I recently received a rather uplifting review from a woman in her 60s, who had purchased my Digestive Enzymes. She’s suffered chronic constipation, bloating and indigestion for some considerable time. This is some of what she had to say:
“After suffering for many years with constipation and painful indigestion, particularly in the evening and at bedtime, I thought I would try some Just For Tummies vegan Digestive Enzymes tablets. I noticed a difference within a couple of weeks in my bowel habits. I am in my 60s and my bowel tends to be very sluggish, but the Digestive Enzymes tablets sorted the problem! I was still struggling with indigestion in the evenings, so I contacted Linda and was advised to double the dose at teatime – lo and behold! No more indigestion!”
The fact that this particular lady was enquiring not only about constipation, but also indigestion, and worsening indigestion in the evenings, got me thinking. Do people make the connection between constipation and wind, regardless of which orifice it is releasing from?! Constipation can cause gas (a back-up of wastes in the bowel can create lots of putrefactive gases) that can rise upwards as well as downwards, and excessive gas can cause bloating, and put pressure on the diaphragm which, in turn, puts pressure on the stomach, pushing air and sometimes acid-drenched food (acid reflux) out of the stomach and into oesophagus. Furthermore, the longer your stool sits in your colon, the more time bacteria have to ferment what’s there, which means you’re going to feel gassier, a lot more bloated and more at risk of suffering from uncomfortable indigestion. In short, these symptoms are connected.
Why do we get constipated?
I have written a blog post on this very topic, so if you haven’t had a chance to read it, grab a cuppa, put your feet up and learn about some of the factors involved in developing constipation. You can find it by clicking here.
I always say that better health education leads to better health and a longer, more productive, happier life, but the curse of ignorance can put you in an early grave.
How do I treat constipation?
When people want me to help them resolve their constipation, I don’t just immediately think of recommending my Digestive Enzymes, or any of my other Just For Tummies supplements for that matter. I want to know what triggered the constipation in the first place. Perhaps it was, in the case of female patients, a traumatic childbirth, or perhaps it was food poisoning, or even antibiotics. If the antibiotics eradicated the bifidi species of bacteria in the large bowel, then this can slow down transit time and cause constipation and also increase the risk of getting colo-rectal cancer. I also make sure I know the person’s age and if they are taking any medication that could be contributing to their constipation. I’m mindful that they may have a rectocele (prolapse) or have a long, loopy bowel. I will often recommend colon hydrotherapy to help ‘re-set’ the large bowel, then I will recommend a supplement/dietary protocol for them to follow.
I recently received an email from an extremely grateful lady thanking me for ‘changing her life’ after she began taking my natural herbal laxative capsules; in fact, hardly a day goes by when I’m not getting these really heartfelt messages of gratitude.
Can laxatives and/or suppositories help with constipation?
Although there is definitely a place for the use of laxatives and suppositories to help stimulate the bowel, these methods should not be your first port of call if you have constipation. If all else has failed, then yes, do consider laxatives and suppositories, as the most important thing is to get the stool out of your body before it turns into a cesspit, increasing your risk of diverticular disease, sepsis and bowel cancer!
Natural remedies that will bring constipation relief
If your first instinct when you’re constipated is to reach for the laxatives, chances are you don’t need one. There are a number of other remedies you can try first. Here are what I believe to be the best ways to get ‘regular’ again:
Fix it with fibre
- Start off the day with a high-fibre cereal. I’m a big fan of All-Bran. I don’t like the fact that Kellogg’s have added sugar to it in recent years, but it is still a great way to stimulate the bowels, although those of you with more sensitive bowels may find All-Bran too ‘rough’. Some brands contain as much as 14 grams of insoluble fibre, the kind that adds bulk to stool. If you’re not used to eating a lot of fibre, start off with a smaller serving to prevent gas, bloating and cramping.
- Fill up on beans, pulses and legumes (but not too many because they can cause gas), prunes, figs, pears and oatmeal. These foods are also all high in soluble fibre.
- Mix one to two teaspoons of psyllium seeds into a cup of hot water. Let it sit for two hours, add lemon and honey, then drink.
- Flaxseeds are high in fibre and also contain heart-healthy omega-3 fats. Take one tablespoon of the ground seeds two or three times a day. You can also add it your morning cereal or smoothie.
- As you increase your intake of fibre, be sure to drink lots of water – at least 8 glasses a day.
- If you don’t think you’re getting enough fibre in your diet, then take two of my vegan, gluten-free Fibre tablets half an hour before meals with a glass of water.
Don’t ditch the (healthy) fats
- There’s not a week goes by when I’m not contacted by someone, usually female, who has recently gone on a low-fat diet, and since being on the low-fat diet, has become constipated. They tell me that the diet is healthy because they are eating lots of fibre and drinking lots of water, so they can’t understand why they are constipated, until I tell them that the bowel needs fat to function properly. Fat stimulates bile production in the liver and the bowel needs bile to help it contract, pushing wastes along and out. Cut the fat out of your diet, and hey presto, you get constipated.
Loosen up with a hot cuppa
- A morning cup of hot coffee will help. Caffeine has a bowel-loosening effect. Just don’t drink too much since it’s also a diuretic.
- Herbal or decaffeinated tea, or a simple cup of hot water with lemon juice will also help to get things moving
- Dandelion tea has a mildly laxative effect. Drink one cup three times per day.
Get up and go
- Essential for regular bowel movements, exercise stimulates the contraction of the intestinal muscles, speeding the passage of stools. A regular exercise regimen, which may involve a daily walk, yoga, or swimming, can help the digestive system.
- Exercise also helps you manage stress, which can improve your digestion
Put the pressure on
- You can stimulate your digestive system through acupressure. Using your thumb, apply pressure at the spot four finger-widths above your wrist on the back of the forearm. Do this two minutes per day.
- If you struggle to empty your bowels, or you just can’t get that last bit of poo out, and you’re contemplating sticking your finger in to fish it out, don’t! Instead try putting your feet on a step or stool, at least 6 inches off the floor. This has the effect of relaxing the ano-rectal muscle and makes evacuation more comfortable and less of a strain, reducing the risk of prolapses and haemorrhoids. You can buy a Squatty Potty here or improvise with a box, a step, or the dog!
Stock up on probiotics
- People who have chronic constipation have been shown to have an imbalance of bacteria in their gut. It’s thought that probiotic foods could help improve this balance and prevent constipation.
- Numerous studies have found that probiotics seem to treat functional constipation by increasing the frequency of bowel movements and improving stool consistency.
- To include probiotics in your diet, try eating foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut and kimchi, which contain live, friendly bacteria. Alternatively, and if you don’t like the flavour of fermented foods, or you find them too inconvenient when you’re travelling or out and about, then get a pot of my vegan, gluten-free Live Bacteria capsules and take one before breakfast and one before bed with a small glass of water.
Have a colonic treatment
Modern colon hydrotherapy treatment is a very safe, gentle and effective way of resolving constipation. You can literally walk into the colonic treatment room and an hour later walk out, minus around 2-4 kgs of impaction, leaving you feeling lighter, brighter, with less bloating and no pain! If you feel as though you have tried many different remedies with limited success, you may like to consider colonic hydrotherapy as a way to effectively re-boot your digestive system with the goal of reducing constipation.
Colon hydrotherapy can also help empty a retocele – if you’re a woman in your 40s or beyond, have had children, and have a history of constipation, you may have developed a rectocele, a bulge or herniation of the rectum into the back wall of the vagina. Smaller rectoceles are asymptomatic, but as they get larger, they can fill up with stool and cause constipation and potentially become infected. Please note that this is not a long-term solution for retoceles; the only effective resolution is surgery.
For more dietary and lifestyle constipation tips, you can download my Constipation Fact Sheet here.