With constipation, there is the passage of infrequent or hard stools with straining. Although conventional medicine considers having a bowel movement every second day normal, for optimal health and digestion many alternative medicine practitioners believe there should be at least one bowel movement a day.
Some people can develop anxiety about the frequency of their bowel movements and self-prescribe laxatives and strong herbal "dieters" tea to try to have a bowel movement a day. This is strongly discouraged because it can injure the intestines, result in vitamin and mineral deficiencies, and promote the development of eating disorders. If you are concerned about bowel regularity, see a naturopathic doctor or other health professional.
Most commonly, constipation is caused by lack of fiber in the diet. Sprinkling 1-3 teaspoons of ground flaxseeds on meals, choosing whole grains over refined grains, and eating plenty of vegetables and fruits can increase your fiber intake. Simple psyllium powder can also help, however be sure to check the label as many are made with artificial sweeteners.
An ayurvedic herbal remedy called triphala is considered a gentle laxative that can be used on a longer term basis, unlike some of the more harsh, habit-forming alternatives. Triphala is a combination of three fruit, one of which is amla, a fruit naturally high in vitamin C. Triphala improves bowel tone strengthening digestion, and enhances liver and gallbladder function. It is used for constipation, detox, and a broad range of conditions. Triphala is contraindicated in people with chronic liver or kidney disease, pregnant or nursing women, and people taking blood-thinning medication. It is found in capsule form at the health food store.
If increasing fiber and water intake worsens constipation, the problem may be insuffient bile output. This is because bile makes stools soft by allowing water to bind to stools. Nutritional supplements choline, methionine, and artichoke all increase bile output, but it's important to see a doctor before trying any treatments to identify the cause of the decreased bile output.
Constipation can also be caused by the following underlying conditions:
- magnesium deficiency
- Parkinson's disease
- multiple sclerosis
- colon cancer
- side effects of medications - most common are antidepressants and codeine
If comstipation occurs suddenly, see a doctor immediately as it can be a sign of bowel obstruction, nerve paralysis, drug toxicity, infection, or other serious disorder.
Address any change or abnormality in bowel movement with your physician immediately, as it can be a sign of a serious disorder.