How to relieve constipation

Being blocked up is no fun and can have serious negative effects if left alone—that's why we've come up with some simple ways that you can relieve it

Your first instinct when you’re in this predicament might be to reach for a laxative. But the chances are you don’t need one. Here are the best way to keep things regular: 

 

Fix it with fibre

Start your day with a high-fibre bran cereal. Some brands contain as much as 15g of insoluble fibre per serving.This is the fibre that adds bulk, spurring the body to move it through the digestive tract more quickly. A word of advice: if you are not used to eating this much fibre, start with a smaller serving—say, half-and-half bran and cornflakes, served with skimmed milk or low-fat yoghurt—then work your way up. Otherwise you may experience wind, bloating and stomach cramps.

Fill up on cooked dried beans, prunes, pears, figs, oats and nuts. All are good sources of soluble fibre, the kind that turns to gel in the intestines and helps to soften the stool.

Mix one to two teaspoons crushed psyllium
seeds (also known as ispaghula) into a cup of hot water. Let it infuse for two hours, add lemon and honey to taste, then drink. Psyllium adds bulk and is the main ingredient in many over-the-counter bulk forming laxatives.You’ll find the seeds in most pharmacies and healthfood shops.You can also try this with flax seeds (linseed).

Flax seeds are high in fibre and also contain omega-3 fats, known to be beneficial to the heart and circulatory system. Have a tablespoon of the ground seeds, which are sold in health-food shops, two or three times a day. Some people like the taste of flax seed (it faintly resembles walnuts). If you don’t, you can stir it into your breakfast cereal, add it to stewed apple or blend it into a fruit smoothie. Or grind the seeds in a spice mill or coffee grinder, keep the ground seeds in the fridge and sprinkle half a teaspoon into your orange juice.

As you increase your intake of fibre, also be sure to drink lots of water—at least eight 250ml glasses a day. Fibre is extremely absorbent, and if you don’t drink enough, your stools may become small, hard and painful to pass.

 

Have a hot cup to loosen up

Have a morning cup of coffee. If you’re a coffee drinker, you may have already discovered that the caffeine in coffee has a bowel-loosening effect. It induces a bowel movement by stimulating the colon. Just don’t drink too much of it—caffeine is also diuretic and will eliminate fluid from your body.

If you don’t like coffee, try any other hot drink first thing in the morning. Herbal or decaffeinated tea or a cup of hot water with a little lemon juice or honey may stimulate the colon as well. (Lemon juice is a natural laxative.)

Dandelion tea, which has a mild laxative effect, may also help bowel movements to become regular again. Steep a teaspoon of dried root in a cup of boiling water and drink 1 cup three times a day.You’ll find dried dandelion root in healthfood shops.

 

Wrinkled fruit gets things moving

The humble prune is one of the oldest home remedies for constipation. It’s high in fibre (roughly 1g per prune). Also, prunes contain a compound called dihydroxyphenyl isatin, which stimulates the intestinal contractions that make you want to go.

If you don’t like prunes then try chewing raisins. They, too, are high in fibre and contain tartaric acid, which has a laxative effect. In one study in which people ate a small box of raisins a day, doctors found that it took half the time for digested food to make it through the digestive tract.

 

Get up and go

Get regular exercise. There’s good reason for a morning walk being known as a daily constitutional: when you move your body, you also help to move food through your bowel more quickly. Aim for a daily walk at the very least.

 

Put the pressure on

Practitioners of acupressure say that the technique can help to stimulate your digestion and, therefore, your bowels. Apply pressure with your thumb and forefinger to the fleshy web between the thumb and forefinger of the other hand. Do this for two minutes every day while the problem persists. (This technique should not be used in pregnancy.)

 

Last resorts

The herb cascara sagrada is so effective that it is even added to several over-the-counter laxatives. It’s known as a ‘stimulant laxative’ because it stimulates the intestinal tract. The herb comes in a variety of forms and, because it is so powerful, and because it also interacts with numerous medicines, it should be used only under medical supervision. In any case, don’t take it for more than eight to ten days; it can make your body lose too much water, potassium and salt—and with regular use, you can become dependent on it. (Do not use if you have any other abdominal condition. Drink plenty of water while taking it. Cascara must not be used by pregnant women or children.)

If other remedies fail, try the mother of all natural laxatives, senna. It should work in about 8 hours, so most people take it before bedtime.Take 20 to 40 drops of the tincture at night, but don’t plan on making it a long-term cure.With repeated use, senna can cause stomach cramps and diarrhoea. As with cascara sagrada, long-term use can cause dependency.

For a gentler alternative, use a glycerol suppository, available over-the-counter from pharmacies. Again, don’t rely on this method or your constipation could end up worse than it was in the first place.

 

Final pointers

• Never ignore nature’s call. If you do, you’re asking for a case of constipation.

• Never try to force a bowel movement. You may give yourself haemorrhoids (piles) or anal fissures.These not only hurt, they aggravate constipation because they narrow the anal opening.

• Straining on the toilet can also strain your heart: it reduces your heart rate and pushes up blood pressure and can sometimes even cause a sudden heart attack.

 

Happy pooping!