of warm water, it can do great things for a sluggish digestive system. Lemon increases alkalinity (yes, lemon actually makes your body less acid) and helps rid the body of toxins while promoting healthy digestion.
Lemon water also boosts the immune system, hydrates the lymph system and acts as a natural diuretic. Get into the habit of having a cup or two of warm lemon water each morning and your body will thank you.
- Where to get it: From the grocery store – use organic lemons and filtered water for best results.
Ziziphus jujuba: This fast growing deciduous tree is also called red date or Indian date and bears fruit that is widely used in Chinese medicine for insomnia and anxiety and also has strong antioxidant and antimicrobial properties. Clinical trials have found that the fruit extract is also useful in treating chronic constipation.
Researchers gave constipated study participants ziziphus jujuba extract for 12 weeks and found that symptom severity ratings decreased and quality of life increased when compared to the control group.
- Where to get it: Powdered extract is available from many online dealers or from health food stores.
Coconut Oil: Known endearingly as the “go to oil,” for any number of health conditions, organic virgin coconut oil can also help ease a bout of constipation. Coconut oil, which is great for everything from hair conditioner to toothpaste, can be mixed with coffee, used on salads or even consumed straight from the jar.
This tropical treasure will not only speed up metabolism, allowing for a quicker breakdown of food, but also cleanses the colon. It balances stomach pH and improves the tone of the intestinal muscles which promotes regular bowel movements. If you are new to coconut oil, start with one teaspoon a day and build up to two or three over a few weeks.
- Where to get it: Coconut oil is available online, in health food stores and even some high-end grocers. Be sure to get organic virgin coconut oil for best results.
It is important to discuss these options with your healthcare practitioner before starting a new regiment.
-The Alternative Daily