Constipation – it’s something most of us have suffered from at various times. There is a tendency to just put up with it, maybe take a laxative and forget about it. But it is important to understand that, like any other condition of the body, there is always an underlying cause and it is the body’s way of telling us that something is not quite right. The long term consequences of chronic constipation can lead to a build up of toxins in the body that can wreak havoc on our system.
Constipation can be caused by a number of things, some of which include lack of exercise, anxiety, low fluid intake, low fibre diet, poor functioning liver, thyroid disorder, advancing age, imbalanced mineral intake, pregnancy, some medications, laxative abuse, inflammatory bowel and neuromuscular disorders, acute diverticulitis, and structural disorders. If you suffer from chronic constipation, it is essential that you do not rely on laxatives to have a bowel motion. Long term use of laxatives can create a “lazy bowel”, which can lead to dependence on the laxatives. Fortunately there are many natural and gentle options available to help relieve this condition.
- You know how your muscles can often tighten up when you are stressed or anxious? Well stress and anxiety can do the same thing to your bowels, causing them to tighten up and constrict and not allow the proper passing of motions. It is important to manage your stress levels with activities such as meditation, tai chi and yoga, however any activity that makes you feel happy and relaxed will also reduce stress and anxiety. This can be something as simple as spending time playing with your children, having a nice long bath, taking the dog for a walk, reading a few pages of your favourite book or dancing around the lounge room to some music you love.
- Physical activity is important for circulation and to get things moving. It also has a great effect on lifting mood and relieving stress, and even more so if done with friends or loved ones. Aim to participate in at least 30 minutes most days, either spread out over the day or as a block.
- Give your digestive system the best start possible by taking time to eat in a relaxed, unrushed atmosphere and make sure you chew your food properly.
- Eating 5 or 6 smaller meals per day, rather than 2 or 3 larger ones, will help “spread the load” and put less pressure on your entire digestive system.
- Increase fluid intake. A good guide as to how much water you need each day is to calculate 30ml per kilo of body weight. So, if you weigh 70 kilograms, you will need approximately 2.1 litres of water per day. This can be clean, filtered water and/or herbal teas. If you exercise a lot, increase accordingly. Remember though, this is just a guide. If you urine is clear or very pale in colour, then you are well hydrated.
- Alcohol has a dehydrating effect on the body, so avoid as much as possible. Also avoid tea, especially black tea, as the tannins in the tea can contribute to constipation.
- Avoid refined foods, sugar and dairy products such as milk and cheese .
- Avoid fried and processed foods, and increase essential fatty acids from cold water fish, nuts and seeds.
- Increase intake of fibre rich foods e.g. vegetables and fruit, whole grains, legumes.
- Squeeze ½ fresh lemon into warm water before meals. This will help to get the whole digestive process primed up for action.
- Eat foods with natural laxative properties including prunes, rhubarb, pears, apples, flax meal.
- Ensure adequate intake of foods rich in vitamin C and magnesium.
- A number of herbs have a remarkable effect on bowel activity, however these must be taken correctly to avoid adverse reactions and therefore need to be prescribed by a Herbalist or Naturopath.
By Andrea Southern, Naturopath, Nutritionist, Herbalist at Stafford and The Gap in Brisbane. For an appointment phone 0412 791 705