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Health Conditions
General Description

You are suffering from constipation if your bowel movements are infrequent, uncomfortable, and the stools are small and hard. Frequency of bowel movements varies, but regularity is important. For optimum health you should generally have one to three good bowel movements daily. It is quite surprising, however, that many people have a bowel movement only every few days, or even once a week. This is certainly not good, as decaying fecal material and toxins in your intestines can contribute to many other diseases. For your health, it is vital to get fecal material out as quickly as possible.

We firmly believe the old adage "death begins in the colon." Constipation also inhibits the flow and absorption of vital nutrients in the body, and thereby may affect one's overall health.

Prolonged bouts with constipation can lead to other health problems, such as Hemorrhoids, Varicose Veins, indigestion, Bad Breath, Headaches and Body Odor. The blockage caused by the constipation forces the blood under more pressure than normal through certain veins and capillaries, causing the hemorrhoids and varicose veins.

As mentioned above, the waste matter in the colon may contain toxins, and the longer they are in your intestines the greater the chance they have to develop other diseases, such as colon and colorectal cancer. Other intestinal problems caused by constipation are diverticulosis - pouches in the intestinal walls that catch waste material and hold it while it putrefies - and diverticulitis, the swelling and inflammation of these pouches.

If you suddenly become constipated and the condition doesn't clear up within a week, consult your health care professional as you may have a potentially serious underlying medical condition. Also, if you have a sudden change in bowel habits or experience abdominal pain or bleeding, see a doctor at once.

Take this simple test to see if you have a bowel problem: if your stools float, they have enough fiber; if they sink, you don't.

Types of Constipation

There are two basic kinds of constipation: atonic (lazy bowel) and spastic (narrowing of the colon, with small, ribbon-like stools). For atonic constipation, a high fiber diet and increased fluid intake is recommended. Once the problem has gone away it will be necessary to retrain the bowel, as explained below. Spastic constipation may be caused by an obstruction or nervousness or anxiety. See your doctor if you can rule out the last two causes.

Causes

Constipation has many causes. Discovering the cause will point the way toward using the appropriate remedy.

  • Poor dietary habits.
  • Lack of exercise and a sedentary lifestyle.
  • Lack of fiber in your diet. Fiber will add bulk to your stools, stimulate proper bowel contractions, and promote healthy bacteria in the colon. A healthy colon will aid in the assimilation of nutrients. One of the problems here is the high intake of refined white flour in the modern diet. Products with refined flour have little or no fiber, and subsequently the intestines have nothing to help the normal wave-like (peristalsis) motion pass digested material through the body. However, make sure you drink water, too, as the fiber will absorb water like a sponge and cause constipation.
  • An insufficient amount of fluid intake. In this case, coffee, tea and sodas do not count and can actually exacerbate the problem. Drinking 8 eight ounce glasses of water is recommended for everyone, not just those with constipation. Constipation is a sign of chronic dehydration. One of the main functions of the large intestine is to take excess water out of the excrement so that it is not too loose. When the body does not consume enough water, the excrement becomes hardened, leading to constipation.
  • Avoid ice-cold drinks as they reduce the digestive process.
  • Many of today's over-the-counter laxatives may cause you even more problems than the constipation, such as killing friendly intestinal bacteria, lessening the absorption of nutrients and/or getting rid of necessary vitamins, and creating addicts out of users. They are easy to get hooked on!
  • Medications such as some of the ones used to reduce blood pressure and the cholesterol-lowering ("statin") drugs, among others.
  • Bowel diseases
  • Vaginitis or other vaginal ecological issues, are sometimes associated with constipation.
  • Metabolic disorders
  • Exposure to toxic substances, such as pesticides, insecticides and heavy metals, etc.
  • Too much calcium in supplemental form can cause constipation. If you eat the normal American diet you get about 500 mg of calcium, so add only 500 mg in supplemental form if you are under 50 years old and 1,000 mg if you are over. Don't take your calcium supplement with a high fiber cereal as it may interfere with absorption.
  • Some people who are anemic and take iron supplements or eat lots of iron-rich foods may become constipated due to poor mineral absorption. In many cases the anemia is caused by low stomach acidity which can cause poor absorption of iron and other nutrients.
  • Poor liver function. The liver, which produces about a liter of bile a day to help digestion, removes the toxins from our body, and may become congested by exposure to toxic substances, alcohol, prescription or recreational drugs, or hepatitis. Nutrients that can spur better liver function include: choline, dandelion, milk thistle (silymarin), turmeric and artichoke. A liver flush would be beneficial.
  • Lack of certain digestive enzymes produced by the pancreas. This problem often occurs as we age.
  • Having Heartburn, indigestion or Gas may be indicative of low stomach acidity. As we age we under-produce hydrochloric acid and pepsin which are important in the digestive process. Also, have a hair analysis done, which will indicate your mineral levels. Many people with low stomach acidity are also low in minerals. Once you have the hair analysis report back, a healthcare practitioner can determine which minerals to take to bring your mineral levels back in to balance. By increasing the absorption of minerals, especially iron, you should alleviate your constipation problems. If you have had low stomach acidity problems for a long time, have yourself checked for allergies.
  • Lack of certain kinds of fat in the diet may be another cause of constipation. Many people who try to avoid all fats in their diet end up with a deficiency of essential, unsaturated fats, such as the omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids. Dry skin, scaly skin around the eyes and red eyes are other symptoms you may exhibit if you are deficient in the essential fats.
  • An overdose (over time) of vitamin D
  • Pregnancy
  • Food allergies
  • A deficiency in folic acid sometimes causes constipation.
  • Endocrine problems, especially hypothyroidism, or low thyroid function. Hypothyroidism slows down many body functions, including contractions necessary to make the bowels function properly.
  • Bad bathroom habits

Wellness Programs

For constipation, we suggest you try some of the remedies listed below and follow the wellness program.

As a general rule, if you are prone to being constipated you will need to make some dietary and lifestyle changes to get your bowels to function properly. Take these steps:

  • Exercise. Start some sort of exercise program. Exercise brings more blood, oxygen and nutrients to the intestines which helps them function properly. Exercise, combined with recommended dietary changes and supplements, will be the foundation of your wellness program.
  • Fiber (25-35 grams, the equivalent of 2-3 tablespoons, in divided doses). Fiber in general is needed to add bulk to your stool, and bran is the most effective form. Fiber will also help develop regular bowel contractions.
  • Fluid (eight 8 ounce glasses daily). It has also been noted that five glasses of hot water drunk daily has been beneficial.
  • Revitalize your liver function with nutrients, as mentioned above under "causes." This should be done in cases of chronic constipation or where other habits have been changed and the desired results have not occurred. Do a liver flush to clean out built-up toxins and help the liver function at optimum efficiency.

Dietary Changes

  • Begin your dietary changes by eating a high-fiber diet with plenty of fresh fruits and leafy green vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds. This is the basis of your healthy diet and long-term wellness program. However, make sure you drink water, too, as mentioned above, as the fiber will absorb water like a sponge and cause constipation.
  • Eliminate sugar and white flour from your diet. These may add to your digestion problems and be a source of constipation. The really beneficial part of wheat, the bran, has been processed out of white flour during the milling process and needs to be added back in. Take one tablespoon each of unprocessed wheat bran and wheat germ daily, as they are good sources of fiber and add bulk to your diet. Don't use bran sold as breakfast cereal, as it has been processed. Add it to cereal, soups, drinks, or other foods, depending on taste. Your body may initially have difficulty becoming accustomed to the extra fiber and you may experience gas or stomach distention. These problems will pass in a week or two. Start with a tablespoon of bran and increase the amount until you become regular. Drink plenty of liquid when you take bran as it absorbs eight times its own weight in water and needs fluid to work its magic. Your stool should become smooth and come at regular intervals. As side benefits, you may also get relief from cramps, abdominal pain, gas and heartburn.
  • If you are on a low or no fat diet, add some of the essential fats, such as omega 3 or omega 6. These are important for many body functions. Start by taking one or two tablespoons of cold-pressed flaxseed oil every day. You can add it to a blender drink, such as a smoothie or shake, or in cottage cheese. Ground flaxseed can also be used as it contains mucilage which is soothing and coats the intestinal tract. It provides both bulk and softness in the stool. If you use flaxseed, be sure to drink plenty of water, too, as it can cause constipation. The omega 6 fatty acids are found in Evening Primrose Oil (take 500 mg three times daily), black currant seed oil, and Borage Seed Oil.
  • Avoid constipating foods and drinks, such as white flour, cheese, fried foods, sweets, salt, beef, pasteurized milk, all junk food, wine, carbonated drinks, and coffee. Certain berries with a large amount of seeds, such as strawberries, huckleberries, raspberries and blackberries, should be avoided, too, as they have a tendency to constipate.
  • For problems of constipation as well as diarrhea, it is important to maintain a good bacterial flora in the intestines so they can function properly. Overuse of laxatives, antibiotics and enemas can remove the beneficial bacteria from the intestines. Take yogurt containing live cultures, or whey, kefir or buttermilk to enhance the presence of friendly bacteria. In place of these, acidophilus tablets or lactic acid yeast can also help in this process. We strongly recommend a good probiotic supplement to restore and maintain good intestinal flora.
  • Some people are allergic to wheat products, so they have to use another source of fiber, such as unbolted white, yellow corn meal or buckwheat flour. If you are unsure whether or not you are allergic to wheat, have a good allergy test done. Many people are unaware that they are allergic.
  • For spastic constipation it may be necessary to decrease your fiber intake until the situation is corrected. Drink fruit and vegetable juices to get your supply of vital nutrients.
  • If you have a child who has chronic constipation, milk may be the culprit because it tends to replace other solids in the diet. Cut back on the milk and add other liquids and fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • One of the traditional remedies has been the use of prune juice. This is not recommended on a long term basis because it acts as a mild laxative and the intestines become dependent on it to function properly. To eliminate your constipation problem the intestines must function properly on their own. Use of prune juice doesn't allow this to happen.
  • Juice fasting is one suggested way to eliminate toxins from the body and get various systems going again. There are a number of good books out on juicing.

Habits

Since you haven't been going to the bathroom on a regular basis, you will need to retrain your bowels to get into a regular habit. Follow these steps in the retraining process: 1) go to the bathroom at the same time each day, even if nothing happens; relax and don't try to force the stool; 2) don't spend more than five minutes sitting on the toilet without producing any results. If you go into the bathroom to read, remove the reading material; 3) don't suppress the urge to defecate; 4) don't strain to have a movement. Prolonged straining can injure nerves and muscles of the colon and rectum, resulting in hemorrhoids and fecal incontinence; 5) exercise at least four times per week for a minimum of twenty minutes each time; 6) stop using enemas or laxatives or other products used to relieve constipation. The idea is to make the bowel function on its own with no other aids. After a week or two with the necessary dietary and habit changes, your stools should come at a regular time and frequency.

Supplements

Folic Acid Take 60 mcg of folic acid daily. There are not dietary sources that contain enough, so supplements are necessary.

Iron If you don't get enough iron-rich food in your diet, we suggest taking chelated iron supplements for better absorption.

MSM Take MSM - methylsulfonylmethane - a natural organic sulphur, one of the essential structural minerals. It reduces inflammation and helps the digestive system work better. MSM has a soothing, healing influence on the mucous membrane that lines the GI tract.

Triphala This supplement, widely used in Ayurvedic medicine, is a mixture of three fruits which help tone the musculature of the GI system without acting as an irritant laxative. Best used regularly rather than for symptomatic treatment as it has greater benefit the longer it is used.

Vitamin B1 (Thiamin), if you have a deficiency.

Vitamin C Taking vitamin C and betaine hydrochloride or glutamic acid hydrochloride with meals will help digestion and absorption, thereby helping to alleviate the anemia and constipation.

Remedies

Folk

Apples Apples contain pectin which will add bulk to your stools and their cleansing action will encourage bowel movements. They have a laxative effect.

Apple cider vinegar As a fermented version of apples they have some of the same beneficial properties. Take two teaspoons twice a day with a glass of water.

Bananas Bananas are high in fiber and can help restore normal bowel function.

Bran Put at least 1/3 cup of bran on your cereal each morning.

Flaxseed oil Flaxseed oil is a traditional folk remedy. Take 1 to 2 tablespoonsful with lots of water right after lunch or dinner.

Flaxseed Combined with apple cider vinegar, this mixture is another remedy. Boil two cups of water and add two tablespoons of flaxseed; boil for fifteen minutes; strain off the flaxseed, leaving a jelly-like substance. Drink a cup of this on an empty stomach, adding one teaspoon of apple cider vinegar. Take daily until you get regular bowels. Flaxseed is an excellent source of essential fatty acids which are necessary for proper bowel functioning, among other benefits.

  • A similar remedy is to soak 1 tablespoon of flaxseeds in 6 ounces of water and drink this mixture once or twice daily.
  • Eat three or four tablespoons of ground flaxseed daily. They can be mixed in a smoothie, put on salads, or mixed with cottage cheese.

Beets Take two small beets, scrub them clean, and eat them in the morning. You should have a bowel movement 12 hours later.

Brewer's Yeast/Wheat Germ Take half a teaspoonful each of brewer's yeast and wheat germ with all meals. After several days if you haven't gotten the needed results, increase the amount by 1/4 teaspoon two or three times until you do.

Carrot juice The essential oils in carrot juice have an effect on the mucous membranes in the stomach and help get the bowels functioning properly. Take juice several times daily. This will help regain proper digestion. This is good for children, too.

Dates Soak six dates in a glass of hot water; when cool, drink the water and eat the dates.

Elderflower Drink an infusion of elderflower once daily, as needed.

Epsom or Rochelle salts Drink a mixture of one teaspoonful in a half glass of water before bed. This is very bitter, but very efficient.

Fruit Eat at least three raw fruits daily. The citrus helps promote regularity. Strawberries, prunes and spinach are laxatives.

Garlic Garlic is effective for three reasons: it soothes, cleanses and reduces inflammation. Garlic is also very rich in potassium which is essential for proper contractions of muscles, including the intestines. Without proper contractions the muscles become partially paralyzed, resulting in constipation. The potassium is also important in the body's electrolyte system. Dice some garlic and take with juice, milk, soup or honey two or three times a day. You may also cook the garlic. Garlic tablets are also effective and can be used by people who have problems digesting raw garlic. Take two tablets once or twice daily for mild cases, three times for bad cases, and up to five times daily for severe cases. The doses should be two grams each. Several cloves of raw garlic eaten in a salad or other food often produces good results quickly.

Honey Honey has mild laxative properties. Start by taking a tablespoon three times a day or add to foods or drinks.

Licorice Licorice is a laxative. Make a tea of licorice and drink before meals to enhance production of stools. Not recommended for use by pregnant women as it may increase the risk of premature delivery.

Molasses Add 1 to 2 tablespoons a day to hot cereal or mix with warm water and drink it.

Olive oil Take one tablespoonful of olive oil in the morning and one tablespoonful an hour after dinner.

Pepper Make a massage oil of black pepper, marjoram and rosemary (one drop of each in a light carrier oil) and rub into the abdominal area.

Persimmon Eat a persimmon if they are available.

Psyllium Mix one or two rounded teaspoons of psyllium seed husks in a glass of water and take after meals. This is a safe laxative.

Rhubarb helps with regularity because it is a good source of water and fiber. Adding bulk to your stool will keep your bowels moving. Use it stewed or in pies, but only the stalks. Or, take 2-3 capsules of Chinese rhubarb root at one time. Another way is to make a tea by bringing a cup of water to a boil then adding 1 2/3 teaspoons of cut dried rootstock; simmer for 3 minutes; remove to steep, covered for half an hour; drink only 1/4 to 1/2 cup. If you continue to have constipation, increase the dosage, as too little rhubarb can cause constipation. This may seem odd, but rhubarb is used for constipation and diarrhea, but in different doses.

Sauerkraut Drink an 8 ounce glass of warm sauerkraut juice followed immediately by an 8 ounce glass of grapefruit juice(unsweetened).

Senna Drink an infusion of senna once daily, as needed. Not recommended for use by pregnant women. Senna contains anthraquinone which may increase the risk of uterine contractions.

Spinach Drinking a pint of spinach juice daily has often corrected constipation in a short period of time.

Sunflower seeds Sunflower seeds promote regularity. Take a handful of raw shelled, unsalted seeds every day.

Triphala, or "three fruits" in Ayurvedic, has been used for centuries as a mild laxative, digestive tract toner and bowel cleanser. It also stimulates the liver which helps eliminate toxins from the body. Compounds in the fruits that make up triphala, known as anthraquinones, stimulate intestinal contractions which speeds the digestive process. Due to its mildness, it can be used over long periods without fear of overuse as is the case with most laxatives. If you experience diarrhea, stomach pain or nausea after taking this remedy, stop using it. Use one teaspoon of powder in 1/4 cup of water two to three times daily, or take 1,500 mg at night. Once your constipation problem has ended, either stop using triphala or cut the dose in half to maintain a healthy digestive system.

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