Constipation and Bowel Difficulty
Supporting the Bowels Naturally
Constipation refers to the incomplete or infrequent passage of stools as well as difficulty passing stools. There are three main causes for constipation. These are: neurogenic, muscular and mechanical. These factors are often combined. A low fiber diet and a sedentary lifestyle contribute to all of these causes of constipation.
Neurogenic constipation can result from a repeated voluntary resistance of the urge to move the bowels. Not listening to when your body needs to have a bowel movement has created the most common kind of constipation in our society. This can be created or worsened in stressful times or extreme physical situations (cold, pain, grief, terror, public speaking).
Drugs and some disease states can also decrease the natural motion of the gut musculature and increase the tendency for constipation. Low back pain made worse by straining can also contribute to constipation.
Muscular weakness in the rectum and sigmoid colon can have a significant impact on the ability to move the bowels. Muscular weakness is caused most often from laxative abuse. It may also be due to conditions such as hypothyroidism, pregnancy, emphysema and electrolyte imbalances in the blood that supply the muscles of the rectum.
Mechanical causes include impaction of fecal material in the bowel, a mass of some sort obstructing the bowel (tumor or pregnant uterus), inflammation (like diverticulitis) or spasm from pain in the rectum or anal canal.
Treatment of constipation
Treatment begins with addressing any of the causative factors as discussed above. The next line of therapeutics involve lifestyle approaches that are very effective and will increase ones general well being in addition to optimizing colon health.
There is no generally agreed upon recommendation for frequency of bowel movements, but most naturopathic physicians recommend two to three bowel movements per day. This is based on what is found among healthy people eating a high fiber diet and who exercise.
- Eat a high fiber, low fat diet. Start to include bran, seeds and vegetables into your diet.
- Avoid overeating and frequent snacking.
- Refined carbohydrates (white flour), cheese, potatoes and meats contribute to constipation.
- Drink plenty of fluids, at least 6-8 glasses per day. Water is best.
* Laxative foods such as prunes, pectin containing fruits (apples, figs, pears, bananas), grapes, cherries, melons, licorice, spinach, and psyllium seeds.
* Hot applications to the abdomen; hot water bottles, hot wet towels
* Bowel training: Try to move bowels at same time each morning after a meal or after drinking warm water. Make time to sit on the toilet each morning, approximately 10-15 minutes. Relax and wait. Pay attention to your body. Do not use this time to read or work. Just sit on the toilet. Sometimes it is easier to go if more of a squatting position is assumed by putting feet up on a footstool. A cold bulb syringe enema can aid in retraining by stimulating gut movement.
- Constitutional hydrotherapy treatments are effective in stimulating the colon and normalizing bowel function. Sine wave is used to stimulate the nerve root centers of the intestinal tract and alternating hot and cold towels increase circulation to the abdomen.
- Abdominal massage: Starting at the lower right side of your belly, massage up to your ribs then across your upper stomach and down the left side making a big circle around your navel. Perform massage after every meal to stimulate the colon and train your bowels to move after each meal.
- Exercise is a bowel stimulant. Some type of aerobic exercise at least 30 minutes, three to four times per week is helpful. Wear loose clothes around the waist.
Herbal carminatives that stimulate the gastrointestinal tract, decrease bloating and flatulence, and can be used freely include:
It is recommended that one discontinue a reliance on laxatives. Chronic use of laxatives can result in watery stools with loss of fluids, vitamins and minerals and muscular weakness or paralysis of the colon.
Laxatives are sometimes necessary but should be used with great caution to avoid dependence and addiction. Medicinal laxatives are usually prescribed in combination to utilize different mechanisms of action. To reestablish bowel function, laxatives may be used each night before bed for one week. Cut the dosage in half the following weeks, then decrease by half the next until you can stop completely.
Check with your physician to determine which type of laxative would be most appropriate for you.
- Psyllium seed
- Flax seed (ground)
- Sea vegetable
* More irritating herbal laxatives are best used under the supervision of your doctor.
Please contact Dr. Keri Brown if you need help with constipation. A consult is only a phone call way at 970-998-3541.
Schedule an appointment today.