Constipation occurs when stool passes through the large intestine too slowly. When stool stays in the large intestine too long, too much water is removed, and the stool becomes hard and dry.
Some lifestyle habits that may cause constipation include
- change in diet, exercise, or travel habits
- ignoring the urge to have a bowel movement
- excess stress
- a low-fiber diet
- calcium or iron supplements
- medicines such as painkillers with codeine; diuretics, anti-depressants; and some antacids
Some medical conditions that may cause constipation include diabetes, IBS, and hypothyroidism.
Constipation is a symptom of an underlying problem. In cases of chronic constipation, the muscles of the intestines have to be retrained to move bowel content. Two things should be done to retrain the intestines: take care that meals are eaten regularly (the same time each day) and small amounts of appropriate herbs are used to re-stimulate peristalsis (intestinal movement).
In 2000, 63 million people were reported to suffer from chronic constipation and in 2004, 5.3 million prescriptions were written for people suffering with constipation.
Fiber helps form soft, bulky stools and is found in many vegetables, fruits, and grains. Be sure to add fiber to your diet a little at a time so your body gets used to it. Limit foods that have little or no fiber such as pizza, ice cream, cheese, meat, snacks like chips, and processed foods such as instant mashed potatoes or frozen dinners.
Try not to drink liquids that contain caffeine or alcohol if you feel thirsty or dehydrated.
Regular exercise helps your digestive system stay active and healthy. Exercising 20 to 30 minutes every day may help. Walking and stretching are recommended.
Visit the restroom when you feel the urge to have a bowel movement. Reading a book or magazine in the restroom can help you relax. If you cannot have a bowel movement within 10 minutes, get up and return the next time you get the urge.
The best laxatives are those that stimulate the natural secretion of digestive juices such as bile thus promoting evacuation. Some of these include Barberry, Dandelion Root, Licorice, and Yellow Dock.
A more powerful evacuant is Rhubarb Root. Others to consider are Aloe, Cascara Sagrada and Senna. However, these work mainly by chemical or neurological stimulation, irritating the lining of the intestines and causing an active expulsion of material.