Constipation refers to a change in bowel habits characterised by a decrease in frequency or hard, dry stools. Bowel emptying may be incomplete.
Hard stools that are difficult or painful to pass
Nausea, anxiety, headache and general discomfort
Constipation is normally caused by inadequate amounts of fibre in the diet, but other contributing factors may be:
Not drinking enough water
Not getting enough exercise
Putting off going to the toilet after you get the urge
Emotional and psychological problems
Fear of pain during defaecation
Overuse of laxatives
Slippery Elm and Linseed are both sources of fibre that produce a jelly-like substance in the bowel, making stools softer and bulkier and easier to pass. They should always be taken with large amounts of water.
Herbal laxatives such as Senna and Cascara will help to stimulate a bowel motion, however should not be used for extended periods of time or if you are pregnant. The prolonged use of laxatives is not desirable and may lead to a dependency, or inability of the bowel to move on its own.
Probiotic supplements such as Acidophilus and Bifidus improve the balance of good bacteria in the bowel and help to maintain regularity
Bitter herbal tonics help to stimulate liver and gall bladder function, traditionally considered important for initiating bowel movements. Look for liquid formulas containing Dandelion root, Globe Artichoke or Gentian, combined with anti-spasmodic remedies such as Peppermint, Aniseed and Cinnamon.
A diet containing lots of fruit, vegetables and cereal foods is high in fibre. Try to eat as much unprocessed food as possible.
Overall muscle tension felt in the neck and shoulders when we are under stress can also impact on the bowel – this is particularly relevant if you are “a worrier”. Regular massage, meditation or other forms of relaxation may be helpful, as may the anti-spasmodic mineral magnesium.
Fibre and water are both important for bowel regularity. Aim to maintain a good balance between soluble fibre (such as psyllium or apple fibre, which has the ability to absorb a lot of water and produces a soft stool), and insoluble fibre (such as wheat bran, which produces a larger, but harder stool).
A lifestyle based on regular exercise, clean water and a diet of fresh foods and grains is the best approach to avoiding constipation.
Consult your healthcare professional if
You experience lower abdominal pain when trying to pass stools
Your stool contains blood, or looks like it contains coffee grounds
Your constipation develops after you start a new prescription drug or natural health supplement
You or your child has been constipated for two weeks
You are elderly or disabled and have been constipated for a week or more; you may have an impacted stool