Curing the Constipation Blues
“When I got up this morning I took 2 Ex-Lax in addition to my Prozac. I can't get off the john, but I feel good about it.” Anonymous
A 45-year-old patient recently told me that her family doctor and gastroenterologist both believed there was nothing wrong with her having only one bowel movement each week. In the doctors’ own words: “This is normal for you.”
Believe it or not, this small-stool philosophy is promoted by many conventional medical groups, including the National Institute on Aging. Here’s a direct quote from their Web site (http://www.nih.gov/nia/): “Do not expect to have a bowel movement every day or even every other day.”
Dr. Dennis Burkitt, MD, famous for his scientific research on bowel health, would definitely not agree with this waste-holding attitude. Neither would the authors of over 40 books on the subject. Dr. Burkitt and many other experts have noted the inverse relationship between the frequency and size of bowel movements and good health.
The doctor found that citizens of those cultures which had larger, softer and more frequent bowel movements were also the healthiest. Furthermore, these groups had the smallest and fewest hospitals. They ate a primarily vegetarian diet, with animal products used only as flavourings or for an occasional feast. Individuals also had a bowel movement following each meal.
Naturopaths have often said that “death begins in the colon.” I agree. Waste material which is not eliminated in a timely, efficient fashion can potentially poison healthy cells and organs far removed from the large bowel. Common ailments in the “civilized” world resulting indirectly and directly from constipation are virtually unknown in rural Africa and India. These include colon cancer, obesity, diverticulitis, diabetes, heart disease, appendicitis and varicose veins.
Causes of Sluggish Bowels
A healthy colon eliminates waste in 12 to 18 hours with a frequency of one bowel movement per meal per day. That’s three bm’s daily if one has three meals each day, four bm’s for four meals, etc. Anything slower is just a varying degree of constipation, a problem shared by at least 60 per cent of North Americans.
The commonest cause of sluggish bowels is a lack of fibre and water in the diet. Other possibilities include a low thyroid condition, neurological diseases like multiple sclerosis, and the use of drugs that affect motility (opiates, diuretics, antidepressants and muscle relaxants).
Antacid and laxative abuse can also lead to chronic constipation. Chemical laxatives and frequent enemas can encourage dependency creating weaker bowel muscle and nerve function leading to worse constipation than before their use. In fact, it may take some people hooked on laxatives months before bowel function returns to normal through the use of natural remedies.
Constipation may be a feature of irritable bowel syndrome, unsuspected food allergy, high dose calcium and iron salts supplementation, fungal (candida overgrowth) or parasitic infestation, diverticulosis, other types of abdominal infection, dehydration, bowel obstruction, long periods of immobility, stress and depression.
Parasites like Giardia lamblia, Blastocystis hominis and Entamoeba histolytica are often overlooked causes of colon troubles. One can easily pick these up from travels to third world countries, day care centres, contaminated fruits, vegetables, animal products and household pets.
Another less recognized cause of constipation is magnesium deficiency. Magnesium is the central element of chlorophyll and is found in all greens. Folic acid and vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) deficiency can also lead to lazy bowels.
The spiritual view of constipation sees it as refusing to release old ideas, being stuck in the past and expressing stinginess or inflexibility. Psychoanalysis theory believes that defecation is an act of giving and
generosity, while constipation is an expression of a desire to hang onto things too tightly, usually material things. Constipation may represent an attempt to keep unconscious, repressed emotions locked up within ourselves.
Eliminate Constipating Foods
“Success consists of doing the common things of life uncommonly well.” Anonymous
If you are otherwise healthy, the first step needed to cure constipation is to increase water intake to more than eight large glasses of spring water per day. Avoid coffee and regular tea. Dilute fruit juices are fine. Eat more high fibre foods such as whole grains, legumes, fruits, seeds and nuts, provided you tolerate these foods. Dairy products are frequent causes of sluggish bowels and are best avoided.
It’s also very important to eliminate constipating refined carbohydrate foods such as sweets, chocolates, cakes, all white flour products, white rice and other processed foods. Wheat bran, apple pectin and psyllium seed husks may not only help move your bowels better but will also decrease cravings for sweets.
The average healthy adult requires at least 40 grams of fibre per day for optimal bowel function. Some people may not be able to tolerate such high levels initially, but can easily get used to the higher roughage over a period of weeks to months.
Two foods that are very effective at stimulating the bowels are bran and prunes. It’s best to start with half a cup (125 mL) of bran cereal per day, preferably organic and unsweetened. Over a two-week period, increase this amount gradually to two cups (500 mL). With prunes, one needs to eat at least 8 ounces (227 g) daily for healthy evacuation.
Increasing physical activity also plays an important role. Exercise optimizes circulation to the bowel and improves its performance.
Many natural remedies have worked well for a stubborn colon. Examples are whole leaf aloe vera juice, digestive enzyme supplements, bromelain, B- complex vitamins, especially B5 (pantothenic acid) and folic acid, vitamin C, magnesium citrate or oxide, liquid chlorophyll, flaxseed oil, Lactobacillus acidophilus and fiber supplements.
The occasional use of Swedish bitters, cascara sagrada, comfrey, goldenseal and senna leaf may be an effective approach for some people.
Seeking Professional Help
If chronic constipation doesn’t respond to natural approaches – or there is a coexisting medical condition – seek professional help. Each case needs individual assessment, and special medical or nutritional tests may be necessary.
One such test is the comprehensive digestive and stool analysis. The CDSA is a battery of 24 screening tests of gastrointestinal status. It assesses how well a person digests and assimilates food, and it can detect bacterial flora imbalances, hidden infections with candida, fungi or parasites, or digestive enzyme insufficiencies. Check with your naturopath or holistic medical doctor for such testing and personalized treatments.
Remember, you needn’t move through life singing the constipation blues, when nature offers a smorgasbord of safe and gentle solutions.
The Constipation Quick Fix
If changing your diet and lifestyle is beyond your present capabilities, there’s a relatively safe and effective quick fix for constipation. It entails using high doses of vitamin C and/or pantothenic acid (vitamin B5). Much safer than taking laxatives or drugs, the only significant side effect of taking too much of either vitamin is diarrhea. Once one finds the optimal amount that yields more efficient bowel clearing, this bowel tolerance dose can be safely continued as needed.
With both vitamins, start at 1,000 mgs three times daily. Increase by increments of 1,000 mgs each day until the bowels are functioning as desired. Some people respond better to one vitamin than the other. It’s simply a matter of trial and error to see what works best for you. If gas develops, this means the dose is too low – just increase it until the gas clears.