Most of us are not exactly sure what constipation is, but we know it when we feel it. Medically defined, constipation is the passing of stools fewer than three times a week, or in low quantity. But make no mistake-regular, bulky, soft, and comfortable bowel movements are essential. Just ask the 4.5 million Americans who say they are constipated most or all of the time.
How Long Is too Long?
Transit time (the time it takes for a meal to go into the mouth and come out the other end) and regularity (the interval between bowel movements) are the key factors in proper bowel timing. For a person who eats a healthful diet free of refined, processed foods, 30 hours is an average transit time. Unfortunately, in our society, 48 hours (or sometimes longer) is commonplace. Research implicates slow transit constipation in the development of gallstones. To clock your body's transit time, you can swallow something that colors the stool, such as charcoal powder, beets, or chlorophyll.
Mammals are designed so that each meal initiates a bowel movement; therefore, most holistic practitioners insist on at least one bowel movement per day, or up to one per meal.
To have a good bowel movement, you need peristalsis, fiber, and moisture. The following nutrients help address these factors naturally. In addition to these supplements, it's also important to drink plenty of liquids, such as purified water and tea. Exercise is also crucial, as it strengthens the abdominal muscles.
Remedy 1. Peristalsis: Catch a Wave
Peristalsis is the wave-like motion that propels feces through the large intestine. "Stimulant" laxatives promote this wave. Senna from India is widely used as a laxative in Europe, where it is sold under the name Swiss Kriss or mixed with other herbs. It makes a pretty decent-tasting tea, but can be used in capsules, one or two a day. It is often formulated with warming carminative herbs to reduce intestinal cramping.
Remedy 2. Psyllium: Bulk That Bowel
Fiber absorbs moisture, which increases stool size, and makes the stool softer. Natural bulk laxatives provide soluble fiber to help intestinal motility and can be taken daily as necessary to create a soft, spongy stool. Consider pectin from fruit, flaxseed, chia seed, and oat bran. Psyllium seed balances bowel function and relieves pain. Psyllium's capacity to absorb fluids makes it ideal. An English study revealed that constipation significantly improved in 82 percent of patients taking psyllium. A study to determine the optimum dose advised 20 g per day, but start with ¼ teaspoon and work up slowly. Stir the powder into water and swallow quickly, before it gets bulky. Then drink another full glass of water.
Remedy 3. Magnesium: Get Wet
Proper moisture in the stool is vital. Roughly 7 liters of fluid is dumped into the large intestine every day-this includes digestive secretions and any liquids that we consume. Our large intestine must reabsorb the proper amount so the stool moisture is just right. If the stool is dry-ouch! Magnesium helps draw moisture into the bowel and soften the stool. Most people do well with up to about 1,200 mg of magnesium per day.
More Nutrients to Try
High doses of vitamin C (1 g and up) promote loose stools and can help ease constipation. Vitamins B1 and E, probiotics, and the herb slippery elm are also thought to be effective for treating constipation. For severe constipation, fructooligosaccharides powder (available at health food stores) can be helpful. Triphala, an Ayurvedic herbal formula, can be taken long term to establish regular bowel movements. And lastly, taking digestive enzymes with each meal can help boost absorption of nutrients and promote regularity.
Product Examples (below, left to right):
You will not having a problem finding any of the remedies discussed in this article at your local health food store. Some high-quality choices to consider include Natural Balance colon clenz (with senna), Health Plus The original colon cleanse (with psyllium), Country Life calcium-magnesium with vitamin D complex, and ReNew Life organic bowel cleanse (with fiber and magnesium).