Dr. Beth Devlin, ND
Way back in Naturopathic school we were taught that good health is dependent on a healthy digestion and healthy elimination. This belief is carried through Ayurveda, Chinese medicine and ancient Greek medicine.
In these times, good digestion and elimination can be hard to find. Constipation is a very common complaint that often goes unaddressed. Over the years I have seen patients, children and adults, that have been told it’s OK to only have one bowel movement a week. Often, people who have had lifelong constipation just consider it to be their “normal”. General medical guidelines are based on how many bowel movements someone has in a week. Less than 3 is considered “constipation”. However that does not take into consideration that many people complain of painful passing of stool, dry stool and not feeling like they have completely voided. In a recent Canadian study 36% of people complained of what they considered chronic constipation. In the US it is estimated that over 800 million dollars is spent annually on laxatives. Clearly this is a major issue.
As an ND I feel that having at least one bowel movement daily is important for optimal health. Anything less is constipation, which can lead to headaches, liver congestion, food sensitivities, feeling bloated and foggy, joint pain, fatigue, arthritis, hormonal imbalance and inflammation in the colon. If you have been told that you have polyps in your colon after a colonoscopy, chances are that constipation is the cause.
Here are a few potential contributing factors;
• Diet, (dairy, bananas, wheat, rice, meat, sugar and processed foods in general).
• Magnesium deficiency
• History of painful stool
• Medications; antibiotics and pain meds
So what can you do?
Of course we want to address the underlying cause. To get things moving in the meantime there are gentle herbs that can be really helpful. Some herbs like slippery elm and marshmallow root bring water into and lubricate the colon. Fennel seed is great at helping relieve gas and relaxes the bowel. Other relaxants are chamomile, catnip and lemon balm. Dandelion and licorice are bowel stimulants that also stimulate bile secretion from the liver, which signals the body to get things moving. These gentle herbs can be combined in tincture form or enjoyed as tea.
Adding Fiber like psyllium, chia, and flax seed to the diet can add bulk to stool and aid in peristalsis (the rhythmic movement of stool through the colon). These things can be added to the diet or into smoothies. You can also soak a tsp. of ground flax seeds in a cup of hot water and sip in the morning. If you are taking fiber supplements it is very important to make sure you’re getting enough water. Otherwise the fiber could harden and make things worse.
Probiotics can aid in elimination and colon health in general especially if someone has been taking antibiotics. Supplementing with magnesium is helpful for many people. Magnesium citrate or oxide are the 2 types that seems to most helpful in getting the bowels to move. It is best to take these before bed. Massage and heat to belly often help as do castor oil packs. Remember to take the time out for the bathroom, especially for children.
If you or a loved one struggles with constipation and you have tried some of these home treatments to no avail, come see us and we’ll get to the bottom of issue, pun intended!