According to the National Institutes of Health, constipation is the most common gastrointestinal complaint in the U.S., causing Americans to spend more than $700 million every year on laxatives. And research shows that as you age, the problem only gets worse. By definition, constipation means having infrequent or incomplete bowel movements with stools that may be hard, dry and difficult to pass.
Yet, while conventional doctors believe that one bowel movement daily or every other day may be sufficient, most natural practitioners believe that 2 to 3 bowel movements each day are necessary to keep the bowel functioning optimally.
What Causes Constipation?
Ordinarily, a combination of factors ultimately results in constipation. These include poor diet and
nutrition (too many processed foods and sugar), too little dietary fiber, a lack of essential fatty acids, not getting enough exercise, a dehydrated colon, the use of certain medications (both prescription and over-the-counter), changes in daily routine, and not setting aside time to eliminate regularly.
Adding more fiber to your diet is the first step toward remedying constipation. Eating high-fiber foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and legumes supplies the natural fiber needed for better bowel function, which is why many experts recommend consuming at least 35 grams of fiber daily through diet or nutritional supplementation.
If taking a fiber supplement, look for a flax-based formula that contains a combination of soluble and insoluble fiber, both of which are necessary to ensure regularity.Soluble fiber, found in oats and nuts, forms a watery gel that reduces irritation of the intestinal walls. Insoluble fiber, found in bran and whole grains, bulks up the stool. It helps clean the colon, absorbing and eliminating waste and toxins from the intestinal walls.
Lack of fluid can also contribute to constipation. As food moves through the gastrointestinal tract, water is continually absorbed into the body. When you’re dehydrated, this process severely dries out the contents of the large intestine. Even with plenty of fiber, a dehydrated colon is sluggish and clogged. To get adequate water, drink at least half your body weight in ounces every day. Daily supplementation with a natural essential fatty acid (EFA) formula also helps to lubricate the bowel and ease elimination.
Today, many of the herbal and nutritional remedies used traditionally to help relieve constipation remain effective. The herbs that help elimination can act as bowel toners, stimulating laxatives, bulking agents and lubricants. Bowel-toning herbs such as cape aloe help to speed bowel transit time, allowing waste to pass through the intestines more efficiently by improving colon muscle function. Stimulant laxatives such as rhubarb encourage the large intestine to empty more frequently, and herbs such as slippery elm and marshmallow help to soothe and lubricate the bowel to ensure healthy elimination.