By Heidi du Preez and Justine Priday
If your intestinal motility stops, you die. Moreover, constipation is a devious destroyer of good health. It slowly, but surely, poisons every part of your body. Chronic constipation affects more than 20% of the population in developed countries and has a large negative impact on quality of life and causes signiﬁcant psychological distress.
What is constipation?
The expression constipation is derived from the Latin word ‘constipatus’, which means “to press or crowd together, to pack, to cram.”
Consequently, being constipated means that the packed accumulation of feces in the bowel makes its evacuation difficult. Constipation is thus the difficulty in passing of, or infrequent bowel movements.
Ideally, when optimally healthy, there should be a bowel movement every 7 to 12 hours after consuming a meal, therefore up to 3 movements a day! However, 1 movement a day is considered okay. Anything less than this is considered constipation. The conventional view is that a stool every 3rd day is ‘normal’, but what is normal is not necessary healthy!
Regularity is so important for your health because without it, toxins accumulate and are recirculated in your bloodstream. This auto-intoxication is the reason people suffering from constipation have coated tongues, foul breath, lack of energy and difficulty concentrating. Constipation can also increase your risk of hemorrhoids or fecal impaction, in which your stool must be removed manually.
Symptoms of being constipated include:
Irregular bowel movements (anything less than once a day), headaches or migraines, coated tongue, bad breath, tiredness, depression, lack of concentration, hemorrhoids, anal fissures, acne, bronchial disorders, bloating, flatulence and fluid retention, among many other health problems.
Causes of constipation:
One of the main causes of constipation is a poor diet - one that focuses on processed and refined foods and lacks fresh vegetables and wholegrains that are good sources of fibre. Fibre helps move bulk through your intestines and promotes bowel movements. Over-processed and refined foods fail to nourish the organs responsible for the evacuation of waste matter.
Dysbiosis is the imbalance between the beneficial flora and pathogenic bacteria, yeasts and parasites in the digestive tract. If the delicate balance between these organisms is disrupted, it will result in either constipation or diarrhea, or classical irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Dehydration is another common cause. One of the functions of the bowel is to reabsorb fluid, which converts digested food (chyme) to a formed stool. Should the body be dehydrated, it will absorb more fluid from the GI tract and colon, which can lead to immobility. Waste then builds up in the colon, causing it to stretch, while also adhering to the colon wall. Diverticulitis, colitis, spastic colon and IBS are all direct results of this. Bacteria, yeasts, parasites and other pathogenic micro-organisms flourish in the impacted feces on the colon wall, causing all sorts of digestive and health disorders.
Lifestyle factors that play a role in constipation include sedentary lifestyles, and high stress due to
over-work and anxiety. Time limits mean ignoring the call of nature, resulting in impaction and difficulty with bowel movements. Nature is a strict task master; she gives one warning, sometimes two. You obey, or else… constipation is your forte!
Other potential causes include: spinal problems, food allergies, low stomach acid (link to Betaine HCL), hypothyroidism, changes in life or routine such as pregnancy, old age, and travel. Specific diseases such as multiple sclerosis and lupus, hormonal imbalances, laxative abuse, a history of drugs (diuretics, antidepressants, antispasmodics, pain medication) and anemia. More seriously, constipation can be a warning of an obstruction caused by adhesions, scars or cancer.
The key to treating constipation effectively is to discover the root cause and to treat that accordingly. Below are a few simple dietary and lifestyle changes that will help; along with some supplement suggestions to use instead of regular laxatives. While these supplements are not suggested to
replace addressing the root cause, they are useful and important in getting the bowels moving, while making
other lifestyle and dietary changes.
- Increase fibre consumption, such as fruit and raw vegetables, wholegrains – avoid refined carbohydrates
- Cut back on sugar, fruit juices and avoid sweeteners
- Cut down on meat, wheat and dairy. If symptoms do not improve, cut all gluten and dairy strict out of the diet for at least 3 weeks. Then reintroduce slowly and note any adverse reactions to determine intolerance to either gluten or dairy. Eat more fruits, especially apples, kiwi, plums, figs and prunes – limit to two fruit per day. If diagnosed with a yeast infection, then best to eat no fruit, but make sure you get enough fibre from vegetables and wholegrains.
- Eat raw grated beetroot, cabbage and carrot frequently
- Drink hot water with lemon and fresh ginger in the morning upon waking
- Dissolve 1 teaspoon Himalayan salt, sea salt or desert salt in a cup of luke warm water and drink
- Therapeutic drink for constipation: 3 to 4 fresh or sun-dried figs, 1 ripe banana, 2 tsp raw honey and 1 cup water – blend together in blender until smooth; or
- Purée a small packet of senna leaves (available from pharmacies, 15 to 25g), stewed dried fruit and a small bottle of glycerin (100 ml) all together. Take a teaspoon of purée in the morning before breakfast.
- Vegetable juice: fresh raw spinach, carrot, beetroot plus other green vegetables and herbs, fresh ginger root – juice and drink 3 times per day 20 minutes before meals (always dilute juice with water 50:50).
- Other beneficial foods for constipation: papaya, squash, raw apples, rhubarb, aloe vera, ripe bananas, raw almonds, garlic, onions and cooked short-grain brown rice.
- For breakfast mix together: 2 tbsp freshly ground flaxseeds (linseeds); 2 tbsp oat bran; 2 tbsp rolled oats; some chopped figs, prunes and raisins – soak the mixture in about a cup of water overnight and serve hot or cold with oat, almond or quinoa milk or stewed fruit.
- Flaxseeds work wonders for constipation! Include them in smoothies; soak overnight and take a tablespoon in the morning before breakfast; soak to make flaxseed crackers; or sprinkle ground flaxseeds on salads or porridge.
- Increase water consumption – daily consumption should be 300ml water per 10kg body weight for adults and 65ml per 1kg body weight for children under 12 years.
- Control stress – learn to express emotions
- Take your time on the loo! Don’t ignore the call of nature and make sure your children have regular daily bowel movements. Regular bowel habits must be fostered from childhood.
- Use a squatting stool to lift the feet so that the knees are higher than the anus during defecation – thus putting the body in a natural semi-squatting position and it relaxes the colon
- Increase exercise - walking three times per week for 20 minutes is a good start!
- Avoid regular iron supplements; or any supplements containing iron. Use desiccated liver instead or iron glycinate.
- Avoid alcohol, coffee, tobacco and other narcotic drugs. Note that alcohol and caffeine dehydrates the system, which can lead to constipation.
- Avoid antibiotics, antiseptics and other medication. Constipation is a side-effect of many medications.
- If severely constipated, consider an enema or colon hydrotherapy. These therapies are extremely effective, but should not be abused. The underlying causes of constipation should be addressed.
To ease constipation:
- 1000 mg Vitamin C in powder form (buffered or Ester)
- 400 mg Magnesium Citrate
- Benefiber, Ultra Fiber or Good Health Multi Fiber
- Plenty purified water!
Increase the quantities of all the above supplements until stools become runny, then reduce until a normal consistency is achieved.
Other supplements or protocols that are beneficial to ease constipation:
- Magnesium oxide or peroxide or magnesium taurate. These supplements bring water and oxygen to the colon to soften stools. In our practice, clients get the best results with magnesium oxide.
- Epsom salts (food-grade). Take 1 to 2 tsp or capsules in the evening before bedtime with ½ glass water and/or in the morning before breakfast. Can add lemon juice for taste.
- Betaine HCL. Low stomach acid is a major cause of constipation and sluggish thyroid. Increase the dosage of Betaine HCL after each meal until bowel tolerance level reached. Important to take it directly AFTER meals.
- Apple pectin, psyllium husk or oat bran to increase fibre intake. Make sure liquid intake is sufficient.
- Probiotic taken daily – such as Vivomixx from Dischem, Intestiflora or CombiForte from Bioflora.
Why not laxatives?
The long-term use of laxatives will result in a spastic colon. Yes, the colon becomes lazy, with no or little peristaltic movement, which will exacerbate constipation. One becomes completely dependent on laxatives, since they treat the symptom, but not the underlying causes of constipation. They might work initially, but after a while the effect wears off and the constipation and other bowel symptoms might become worse than before starting the laxative.
Even a supplement such as Herbal Fiber Blend merely irritates the colon lining and long-term use might result in a spastic colon. It is also very important to make sure enough water is consumed with fibre supplements, otherwise it will block up the colon. Laxatives might also interact with certain medications and regular use of laxatives will lead to nutrient imbalances or deficiencies.
If your struggle with constipation is not resolved by any of these measures, it is best to consult with a healthcare provider specialising in colon disorders. Constipation may be a warning sign of a more serious problem such as colon cancer, diabetes, neurological diseases or hypothyroidism, among others.
Author: Heidi du Preez, Pr.Sci.Nat., M.Sc.
Heidi du Preez is a registered Professional Natural Scientist. She holds a master degree in Science and specialises in Precision Medicine and Nutritional Biochemistry. Heidi is co-founder of myHealing and practices in Cape Town, South Africa and online. www.myhealingprotocol.com
Author: Justine Priday
Justine Priday is a Health Coach. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Physiology, Psychology and Genetics, as well as a honours degree in Psychology. She is passionate about all aspects of health and practises in Cape Town, South Africa. www.facebook.com/JustineNutrition/