Constipation is no joking matter. Being unable to properly empty bowels, not to mention the hardened stool that can be incredibly painful to pass, is an agony no one would want to prolong.
Pharmaceutical companies have created laxatives in response to the problems posed by constipation. One of these laxatives is Miralax, effective yet not without any side-effects.
Miralax use poses the risk of severe diarrhea or blood in the stools / rectum. Worse, it can be fatal for people who suffer from intestinal blockage or bowel obstruction, or are allergic to polyethylene glycol.
But if we look around, Mother Nature has plenty of remedies to offer for the constipated. It is always recommended to seek first the advice of a medical professional prior to picking an alternative for your constipation:
1. Blackstrap Molasses
Also known only as blackstrap, it is produced by boiling the juice of pure cane sugar until it becomes black in color, usually around the third boiling. This form has almost all of its sucrose content crystallized, and it is packed with calcium, iron, manganese, magnesium, potassium, and vitamin B6, all of which are essential in fighting off constipation. Being an alkaline food, blackstrap molasses equalizes stomach pH levels for better stool formation and movement. Blackstrap can be added to other food and drink as a sweetener, or can be taken directly with a teaspoon or two then diluted with water to tone down the taste.
2. Cascara Sagrada
The dried bark of rhamnus purshiana was used as a laxative by Native Americans, and European and American colonizers. So effective was the bark that the Spanish conquistadors named it cascara sagrada, meaning “sacred bark”. Nowadays it can be purchased as a herbal supplement or as an ingredient of other prescription laxatives and not as a drug due to safety concerns raised by cascara. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) required all manufacturers to submit safety information as a response to these concerns, but none complied. This forced the FDA to order the manufacturers to reformulate all over-the-counter laxatives with cascara in America.
Cascara causes the intestines to have muscle contractions, aiding stool passage. Its
anthraquinones, chemicals that give cascara its color and laxative properties, stimulate the intestinal bacteria to help with bowel elimination. It is available in liquid and pill forms, and some health stores sell its bark that can be boiled for tea (double check first if the bark has aged for at least one year, or else it will cause severe diarrhea and cramps). As with other laxatives it is not meant to be taken for more than a week, and should not be taken by children, and pregnant and breastfeeding women.
Herbalists throughout history have prescribed dandelion to alleviate constipation, diarrhea, and inflammation. Packed with vitamins A to D, calcium, iron, manganese, potassium, and zinc, the plant also has diuretic and mild laxative properties. To reap its benefits, one may add dandelion leaves or dandelion vinegar to dishes, or steep a teaspoon of dried dandelion root in boiled water and serve as tea. Three cups on a daily basis is enough to get rid of constipation. Another way to utilize dandelion is to make a tincture:
Wash and dry entire dandelions (flowers, leaves, roots). Chop into small bits and place them in a jar. Fill it with 100 proof vodka up to an inch above the chopped herb. Close the jar and keep it away from direct sunlight for up to six weeks; shake the jar every day and check if the vodka is still an inch above the dandelions. After the waiting period, strain the liquid into different bottles and they’re ready for use.
Most of the time you’ll see the word “fiber” along with “aids in proper digestion” in many whole-grain products. That’s because fiber has been proven to work wonders with everything digestion and elimination, not to mention preventing certain health conditions. There are two kinds of fiber available, both equally important in ensuring a healthier digestive process and in treating constipation:
Foods that have soluble fiber dissolve in water and turn into a gelatinous substance during digestion. This slows down digestion, helps in the absorption of nutrients, and stool becomes larger and softer which eases elimination. This kind of fiber also lowers cholesterol and controls blood glucose. Sources include apples, oranges, barley, carrots, legumes, lentils, and oats.
The type of fiber obtained when eating whole grains, okra, peas, turnip, bran and wheat cereals, and kidney, navy, and pinto beans. Insoluble fiber does not have any reaction with water, instead it bulks up the stool and makes it pass through the intestines faster. With regular consumption the risks of constipation and hemorrhoids are also reduced.
The skins of some fruits and vegetables are packed with fiber (especially apples), so eating them without peeling is advisable. As per the American Dietetic Association, the recommended daily intake of fiber for women ranges from 21 to 25 grams, and 30 to 38 grams for men. The recommended daily amounts are easy to maintain, considering the wide range of fiber sources available. However, some people experience cramps and gas during the consumption of fiber in high amounts. To counteract this, drink plenty of water and increase fiber intake gradually for a few weeks.
Lemon’s citric acid content stimulates the digestive system. A glass of lemon juice assists in both digestion and elimination when taken right after waking up in the morning or after a meal, taking out pent up toxins and waste material in the colon. Alternatively, a mix of lemon (or lemon essential oil) with several teaspoons of baking soda in a glass of water as a cheaper yet effective method. Baking soda can neutralize stomach acids and increase the contractions of gastrointestinal muscles, making intestinal tract movement easier.
There are several oils that can remedy constipation:
Coconut oil contains medium-chain fatty acids (MCFA) that boost intestinal metabolic rate, leading to faster breakdown of food and increased frequency of stool passage. The oil’s fibrous nature cleanses the colon and balances the stomach’s pH level, both of which affect constipated people positively. The oil can be directly taken in teaspoons, stirred into a glass of natural fruit juice, or used as a healthier substitute for cooking oil.
Under an expert’s supervision, castor oil is taken orally and with an empty stomach, as it is not meant to be taken for more than a week. It cleans the intestines and, being a stimulant laxative, increases stool movement. For this purpose it is used prior to surgery or bowel examinations. It takes up to half a day for the oil to take effect.
Rich with antioxidants, vitamins E, K, iron, and omega-3 and 6 that promote a healthy digestive tract. Olive oil’s consistency, plus its monounsaturated oil content, acts as a lubricant that speeds up bowel elimination and strengthens the colon’s mucus lining that’s damaged by hard stool. More importantly olive oil enhances both the release of gallbladder bile and the contraction of intestinal muscles, making fat digestion easier and stools a lot softer. Like coconut oil, this can be taken directly or mixed with other drinks.
The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil lubricate the intestines to ease passage. Aside from constipation, these fatty acids also remedy Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Rich sources of omega-3 are halibut, mackerel, salmon, sardines, and tuna. Dietary supplements are also available but may not be ideal for people with problems regarding bleeding and bruising, not to mention some adverse reactions when taken along other certain medications.
Bacteria are often seen as harmful and are supposed to be eliminated as soon as possible, hence the existence of antibiotics and antibacterial hygienic products. But there are actually good bacteria that can help keep the body healthy and protect it from diseases, as opposed to their detrimental counterparts. These good bacteria are called probiotics, and they keep the digestive organs in top shape by stimulating the digestive enzymes and juices. Some probiotics actually live inside the human intestines by the billions, with lactobacillus and bifidobacterium being the most common ones, and complications such as constipation may arise at the event of an imbalance in their numbers.
Present in cheese, fermented food such as kefir, live culture yogurt, miso soup, and unpasteurized fermented vegetables. Probiotics treat different kinds of diarrheas including those caused by the use of antibiotics, Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel disease, and infantile colic. Probiotics also ensure that bad bacteria don’t have enough space in the gut wall to multiply, severely reducing the risk of constipation and a slew of other problems associated with digestion. These good bacteria are ideal substitutes for laxatives as they don’t make the body reliant to them, nor do they cause dehydration.