Natural Remedies for Constipation
Constipation is a serious threat world wide and highest among ages 60+ due to lack of fiber in the diet, poor hydration, lack of physical activity, and common side effects from medications.
You may know the feeling too well!
The pipes stop flowing, everything gets backed up, and your stomach feels miserable. Of course the first thing recommended is a laxative. It seems logical, it’s the common medical solution, but laxatives are not taken without cost to the body.
Today I want to talk about a few natural remedies for constipation that don’t have the nutritional cost of drugs.
What do laxatives do?
Most over the counter (OTC) brands are osmotic laxatives which prevent the large intestine from reabsorbing water. Our intestines are designed to absorb water and the nutrients available. This is a necessary bodily function to stay properly hydrated. However, osmotic laxatives are designed to interrupt that natural process, retaining the water in the large intestine so that it may soften and flush out the stool. The main problem is that preventing the absorption of water is dehydrating, which in turn causes more constipation, and a greater need for the drug.
The second problem is that preventing absorption of water also diminishes how many nutrients are absorbed. The vitamins and electrolytes we need are flushed right out with the stool. When our bodies are out of balance, losing vitamins and electrolytes is not what we want!
Finally, some OTC laxatives such as Miralax are made with polyethylene glycol, which adds unnecessary toxins to congest the liver and places stress on the kidneys. Other formulas like Metamucil are full of maltodextrin, natural flavors, food colorings, and other sugar substitutes that are harmful to the body.
Before taking on the risk of OTC laxatives, let me explain some natural remedies that should flush the pipes without stripping the water and nutrients your body needs. Remember that the three most important factors for elimination are fiber, water, and movement!
Focus on fresh produce. Look for raw and gently cooked vegetables, chewed very well, and accompanied by water. Check out my article on steamed vegetables for a few ideas on how to make this not only a helpful solution, but a delicious one too!
Two foods that are well known for moving bowels are beets and prunes. Try grating a raw beet over a salad every day until regular or stew some prunes in a tea and drink the water with the fruit. It’s important to drink plenty of water with dehydrated fruit if you are really suffering.
Two seeds you can try for extra fiber are chia seeds or ground flax seeds. Try 1-2 Tbsp of these over oatmeal, yogurt, or in a smoothie every day until you feel the effects.
Caution: If you take a high fiber supplement in addition to laxatives, it may make the problem worse. Bulk-forming processed agents like psyllium or bran can cause more harm than good. When constipated, all processed fiber should be removed from your diet, as it adds to the bulk of the stool which can cause more blockage and potential damage to the intestinal wall. Try a food first approach and work with a practitioner before choosing the supplement best for your situation.
Most of us recognize a drought in the landscape but we neglect to see the drought in our bodies. We are 55-60% water and we need to replenish this daily. Make sure you’re drinking a minimum of half of your body weight in ounces of plain, filtered, clean water every day (for example if you weigh 150 pounds you should be drinking 75 oz of water).
*This does not include coffee, tea, juice, soda, or any diuretic beverage that can dehydrate the body. In fact, if you drink any of the beverages mentioned, I recommend you add back the same amount of water to your daily minimum.
A few herbal teas can be counted towards your daily minimum intake of water. Traditional Medicinals makes a Smooth Move tea and Yogi has Get Regular tea that can be very helpful. Both of these teas are made with Senna which is a very strong herbal laxative. It’s healthier than Miralax or Metamucil with harmful additives, but not something you want to practice long term.
Consider that you may need more fiber, more water, or more movement, and then try some herbal teas that also help indirectly. Fennel tea is excellent for digestion and marshmallow tea is a gentle mover.
*Honestly, sitting down to drink any relaxing herbal tea can help a great deal because much of constipation is an after effect of dealing with stress.
Along the lines of reducing stress is a warm bath in epsom salts. Simply add 1-2 cups of these salts rich in magnesium and it will relax the body and hence relax the bowels. Add some relaxing oils like lavender or even chamomile tea bags. When you’re in the bath, relax, read a book, and massage your abdomen in a gentle clockwise circle.
A gentle massage along the large intestine can greatly help move things along. Start at the base of your belly on the right side just inside your hip bone. Massage upwards, across the abdomen below your ribcage and then down the left side. If you press deep enough you may be able to feel the congested "garden hose" and roll over it like you were kneading dough. Keep the direction of your massage towards the exit of your colon in a clockwise direction.
It’s critical to move your body to move your bowels. Before moving straight to your own medicinal therapy, consider that you may need more daily activities. Check out my simple movements article to see if you can increase your health while you find a natural remedy for constipation.
If you’ve tried everything above and the pipes are still clogged, you may need something stronger. One little trick is to take 100-400mg magnesium citrate right before bed. Many of us are so low in magnesium that the bowels are contracted and won’t quite relax. Remember that supplements can cause diarrhea if overdosed so be careful not to continue taking these without guidance of a qualified health practitioner.
Triphala is an ayurvedic herbal combination of 3 fruits historically known to cleanse the blood, liver, and bowels. You can often find it in your local health food store. It comes dehydrated so be sure to drink plenty water with it.
Apple pectin can also be helpful and you can make it here with this delicious recipe for stewed apples.
I hope I’ve given you some strategies for dealing with constipation. We all know it’s a total drag and there are health consequences related to being constipated. It’s important to decipher whether your constipation is a consequence of dehydration, a low fiber diet, lack of movement, stress, or a side effect from medication. If medication is the reason for the block, talk to your doctor about the best course of action.
If these possibilities are ruled out, you’re eating a proper diet to build a healthy food foundation and you still feel stuck, reach out to me so we can investigate with an advanced stool lab and discover what may be stopping you up.
Try the Food Foundation Detox HERE.