Monday, May 26, 2008

Herbs for constipation

What is constipation

Constipation, the "difficult, incomplete, or infrequent evacuation of dry hardened feces from the bowels" (The American Heritage Dictionary) can be an occasional, acute, or chronic problem. It can be caused by many factors including lack of fluids, poor diet, sedentary lifestyle, emotional state, or as a side-effect of specific medications. Be aware of the constipating effect of other drugs or supplements you may be taking, like iron tablets,opiates, antidepressants, and antihistamines. Constipation is almost always a nuisance; it can also be a sign of a more serious condition. Chronic constipation should be evaluated in conjunction with a healthcare professional.

Natural remedies to treat constipation

Laxatives, even herbal laxatives, should be used with caution. Other natural remedies should be tried first. The gentlest remedies for constipation include increased movement and exercise, certain yoga postures, increase of fluid intake, and dietary changes including increased fiber and fruit. Acidophilus liquid or powder relieves chronic constipation (says herbalist Susun Weed in her Wise Woman Ways for the Menopausal Years). And prune juice may be the most effective and gentlest remedy for constipation.

Dr. James Duke, a scientist who worked for the USDA, recommended in his typical iconoclastic fashion, that Dan Rather ask the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) if he considered prune juice a safe and effective laxative. "If he answered no, I suggested that Rather request that Dr. Kessler (the commissioner) drink some and experience the results for himself. If he answered yes, I suggested that Rather ask why FDA labeling regulations prohibit prune juice marketers from stating that prune juice is a safe, effective, gentle laxative." "...(It) is probably the cheapest, least unpleasant laxative now available." (The Green Pharmacy, p140)

Apple-pear juice is also highly recommended; and stewed fruits like prunes, figs, or dates especially when mixed in licorice tea makes a tasty laxative snack

Some other options

Not a usual topic of discussion, at least here in middle-class America, is the position in which one attempts a bowel movement. Squatting can really help alleviate mild constipation - but may be awkward on traditional toilets. Some families find that using a small footstool to raise and open the legs helps to facilitate an easier evacuation. Massaging the abdomen with essential oils with laxative properties (in a carrier oil base) like chamomile, marjoram, or peppermint can also be helpful.

Herbal laxatives

There are three classes of herbal laxatives - bulk, mild (but not bulk) and purgative.

Whichever category you use, remember that it takes time for laxatives to work. The bulk herbs may need 12 to 24 hours to encourage a bowel movement, and irritating herbs somewhat less time, perhaps 6 to 12 hours. So be patient, and do not take another dose prematurely.

Bulk laxatives

Bulk laxatives are the gentlest for occasional constipation. Flaxseed (also known as linseed), psyllium, and fenugreek are three well-known herbal bulk laxatives. In The Family Herbal, the authors recommend flaxseed as a "laxative without side effects". You can take one tablespoon of whole seeds two to three times a day, followed by two cups of liquid. To help bulk laxatives do their job properly, one must drink a lot of water, otherwise gastrointestinal obstructions can occur.

Psyllium, another bulk laxative, is more well-known to most consumers as the main ingredient in Metamucil. A combination of psyllium seeds and a large glass of water can help lubricate the bowels and ease the passage of dry stools. In addition, this seed may also help cut cholesterol. It is quite popular in Germany to take 3 to 10 tablespoons a day for chronic constipation. The seeds swell; they also need plenty of water to motivate their transit through the digestive tract. Caution - asthmatics shouldn't take this herb; if you generally have allergies, take only with caution. ("There have been several reports of allergic reactions to psyllium, including a few serious asthma attacks from inhaled seed dust." - reported by James Duke in The Green Pharmacy)