Alright, Alright, Alright… I know, constipation, is not the most fun subject to read about. But, truth is, it happens to just about everyone – sometimes! So, what it is it, what causes, and most importantly – how do you “get rid” of it? Read on…
Constipation is the most common digestive complaint in the United States. It is a symptom rather than a disease and, despite its frequency, often remains unrecognized until the patient develops issues from the constipation, such as anorectal disorders or diverticular disease.
What is constipation?
Constipation is infrequent bowel movements or difficult passage of stools.
2 of the following problems must exist for at least 3 months to be “officially” diagnosed with constipation.
- Fewer than 3 bowel movements per week
- Lumpy or hard stools
- Sensation of anorectal obstruction
- Sensation of incomplete defecation
- Manual maneuvering required to defecate
What Causes Constipation?
Normally, the waste products of digestion (stool) are propelled through your intestines by muscle contractions. In the large intestine (colon), most of the water and salt in this waste mixture are reabsorbed because they’re essential for many of your body’s functions.
However, when there is not enough fluid or fiber-rich food in your diet — or if the colon’s muscle contractions are slow — the stool hardens, dries and passes through your colon too slowly. This is the root cause of constipation.
You may also experience constipation if the muscles you use to move your bowels aren’t properly coordinated. This problem is called pelvic floor dysfunction (anismus), and it causes you to strain with most bowel movements — even soft ones.
A number of factors can cause an intestinal slowdown, including:
- Inadequate fluid intake or dehydration
- Inadequate amounts of fiber in your diet
- Ignoring the urge to have a bowel movement or delaying until later
- Lack of physical activity (especially in older adults)
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Changes in lifestyle or routine, including pregnancy, aging and travel
- Frequent use or misuse of laxatives
- Specific diseases, such as stroke, diabetes, thyroid disease and Parkinson’s disease
- Problems with the colon and rectum, such as intestinal obstruction or diverticulosis
- Certain medications, including pain medications, diuretics and those used to treat Parkinson’s disease, high blood pressure and depression
- Hormonal disturbances, such as an underactive thyroid gland
- Anal fissures and hemorrhoids, which can produce a spasm of the anal sphincter muscle
- Loss of body salts through vomiting or diarrhea
- Injuries to the spinal cord, which can affect the nerves that lead to and from the intestine
Natural Treatment For Constipation:
If you know me, I am always recommending natural therapies, first. Obviously, if natural therapies are not indicated or do not work, I move to treatment with prescription medication. My all-time favorite natural therapy is for….. constipation. It is…
1) The Constipation Cocktail (It Works!) this was initially recommended by Dr. Gott, a nationally syndicated physician. Here is the recipe:
1/2 Cup of Prunes or Prune Juice
1/2 Cup of Applesauce (Natural, no added sugar)
1/2 Cup of Bran (Not Bran Flakes, but the real stuff)
If using prunes, place them in a blender with applesauce and a small amount of water and blend. Then mix with bran. Take 1 -2 tablespoons every night. Refrigerate the remaining. Try it, it works – don’t like prunes (everyone can stomach 1 or 2 tbls of just about anything). If you don’t think you could eat this, then I assure you, you are not constipated!!
2) A high-fiber diet. A diet with at least 20 to 35 grams of fiber each day helps your body form soft, bulky stool. High-fiber foods include beans, whole grains, and fresh fruits and vegetables. Limit foods that have little to no fiber, such as cheese, meat and processed foods.
3) Regular exercise. Physical activity can help stimulate intestinal activity. 30 minutes, 5 times a week is recommended.
4) Adequate fluid intake. Drinking plenty of water and other fluids will help soften your stool. (1/2 of your body weight in water is recommended)
5) Take the time for bowel movements. Set aside sufficient time to allow undisturbed visits to the toilet (if you are a mom, you know this is easier said than done). And don’t ignore the urge to have a bowel movement.
There are many different types of laxatives:
- Fiber supplements, or bulk laxatives, are generally considered the safest of laxatives. Examples include FiberCon, Metamucil, Konsyl, Serutan and Citrucel. These agents must be taken with plenty of water.
- Stimulants cause rhythmic contractions in the intestines. Examples include Correctol, Dulcolax and Senokot.
- Lubricants enable stool to move through your colon more easily. Examples include mineral oil and Fleet.
- Stool softeners moisten the stool and help prevent dehydration. Examples include Colace and Surfak.
- Osmotics help fluids to move through the colon. Examples include Cephulac, Sorbitol and Miralax. I recommend Miralax most often. It is gentle and effective.
- Saline laxatives act like a sponge to draw water into the colon for easier passage of stool. Examples include milk of magnesia and Haley’s M-O.
If lifestyle changes and over-the-counter medications don’t improve your symptoms, your doctor may recommend prescription medications, such as:
- Chloride channel activators. The agent lubiprostone (Amitiza) is available by prescription and increases fluid content of stool.
After consulting with your health care provider, if none of the above therapies help your constipation – a referral to Gastroenterology may be appropriate. A colonoscopy may be needed to rule out any other issues, which could be causing your constipation.
Don’t forget, after the age of 50, it is important to have your screening colonoscopy. Colonoscopies may sound like a daunting task, but they ARE NOT THAT BAD!! A colonoscopy may save your life!
Do you know why colon cancer is one of leading causes of death? It is because; there are basically no noticeable symptoms, until the cancer has progressed into advanced stages. So, get your colonoscopy! It’s really not “a pain in the butt” – no pun intended!!
What are your natural cures for constipation?