Digestion : Constipation: The Hidden Epidemic

Constipation. No one wants to talk about it, admit to it, or take the necessary steps to relieve it until the situation becomes critical, but millions of Americans suffer from it daily. Bouts of constipation affect everyone at one time or another, resulting in 2.5 million visits to physicians annually and 92,000 hospitalizations each year. Researchers estimate that about 15% of the American population endures chronic constipation. (Am J Gastroenterol 2004; 99:750-759)

If you suffer from constipation, you are looking for a permanent solution to your problem. Luckily, you can take immediate, natural measures to deal with your concern. And immediate measures are called for: long-term constipation has been linked to diseases of the gastrointestinal tract, as well as psychological distress, anxiety, depression, insomnia and sexual dysfunction. (J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2003 Dec; 18(12):1412-6)

Although constipation can have its roots in childhood, as small children we typically enjoy wonderful bowel function. In most cases, food goes in and waste comes out, and each time the child eats a meal, there is a timely bowel movement. But as we grow older, our bowel habits become regulated by school bells, work time clocks and travel schedules. Such intentional delays to elimination or ignoring the urge can be the first step toward creating lifelong bowel problems.

According to conventional medicine, regularity of bowel movements is individual: one person may experience three movements a day while another may experience one every three days. Natural health practitioners, on the other hand, understand that the bowel is the root of good health and having 2-3 bowel movements daily is crucial. According to Ellen Tart Jensen, a practicing herbalist in California, “Healthy bowel movements are essential to a healthy body. The bowel is like a sewage system, unless we cleanse the system of toxins daily, they will enter the bloodstream and harm the body.”

What’s Normal?

Constipation is often defined in relation to the frequency of bowel movements, but those suffering from a sluggish bowel will also experience dry, hard or lumpy stools, as well as straining to have a movement, incomplete evacuation, and a sense of difficulty in passing a stool. These are all definite signs that something isn’t functioning properly in our digestive system. Constipation occurs when fecal matter is so compressed that bowel movements become few and far between. When hardened feces cling to colon walls, colon function suffers further.

Causes of Constipation

A poor diet is a common cause of bowel issues. Fast foods, junk foods and processed foods are huge players in bowel regularity, and consuming them regularly can lead to constipation. Such foods are low in fiber, and provide little roughage to assist the colon with normal peristalsis, the muscular action that moves waste through the system. Jensen suggests, “leave off white flour, white sugar, dairy, meat and salt for one month to detoxify the bowels. Eat whole grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds instead.”

Failure to drink enough water may also compromise bowel health. The bowels need an adequate water supply to moisten waste products and allow for the smooth movement of waste. Without sufficient water, bowel transit time slows, resulting in hard, dry stool that sticks to the colon walls. This is one reason why many natural colon cleaning products are designed to hydrate the colon. By adding water, they assist the body in its natural process of elimination. Many causes of constipation relate to our lifestyle, such as lack of exercise. A study in Germany found a reduction in symptoms of constipation among women who engaged in frequent physical activity, while a Japanese study found that walking, along with increasing the intake of dietary fiber, helped maintain regular bowel function. Still another lifestyle cause involves stress and our fast-paced lives. Many of us do not allow sufficient time for bowel movements. The bowel is very sensitive and responds to lack of routine, travel, stress, trauma and emotional upsets. Understanding your mind/body/bowel connection and then taking steps to remedy the situation can help keep you healthy and regular.

On the other hand, there are medical causes of constipation. For instance, some prescription drugs such as those used for cholesterol reduction, nerves or to relax the muscles can also cause constipation. Some disorders of the endocrine system such as diabetes or hypothyroidism are implicated, as are fibromyalgia, lupus, chronic fatigue, I.B.S., and Crohn’s disease. Neurological problems can also cause constipation when neuromuscular signals are disrupted. One study found that constipation may be linked to the neurological disorder Parkinson’s disease. In a University of Virginia School of Medicine study, researchers found that men who are constipated triple their risk of developing Parkinson’s later in life.

The Natural Constipation Solution

For immediate short-term relief, those suffering from occasional constipation can utilize a natural bowel cleansing formula to ‘get moving’. Digestive care experts encourage the use of a product containing gentle herbs and nutraceuticals which will encourage healthy bowel elimination.

A key ingredient to look for is the mineral magnesium. Magnesium hydroxide will draw water into the colon, hydrating the stool and lubricating the digestive tract. Magnesium is often considered a miracle mineral, as it has demonstrated the ability to increase natural bowel movements comfortably and easily. Herbs that provide support to occasional constipation are cape aloe, rhubarb, slippery elm bark, marshmallow root, and triphala. Going the next step and adding fiber and essential fatty acid supplements to your routine will help you maintain regularity in the future. It’s just that simple! With the proper diet, intake of fiber and fluid, regular exercise, and dietary supplements, constipation doesn’t have to be a lifelong disorder.
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