I talk about bowel movements a lot in my job.
No one wants to. It’s very taboo! But how we digest and eliminate tells a lot about the body, and has a big impact on our ability to absorb the nutrients in our body, and translate those nutrients into good substances and energy for our cells.
it’s surprising how many of us experience chronic diarrhea or constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease like Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis, or have colon cancer which is getting more common, even among young people.
This article will give some simple, natural tips for managing chronic constipation. It’s so satisfying for me to solve someone’s lifelong chronic constipation, and I’ve done this many times using acupuncture, herbs/supplements, and dietary advice. Chinese medicine is actually excellent at regulating the digestion.
Relieving constipation can help not only with our daily comfort, with the the above conditions, but also with issues like hemorrhoids, anal fissures, or even (surprise!) dysmenorrhea (painful periods), frequent urination, and low back pain – these all might get aggravated when your intestines are all backed up.
Our cancer patients going through chemotherapy or immunotherapy also often have diarrhea or constipation. Anyone on painkillers or certain supplements (e.g. many iron pills) may also be facing constipation as a side effect.
Before resigning yourself to long-term use of laxatives (or even, for some people, regular enemas), to you might be interested to know that we can do a lot to promote regular stools using food and herbs. Here are some simple tips (please note this is not a substitute for medical advice or for personalized advice for your specific condition and body type):
1) Eat fibre, ideally consistent amounts every day (not tons of vegetables one day and then none for the next 3 days). Eat plenty of insoluble fibre in the form of vegetables and fruits, as well as soluble fibres in seeds and nuts.
2) Eat whole grains instead of refined grains (e.g. brown rice instead of white rice, whole grain pasta instead of regular white pasta, etc.) for more fibre
3) Drink plenty of water each day.
4) Seeds that can help your intestines absorb water, so that your stool “bulks up” for easy passing include ground flax seed, and ground psyllium husk (this is the main ingredient in Metamucil). I usually suggest starting with 1 tablespoon per day, ideally at the same time of the day for consistency. Depending how it goes, you can increase from there (again, keep it steady).
5) Try to notice the effect of stress and tension on your digestion. Some people are so tense that the smooth muscles that control their intestines are tense as well, and never “let go”. You can use various relaxation methods like stretching, yoga, Epsom salt baths, getting acupuncture or massage, and certain relaxing supplements (e.g. magnesium, some Chinese herbs).
6) Certain fruits can help with constipation as well. Most famous is prunes, and some people find just drinking a little prune juice every day can help. Bananas help some people as well.
7) Certain herbs can help. Many people take senna leaf tea, which is the ingredient in “smooth move” tea that you can find in the supermarket. However, I don’t recommend this because it is basically an herbal laxative that your bowels may become dependent on to go. In Chinese medicine, we often use hemp seeds (which you can also eat), rhubarb root, magnolia bark, immature bitter orange, and more to moisten and activate the bowels. The type of herbal formula we use varies widely depending on your Chinese medicine diagnosis, so it’s definitely recommended to consult with a qualified practitioner or herbalist.
If you’d like to discuss your digestive health and see if we can help you, please request a free consultation using the form below, or by phoning us (416)-890-7770 in the Greater Toronto Area, or 705-409-9850 in Northumberland County).