Nobody likes to talk about it, but the most common gastrointestinal ailment in the U.S. is constipation. What defines constipation varies from individual to individual but if you’re seeing a major decrease in frequency of bowel movements then you might want to look into the causes and try a few classic home remedies as well.
Is it Constipation or Not?
First, how do you know you are constipated? Easy: if you notice your “regular” routine is off schedule and nothing is “moving” along. Because of variations in lifestyle, diet, and cellular makeup, we all have different BM schedules…maybe every day is regular for you, or maybe three times a week. For some, three times a day is normal. Whatever the case may be, any pause in the regular routine can be called constipation. Even a slow-down in frequency can be termed constipation. In other words, you don’t have to be completely blocked in order for your condition to be considered constipation.
Sometimes constipation goes away on its own and sometimes you can help things along with a natural home remedy.
The Symptoms of Constipation
While the main symptom of constipation is “nothing happening”, it can also cause definable symptoms to watch out for. You’ll notice that the list of symptoms includes lesser frequency bowel movements. That means constipation doesn’t necessarily mean things have stopped altogether. Here are the main symptoms of constipation:
- “trying too hard” during a bowel movement (straining)
- fewer “events” than normal
- bloody stools*
- hard stools that are passed with difficulty
- in-between leaking of diarrhea-like stool
- cramping that gets better when there is a bowel movement
*The blood in a stool could be due to hemorrhoids that tear and bleed because of a hard stool.
It’s fairly easy to recognize the symptoms of constipation because every individual is aware of what’s normal. Any break in the routine is apparent right away. In fact, a “break in the routine” of a different kind might be just what’s causing your constipation. Let’s take a look at the causes of constipation.
The Causes of Constipation
Anything that disrupts your daily routine of diet or exercise can cause constipation. For example, if you’ve been unusually busy at work, you might forget to stay hydrated and drink water. Well that right there is a common cause of constipation. Usually it’s lifestyle changes that cause constipation and as such are easy to alter and fix your condition. In fact, as you read down the list of causes, you’ll notice that many of them are prefaced by “not getting enough…” Therefore, simply adding whatever is lacking should help a lot.
Here are some of the causes of common constipation:
- dehydration (not getting enough water)
- not getting enough fiber
- not getting enough exercise
- not responding to the need to go to the bathroom (not getting enough bathroom time?)
Constipation can also be a symptom of something else. In this case, it usually lasts far longer than constipation caused by the lifestyle issues described above. If there is persistent constipation, the causes could be any of the f0llowing:
- a blockage in the colon or rectum (could be anal fissure, cancer, bowel obstruction etc)
- hormonal imbalance
- neurological damage due to MS, Parkinson’s, spinal cord injury, stroke etc
- muscle problems (weakened pelvic muscles, inability to relax your pelvic muscles etc)
Any of these causes, or if you have persistent constipation should cause you to see your doctor right away.
However, for short-term constipation there are some tried and true home remedies that you can try.
Home Remedies for Constipation
If lack of water, fiber and exercise cause constipation, then adding any form of those three things may help. If you’re adding fiber to your diet, make sure you also drink plenty of water or you could be making the situation worse! Here are some of the more popular and effective ways of adding them to your day:
- eat vegetables, and don’t overcook them (sometimes all you need is a nice plate of fresh broccoli!)
- fruit (apples and prunes are favorites)
- whole grains (wheat bran, whole wheat flour, oat bran etc)
- get at least 30 minutes of hard exercise a day (that will depend on your level of fitness, of course)
- drink water all day long- at least a quart of water a day
These home remedies for constipation should represent your first round of attack. You may not only cure your constipation, but also prevent future bouts of it. In fact, if you’re not already doing the five things on that list maybe it’s time to consider a lifestyle change? You’ll not only increase your general health but probably you won’t become constipated again.
Here are some more home remedies for constipation, which include things you may have to go out and buy:
1. Fiber. A fiber supplement like psyllium or methylcellulose can be found in common drug store products for constipation
2. Psyllim Seed. You can also get relief from the psyllium seed, found at health food stores.
3. Magnesium and Calcium. Buy powdered or pill versions of these minerals at a drug store or health food store
4. Probiotics. Probiotics are the healthy bacteria that live inside the intestines. Despite living in such an environment, they are finicky little guys. If your balance of probiotics is off, simply add more. Buy in pill form or eat yogurt.
5. Castor Oil. This stuff is nasty so brace yourself for an unpleasant spoonful. To make it taste better, chill it and mix it with a nice sweet juice. Lots of people put up with castor oil because…it works very fast. For this reason, plan to administer at home.
6. Fish Oil. Fish oil has omega-3 fatty acids, which are purported to aid digestion. Eat cold water fish or buy supplements at a health food store.
7. Senna. Senna is an herb whose leaves or fruit have been approved by the FDA as a laxative. You can find it at health food stores in capsule form. It is marketed as a “laxative and stool softener”.
This brings us to the issue of drugstore laxative products. Doctors recommend that stay away from them if you can. Using natural home remedies which fix the cause is a much more healthy and productive way to ease your constipation. Most of what you see here are things that are good for you anyway (oils and senna in moderation of course). That means you’re helping yourself for the future as well as curing your current case of constipation.