Infrequent and/or difficult bowel movements, headaches, coated tongue, tiredness, bad breath, mental depression, and mental dullness are all possible symptoms of constipation.
What is Constipation?
From Modern Western Medicine
Regularity and comfort of bowel movements are more important than frequency. Constipation is usually not considered harmful unless it appears suddenly and persists in an adult over 40. The most common cause is insufficient fiber in the diet. Lack of regular bowel moving habits is another cause. This may be the result of inadequate toilet training in childhood or of repeatedly ignoring the urge to move the bowels. In elderly people, there may be a weakness in the muscles of the abdomen and pelvic floor. In many cases, constipation can be cured by establishing a regular routine for using the toilet, acting on any urge to move the bowels, avoiding use of laxatives and purgatives, increasing the amount of fiber in the diet, and drinking more liquids.
From Traditional Medicine
Intestinal cleansing is fundamental to the overall good health of the body. Ideally, people should have an adequate bowel movement once a day, but many years on the highly refined Western diet may have made that goal impossible for many. In that case, ample regular bowel movements every other day should be the norm.
If the main cause of constipation is a fiber-deficient diet, then both prevention and cure must lie in an unrefined, high-fiber diet. If constipation is habitual and of long duration, weakened bowels must first be strengthened and reeducated, even before a high-fiber diet will stimulate regularity. Often, once specific short cleansing fasts or mono diets (see below) with herbal aids, and hydropathic applications will rectify intestinal action.
Many people with intestinal disorders suffer from spleen imbalances. Chinese medicine maintains that the spleen provides qi to the large intestine, and thus is considered the “mother” of the colon. Chinese physicians, therefore, treat both the spleen and the large intestines when treating chronic constipation.
Foods to Eat
- High-fiber diet consisting of whole gains, leafy greens, beans, and fruit
- Apple mono diet (3 days): This consists of four or five meals of raw apples with apple juice between meals. On the evening of the third day, the patient takes 2 tbsp. of raw, unrefined olive oil. Take no enemas or laxatives. Take 25 drops of cascara sagrada tincture diluted in water four times a day. When taken regularly in low doses, cascara acts as a tonic, not as a laxative. Continue taking cascara for two weeks, then gradually reduce.
- Eat plenty of raw fruit and vegetables
- Bran: 1 – 2 tbsp. with water at mealtimes
- Prune, raisin, and fig tea: Cut up 10 – 12 figs and place in a saucepan together with 10 -12 cut-up prunes and about 2 tbsp. raisins. Cover with 2 pints of water and simmer for 30 minutes.
- Olive oil
- 4 to 8 glasses of water per day
- Black sesame seeds (Chinese medicine)
- Fruit fast (three days) with nightly enemas
- Miso, tamari, and shoyu, preferably organic: all fermented foods, rich in friendly bacteria to restore the health of the colon.
The large intestine is dependent upon a healthy spleen. Chinese medicine regards the spleen as the governor of digestion, passing life force, or qi, from the small intestine to the large, and thus ensuring healing assimilation and elimination. Among the foods that injure the spleen are refined white sugar and foods containing sugar. Such foods weaken the spleen and prevent it from passing adequate qi to the large intestine. For many people, sugar sometimes can act as a laxative, but over time, it causes constipation. The intestine itself may be constitutionally strong but conditionally weak, due in large measure to the fact that the spleen is being weakened constantly by the intake of sugar.
Foods that lubricate intestines are sesame seeds and oil, honey, pears, prunes, peaches, apples, apricots, walnuts, pine nuts, almonds, alfalfa sprouts, soy products, carrots, cauliflower, beets, okra, and seaweed.
Foods that promote bowel movements are cabbage, peas, black sesame seeds, sweet potatoes, asparagus, figs, bran from oats, and wheat or rice.
Flora-enhancing foods are miso, sauerkraut, wheat grass, and microalgae.
Other helpful therapies are regular acupressure massage, shiatsu massage, and acupuncture.
Foods to Avoid
- Fats and other rich foods
- Spicy foods
- Refined foods
Herbs to Treat Constipation
- Cascara bark
- Rhubarb root
- Barberry bark
- Dandelion root
- Flax: Soak and eat, or consume after using in tea
- Fenugreek (as above)
- Psyllium (as above)
The above three herbs are most effective when equal parts are taken, but any one will be helpful alone. Take 3 tbsp. of the combination or any single seed once or twice daily.
- According to Michael Tierra’s Planetary Herbology: Rhubarb root (3 – 6 g) (substitute cascara if liver stagnation is present); gingerroot (1 – 2 g); licorice root (1 – 2 g)
- Nux vomica: If you are hooked on laxatives, this will break the habit. Take a dose a few hours before bedtime. You can take a daily dose for a few days.
- Use sulfur when it’s painful to pass stools due to rectal fissure (a crack in the lining of the rectum), or if feces are hard, dark, and dry and there is a tendency to have hemorrhoids.
- Alumina may help when there is difficult passage of soft, sticky stools. (Alumina can cause this problem, so don’t use aluminum cookware.)
- Use Bryonia for a large, dark stool that is difficult to pass, often looking burnt. It is also used if a person is irritable and ill-tempered. It is frequently used for children.
- Use graphites when there is no urge to defecate and when the stool comes, it takes the form of round balls stuck together with mucus and difficult to pass. Other symptoms are fissures or cracks and hemorrhoids that burn and itch.
- Use silica for a bashful stool that starts out and goes back. There is soreness and often oozing of mucus.
- Hot compress to abdomen
- Hot sitz baths
- Warm enemas of chamomile tea
- Bifidobacteria (including B. bifidum, B. infantis, and B. longum)
- Lactobacillus bulgaricus
- Walking daily stimulated and strengthens abdominal muscles and promotes healthy intestinal function
- Yoga and stretching exercises promote the flow of qi through the large intestine and spleen meridians