Each individual will have a ‘normal’ number of bowel movements, and defining when someone is constipated can be difficult. However, should an individual have none, or occasionally 1 bowel movement per day on a regular basis, then this can indicate a degree of constipation.
- Lack of dietary fibre
- Lack of a nutritious diet
- Insufficient fluid intake
- Disturbed intestinal flora (80% of the weight of stools are comprised of intestinal bacteria)
- Conventional drugs such as antibiotics, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAID’s), morphine based pain killers, sedatives, anaesthetics
- Lack of exercise and/or physical immobility due to health
- Age-related degeneration of the digestive tract influencing a reduction in the production of digestive enzymes
- Chronic inflammatory conditions of the digestive tract: peritonitis, diverticulitis, infection, trauma, tumour
- Anxiety and nervous tension also prevent the digestion from functioning properly as chronic anxiety inhibits the secretion of digestive enzymes as well as restricting peristaltic motion
Ayurvedic view of constipation
Ayurveda considers constipation to be caused by elevated levels of hot or cold within the intestines, or a high level of intestinal dryness. All three factors can influence the intestines to contract, or spasm which traps and slows down the natural movement of a stool through the digestive tract. A slow digestive metabolism can also influence the onset of chronic constipation. When the metabolism is low, foods cannot be metabolised properly and undigested matter will accumulate.
Laxative treatment strategies
- Bulk laxatives: Psyllium husks, methylcellulose. These forms of laxatives must be taken with high volumes of water, if not, they can exacerbate constipation and also inhibit the absorption of minerals and other drugs.
- Irritant laxatives: Senna, phenolphthalein, bisacodyl. When used in-appropriately and too frequently, they can cause dependency and violent purges.
- Osmotic laxatives: This form of laxative will alter the movement of fluid into the intestines. Common forms are magnesium, phosphate and sulfate based.
- Detergent laxatives: This form of laxative works by allowing water to enter the faecal matter and break down surface barriers. Docusate is a common conventional detergent laxative.
- Enemas: Although these can be effective at initially clearing the bowels, they may lead to dependence.
Stimulate the digestive metabolism
- Eat a fibre rich diet including grains, root vegetables and green leafy vegetables
- Include digestive stimulants such as fennel, triphala, ginger & pepper to encourage an efficient digestive metabolism
Improve levels of digestive bacteria
- Incorporate foods and herbs that are rich in pro and pre-biotics
Strengthen the digestive tract
- Use tonic herbs such as Triphala to nourish the colon and encourage peristalsis
Lubricating the digestive tract
- Increase oils in the diet, such a hemp and oily nuts and seeds to encourage lubrication of the large intestine
- Controlled use of bulk laxatives to build the volume and fluidity of the stools and also to lubricate the mucus membranes of the large intestine
Herbal treatment strategies
- Triphala: A traditional Ayurvedic bowel cleanser that both strengthens and tones the bowels, encouraging a gentle but restorative detoxification of the entire digestive tract. A mixture of three fruits, it is used to cleanse the whole system by regulating the bowels. Amla is a potent anti-oxidant and helps to regulate the liver. Haritaki helps to promote bowel movements as well as toning the muscles of the intestines. The third fruit, Bibhitaki, helps to maintain healthy mucus membranes and encourages regularity.
- Rhubarb: A strong but effective purgative that can be helpful for an initial bowel cleanse to remove stagnant inflammatory toxins from the system.
- Fennel: Fennel is a classic digestive tonic and digestive detoxifier. It will relieve typical symptoms of indigestion such as griping, spasms and bloating whilst also gently stimulating the digestive metabolism.
- Psyllium Husk & Linseed: Both herbs are bulk laxatives that lubricate the bowels and encourage a greater peristaltic motion, encouraging bowel evacuation.
- Licorice: Licorice contains anti-inflammatories and is also highly mucilaginous. It soothes an irritated digestion whilst also acting as a demulcent that lubricates a hot and dry digestive tract.
- Ashwagandha: Ashwagandha is an excellent nerve tonic, and can help support and strengthen an anxious nervous system that may be exacerbating chronic constipation.