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Keep Your Colon Happy

It's not something we usually like to talk about, but colon health is a key to overall well-being

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Colon problems-constipation, diarrhea, or alternating bouts of both-can be uncomfortable, embarrassing, or downright devastating. “Symptoms paint a picture,” says Julie McIntyre, a medical herbalist in Silver City, N.M., who treats people with complex health conditions. The colon is part of the gastrointestinal tract, which starts in the mouth and ends with the anus. And, she says, it’s influenced by our emotions (butterflies in your stomach, for example), as well as our eating habits.

As a basic rule, McIntyre says, “Eat what makes you feel healthy, what your body is craving, and what makes you feel happy.” While that doesn’t give license to overindulge in junk food, she does warn against too much deprivation of what you love: “If you’re forcing yourself to eat something because you think you should, it interferes with good digestion.” And walking, she says, is the best exercise for the colon.

For the most common colon-related complaints, McIntyre recommends:

For Constipation
Quick remedy:Cascara sagrada is an effective herbal laxative. Take 500 mg at bedtime, which is often enough to get things moving. If that doesn’t work, take magnesium citrate (1,000 mg three times per day) or vitamin C (1,000 mg three times daily), and 1,000 mg of Cascara sagrada before bedtime. If that doesn’t bring relief, switch to triphala or yellow dock and continue magnesium or vitamin C. Cascara sagrada shouldn’t be used on an ongoing basis, as it can lead to a lazy colon.

Longer-term: Yellow dock (Rumex crispus) and triphala can both be used on an ongoing basis, as they are nutritive herbs, not laxatives. Both tone the colon and either may bring relief.

If you have acne, dry or itchy skin, and/or the area around your liver is tender to the touch, your liver likely needs help. Yellow dock supports the liver as well as toning the colon. Take 500-1,000 mg daily.

An Ayurvedic combination of three herbs, triphala moistens and tones the colon to bring it back to health. Personal needs vary, but try 500 mg two or three times per day to start. If you still don’t have regular bowel movements, take more, adding 200-500 mg per day until you get relief, and then cut back to the lower dose for maintenance.

For Diarrhea
Quick remedy: Eat a couple of green bananas each day, as these have an astringent quality that counters diarrhea. And take Nux vomica, a homeopathic remedy. Take 5 pellets (30c) two or three times per day.

Longer-term: Take triphala in a lower dose than for constipation-ideally in a tincture, one-quarter teaspoon, once per day. In a capsule, take 250 mg once daily. The tincture gets into the bloodstream more quickly and brings faster relief. And drink chamomile tea, an astringent and has drying, cooling, and anti-inflammatory effects.

For Both
For fluctuating bouts of constipation and diarrhea, or a spastic or painful colon, take triphala, adjusting the dosage based on your symptoms (higher for constipation and lower for diarrhea, as above). And make a yarrow tea by steeping one-eighth cup of dried yarrow flowers in one-half quart of very hot (not boiling) water for two hours. Strain and drink throughout the day. This concentrate can be diluted as yarrow is quite bitter. For convenience, you can steep teas in the evening and store them in the fridge so they’re ready to go the next day.

Nature’s AnswerYellowdock Root alcohol-free tincture is produced using gentle extraction process that retains the active constituents of the whole herb.

Only NaturalEasy Colon Cleaner is an “all in one” cleanse and digestive aid, with Cascara sagrada, yellow dock, and other targeted herbs, along with fiber and probiotics.

Organic IndiaTriphala is a certified organic blend of three Ayurvedic herbs that work to remove toxins and deposits from the colon naturally and safely.

Vera Tweed has been writing about nutrition, fitness, and healthy living since 1997. She specializes in covering research and expert knowledge that empowers people to lead better lives.