Remedies for constipation

By naturopath Margaret Jasinska

Good bowel health is so important. If you have struggled with digestive problems for some time, you’ll know how they can ruin your entire day. Having a well-functioning bowel is so important for your energy level and state of mind.

You probably eat at least three times a day, so it’s important to have between one and three thorough bowel movements each day. Having less frequent bowel movements is a sign that your liver and your metabolism in general are not functioning optimally. It also means you will be reabsorbing toxins back into your bloodstream that your body is supposed to be eliminating. In my experience, patients who suffer with constipation find it much harder to lose weight. This is largely because constipation is an indicator of a sluggish liver.

A normal, healthy stool is a medium brown colour, and a soft log shape. It should hold together in the bowl and not fall apart. The stool should not be small, hard or difficult to pass. It should also not be overly smelly. Bile has a deodorising effect on the stool and people with liver or gallbladder conditions usually don’t secrete enough bile into their intestines. Therefore they are more prone to having overly offensive smelling stools.

Strategies for overcoming constipation

Some people can easily and quickly resolve their constipation just by drinking more water and increasing the amount of fruit and vegetables in their diet. Unfortunately for others the solution is not so simple. A great range of conditions can cause constipation.

Here are some remedies that may work for you:

  • Drink approximately 8 to 10 glasses of water or herbal tea each day. Tea can make constipation worse because of the tannins it contains.
  • Try to get some movement each day. Exercise is wonderful for improving constipation because it stimulates intestinal contractions called peristalsis. If you don’t have the time or energy to exercise, just try going for a five-minute walk.
  • Have a blood test to check if you have an underactive thyroid. This is an incredibly common cause of constipation in women. Have a blood test for the hormone called TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone). If your thyroid is sluggish you may also find it hard to lose weight, experience fluid retention, depression and fatigue. For more information see our book Your Thyroid Problems Solved.
  • Make sure you are eating a large amount of fresh vegetables each day. Some can be cooked and some should be raw. Aim for approximately 5 fists full of vegetables each day and one or two pieces of fruit.
  • Find out if you have a hidden food sensitivity. This is a very common yet underappreciated cause of constipation. The most common culprits are gluten, dairy products, soy, corn, eggs and nuts. Many foods that are generally considered to be healthy can cause bowel troubles if you have a sensitivity to them. It is best to see a naturopath or nutritionist who can help you uncover which foods may be upsetting your digestion. The removal of a problematic food can produce a dramatic improvement in bowel function.
  • You might have an overgrowth of bad bacteria, yeast, fungi and Candida in your bowel. This can cause constipation, bloating, flatulence, indigestion and nausea. There are some brilliant herbal products that act as a powerful anti-microbial in the bowel. These products would optimally include the herbs oregano, clove, thyme and berberine for them to have the greatest of effect.
  • Add a gentle source of fibre to your diet such as psyllium, chia seeds, freshly ground flaxseeds or slippery elm. This fibre can be added to smoothies, sprinkled over salad with your lunch or sprinkled over chopped fruit. Fibretone powder is a gentle bulk laxative that helps to keep the bowel moving and sweeps waste from the walls of the colon.
    Try to minimise feeling overly stressed. If your body is relaxed, your muscles will be too; this includes your intestinal muscles. Try to find relaxing activities that help you unwind.

For more information see the book Healthy Bowel, Healthy Body.

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