Constipation is never fun. In fact, it is very annoying, and it can cause a lot of pain. Besides this, chronic constipation can lead to more pressing health problems. Studies have shown that about 15% of American adults – roughly 42 million people at a time – suffer from constipation. If you are over 65, constipation may be even more of a problem.
In the following articles, you will learn about what causes constipation and what you can do to get relief from constipation – the more natural relief, the better. It is also interesting to discover if there is a “cure” for constipation and also do “natural” constipation “cures” really work?
Constipation In Adults
Constipation is a common problem. It means either going to the toilet less often than usual to empty the bowels, or passing hard or painful poo (also called feces, stools or motions). Constipation may be caused by not eating enough fibre, or not drinking enough fluids. It can also be a side-effect of certain medicines, or related to an underlying medical condition. In many cases, the cause is not clear. Laxatives are a group of medicines that can treat constipation. Ideally, laxatives should only be used for short periods of time until symptoms ease.
Note: there is a separate leaflet called Constipation in Children.
What is constipation?
Constipation is common. If you are constipated it causes one or more of the following:
- Poo (feces, stools or motions) becomes hard, and difficult or painful to pass.
- The time between toilet trips increases compared with your usual pattern. (Note: there is a large range of normal bowel habit. Some people normally go to the toilet to pass stools 2-3 times per day. For others, 2-3 times per week is normal. It is a change from your usual pattern that may mean that you are constipated.)
- Sometimes, crampy pains occur in the lower part of your tummy (abdomen) You may also feel bloated and feel sick if you have severe constipation.
What are the causes of constipation?
Known causes include the following:
- Not eating enough fiber (roughage) is a common cause. The average person in the UK eats about 12 grams of fibre each day. But, 18 grams per day is recommended by the British Nutrition Foundation. Fiber is the part of plant food that is not digested. It remains in your gut. It adds bulk to the poo (feces, stools or motions), and helps your bowels to work well. Foods high in fiber include: fruit, vegetables, cereals and wholemeal bread.
- Not drinking much may make constipation worse. Stools are usually soft and easily passed if you eat enough fibre, and drink enough fluid. However, some people need more fiber and/or fluid than others in order to avoid constipation.
- Some special slimming diets are low in fiber, and may cause constipation.
- Some medicines can cause constipation as a side-effect. Examples are painkillers (particularly those with codeine, such as co-codamol, or very strong painkillers, such as morphine), some antacids, some antidepressants (including amitriptyline) and iron tablets, but there are many others. See the list of possible side-effects on the leaflet that comes with any medicine that you may be taking. Tell a doctor if you suspect a medicine is making you constipated. A change of medication may be possible.
- Various medical conditions can cause constipation. For example, an underactive thyroid, irritable bowel syndrome, some gut disorders, and conditions that cause poor mobility, particularly in the elderly.
- Pregnancy. About 1 in 5 pregnant women will become constipated. It is due to the hormonal changes of pregnancy that slow down the gut movements. In later pregnancy, it can simply be due to the baby taking up a lot of room in the tummy and the bowels being pushed to one side.
Before most people reach for any laxative, they should look at their diet and lifestyle, says Eric Widera, a specialist in geriatrics at the University of California-San Francisco. “The ultimate goal is prevention,” he says. Eating more fiber, from fruits, vegetables and grains, is the first step, he says, because that adds bulk to stools and helps move digestion along.
Drinking plenty of water and exercising also are recommended, though the evidence they work is not as good, says Spencer Dorn, a gastroenterologist at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.
“People who are active tend to be less constipated,” he says.
But the most important lifestyle change may involve taking a break — to use the toilet, Widera says. People who follow the natural rhythms of their colons will often find it’s easiest to have bowel movements at the same time of day, often in the morning, after breakfast, he says. Resisting the urge, because you are busy or away from home, for instance, can make constipation worse.
If those measures don’t work, the first choice from the drugstore should usually be a fiber supplement, Widera and Dorn agree. Those include products such as Metamucil and Citrucel.
People with more persistent constipation have additional choices. Those include laxatives that draw water into the colon, known as osmotic laxatives, and laxatives that work by stimulating the colon.
The sodium phosphate laxatives are osmotic laxatives, but there are others in that category that don’t cause dehydration and electrolyte imbalances, Dorn says. Those include products such as Miralax and milk of magnesia.
Stimulant laxatives, such as Dulcolax and Senokot, may be needed by people with tougher constipation caused by medications such as opioid painkillers, Widera says.
Doctors sometimes recommend stool softeners, though there is not as much evidence they help, Widera says. Some prescription medications also are available.
Widera says he never recommends sodium phosphate laxatives for his elderly patients. Dorn says they may have some use for low-risk patients in whom nothing else works.
The FDA has issued warningsabout higher-dose oral versions of sodium phosphate laxatives used for bowel cleansing before colonoscopy and said they should be used only by prescription. Because of those concerns, Fleet took its oral non-prescription version off the market, the company announced in 2008. But it said the enemas were safe.
In its update for consumers this week, the FDA said oral and rectal sodium phosphate products can be used safely for constipation by many older children and healthy adults. It said anyone over age 55 should check with a doctor. It said sodium phosphate enemas should never be given to children under age 2, and caregivers should check with doctors before giving the oral products to children under age 5.
In a statement Friday, Fleet said it “fully supports the efforts of the FDA to encourage the safe use of sodium phosphate products.” It encouraged consumers “to follow the recommended dosing instructions as recommended by the FDA.”
Constipation Remedies – Alternative Medicine – About.com
Sept 17, 2013
Natural Constipation Remedies:
A diet low in fiber may play a role in constipation. Insoluble fiber, which passes through the body almost unchanged, gives stools bulk and a soft texture, making them easier to pass. Foods that are high in insoluble fiber include whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Try wheat bran, brown rice, or whole grain bread.
Soluble fiber dissolves in water and forms a gel-like substance in the intestines. Prunes and figs can be added to breakfast or eaten as a snack.
Another option is to sprinkle one teaspoon of ground flaxseeds over any meal. They can be found in packages at the health food store or some grocery stores. They have a mild, nutty taste. Learn about more eating to relieve constipation in Foods for Constipation.
Fiber supplements are also available, the most popular being psyllium supplements such as Metamucil. Guar gum and acacia fiber are also popular. Add fiber to your diet gradually to avoid bloating and gas. Also, be sure to drink enough water otherwise fiber can have the opposite effect and be constipating.
Making sure you drink enough fluids such as water may help some people with constipation. Fluids make bowel movements softer and easier to pass.
Watch your consumption of alcoholic beverages and caffeinated beverages such as coffee and cola drinks, which can be dehydrating.
3) Stimulant Laxatives
Many herbal laxatives and “dieter’s teas” are stimulant laxatives, or anthranoid laxatives. They include herbs such as:
Some of these herbs, such as senna, are approved as over-the-counter treatments for constipation. Although they are meant to be short-term treatments, in reality, people may become dependent on them and use them for weeks, months, or even years at a time in order to have a daily bowel movement.
They should not be used for longer than a week unless under medical supervision. Prolonged use may cause the bowels to lose the ability to move on their own, and has been linked to chronic diarrhea, potassium depletion leading to muscle weakness and potentially dangerous irregular heart rhythms, and kidney or liver impairment.
Biofeedback therapy may help people with constipation resulting from pelvic floor dysfunction, a condition in which the pelvic floor muscles do not function properly. It occur as a result of conditions such as obesity, an enlarged prostate, or after childbirth.
Biofeedback therapists teach how to better coordinate muscles used to defecate. Approximately 70% of people have improved symptoms after biofeedback training.
Although biofeedback has only been explored as a treatment for this type of constipation relatively recently, results are promising.
For example, one study compared biofeedback (one session a week for five weeks) to laxatives (polyethylene glycol 14.6 to 29.2 grams per day) plus education in people with chronic, severe pelvic floor dysfunction. All participants had previously tried fiber supplements plus enemas.or suppositories but hadn’t responded.
After six months, biofeedback sessions were more effective than tha laxative, with 43 of 54 (80%) of the biofeedback patients versus 12 of 55 (22%) laxative-treated patients reporting major improvements. Benefits appeared to last at least two years.
See my article on Biofeedback.
Probiotics, such as lactobacillus acidophilus, are live microbial organisms that are naturally present in the digestive tract. Some of the ways they are thought to promote health include suppressing the growth of potentially harmful bacteria, improving immune function, enhancing the protective barrier of the digestive tract, and helping to produce vitamin K.
There is some preliminary evidence that probiotic supplements may improve constipation. For example, one study looked at the effect of a probiotic beverage containing a strain of beneficial bacteria called Lactobacillus casei Shirota (65 milliliters a day) or a placebo in people with chronic constipation. The probiotic drink resulted in significant improvement in severity of constipation and stool consistency.
Another study examined the effectiveness of another strain of probiotics on constipation in children and found no effect. Eighty four children between two and 16 years of age with constipation took lactulose (a laxative) plus a probiotic supplement containing lactobacillus GG or lactulose alone. After 12 and 24 weeks, lactobacillus was not more effective than lactulose alone at treating constipation.
Find out more about using acidophilus and other probiotics.
Acupressure is a traditional healing practice that involves the application of finger pressure to specific acupuncture points on the body.
A point that is often recommended by acupuncturists for constipation is Large Intestine 4. Although it hasn’t been studied for constipation, it is a simple home remedy that may work for some people. The point is at the highest spot of the muscle between the thumb and index finger when they are brought close together. Caution: this point is typically avoided during pregnancy.
With your thumb or middle finger at a 90 degree angle to the skin, apply gradually increasing pressure. Hold for three minutes. The pressure should not be painful or uncomfortable.
Learn more about Acupressure.
A deficiency of the mineral magnesium may contribute to constipation. Magnesium is found naturally in foods such as green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains and in supplements.
Magnesium is needed for normal muscle function, including intestinal muscles. One recent study examined the intake of magnesium with constipation in 3835 women. Low magnesium intake was associated with constipation.
Other Natural Constipation Remedies
The herb triphala is used in Ayurveda (the traditional medicine of India) to promote digestive health and to ease constipation.
- He shou wu
- Milk thistle
- Red raspberry
- Slippery elm
- Engage in regular physical activity. Not getting enough physical activity can lead to constipation.
- Don’t put off the urge. The longer you delay when the urge to have a bowel movement strikes, the more water gets absorbed from stool and the harder it becomes to have a bowel movement.
I am big fan of using natural herbs. They have been used for centuries and it’s only in recent times that pharmaceutical companies have copied many of the herbal qualities – so they can charge an “arm & a leg” for “chemicals” –what used to be almost free.
One of my favorite herbs for helping with constipation is Cayenne (pepper). I make my own O-O capsules, but you can buy cayenne caps in many places. I generally take 2 – 3 capsules of Cayenne each day- spread out about 3 hours apart. The interesting result? Ever since I started doing this – which has been about 8 weeks now – my constipation has disappeared. And going to the bathroom is on a regular basis, with no straining. Try some of the herbs listed above, if cayenne is too “strong” for you, or you just want other options.