Siegfried Gursche, MH
When I started my career in health foods almost half a century ago, people didn't openly talk about constipation. Talking about bowel movements just wasn't proper at that time.
When I started my career in health foods almost half a century ago, people didn't openly talk about constipation. Talking about bowel movements just wasn't proper at that time. Customers tried to explain what bothered them by pulling me aside, whispering into my ear that they were suffering from "hardening." Sometimes they would keep me guessing by saying they weren't "timely," or at best they would ask for a herbal remedy to keep them regular. What they really wanted to say is that they were constipated. Of course times have changed and today people bluntly ask for a laxative when they are constipated or without regular bowel movements.
What has not changed is that laxatives are the most asked-for drugs sold without prescription. It is estimated that half of us suffer from constipation.
What is Constipation and Why is It So Widespread?
Constipation means different things to different people, as they really don't understand the problem. Many people confuse constipation with regularity and think if they have a bowel movement two or three times a week, they're fine. All too often doctors and other health professionals shrug off this condition as long as there is regularity. However, the best definition of constipation would be "a lack of regular and easy defecation on a daily basis." Constipation is directly associated with the hardness of the stool and the frequency. At least one stool movement daily, or more, is desirable for the elimination of toxins from the body. Normally it takes about 12 to 18 hours for food to move through the digestive system; thus a person should have a bowel movement 12 to 18 hours after any meal. If you consume two major meals a day you should expect two bowel movements.
There are several reasons people become constipated. Most individuals live on a poor diet, eating a variety of refined industrialized foods, much too low in fibre. Typically this means too much bread, pasta, and baked goods made from white flour and sugar; too much meat, cheese, and animal products and not enough fresh fruits and vegetables. This type of diet contains no fibre and produces very little bulk. Once it reaches the large intestine, it's hard, and doesn't have enough moisture.
Constipation can also be the result of resisting the call of nature. This can easily happen with a busy lifestyle of long meetings or work sessions, which all too often put off the trip to the toilet. Getting out of routine by travelling over a number of time zones, can cause the body to react with constipation. I saw this phenomenon happening to just about every one in our alive group of 36 people when we traveled to Europe and the Orient. The body was totally confused by the time change.
Other contributing factors for constipation are sometimes rooted in a mental disturbance or imbalance, sudden stress or change of pace in work habits or environment. Children, for example, often react with constipation when the family moves or the school year ends.
Certain medications can cause constipation, particularly morphine compounds and analgesics containing codeine, as well as antacids, and even iron and calcium food supplements.
Some people don't like to recognize constipation as a disease; however, it is the cause of numerous other diseases. As constipation contributes to the toxic load in the bloodstream, headaches are usually the first sign. Colon cancer, diverticulitis, bloating, hemorrhoids, and the expansion of the walls of the colon are all related to constipation. Dr. Kurt Donsbach reports that statistics show women who are constipated have a five-fold increase in breast cancer. Constipated people retoxify themselves as the feces remain in their colon for too long.
If you are constipated then your diet needs to be closely looked at. First, it is most important to increase the amount of fibre you get each day. Whole foods, consisting of unrefined grain products, fruit, and vegetables, are all good sources. Flax seeds, oat, and wheat bran, as well as psyllium husks are fibre products that absorb many times their own weight in water and add bulk to the stool. Bulk helps the peristaltic action and water helps lubricate the stool and is therefore very important. Adults should drink six to eight glasses of water per day. Never resist the call of nature because the bowel absorbs the water from the retained stool, resulting in the stool becoming hard and difficult to pass.
When people have been constipated for a long time, a certain condition may develop which is known as paradoxical diarrhea. This condition is associated with watery stools, combined with a hard round stool in a single motion or alternating. This condition is the result of weakened peristaltic movement and should be considered as serious chronic constipation.
Common remedies for constipation are laxative foods such as prunes or figs soaked in water overnight. Bulk-forming fibre is very effective. Three tablespoons of whole flax seeds soaked for just two minutes in a tall glass of warm water and taken twice daily, first thing in the morning and before bedtime, will produce a bowel movement within 24 hours. Likewise the bulk forming psyllium husks; stir two tablespoons of psyllium husks in a large glass of water or orange juice and drink immediately, mornings first thing upon arising and evenings before bedtime. Health food stores carry a variety of fibre products, such as Linoseed, or fiber blends like Floralax II.
In an acute but stubborn situation raw sauerkraut juice, with lactic acid- friendly bacteria and choline, which activates peristaltic movements, can get things moving quickly. Just sip about 250 ml first thing in the morning over a period of 15 minutes.
Fermented milk products like kefir, buttermilk, or yogurt with acidophilus help replenish the friendly bacteria in the intestines.
Herbs Can Help
The active ingredient in laxative herbs is anthrachinon, which is found in cascara sagrada, senna leaves, rhubarb roots, and black alderbark. These herbs are usually used in combination, either as a herbal tea or in pill form, to stimulate bowel movement in acute cases. All laxatives, herbal or otherwise, should be taken for a limited time only, as laxatives are irritants. Their action comes from the degree of irritation they produce in the intestines and habitual use can cause dependence. Other than the food laxatives mentioned above, it is best not to rely on laxative tea or pills to treat constipation, instead, try to improve your diet and increase your intake of fibre and fluids.