Bowel irregularity is a common health complaint, and over 4 million American adults are reported to be constipated most of the time. There are many lifestyle changes and home remedies from the kitchen and medicine cabinet that can help treat constipation and increase bowel regularity.
About Bowel Regularity
Individual bowel habits vary widely from several bowel movements a day to one every two or three days but a person is generally considered to be constipated if a bowel movement has not occurred for three or more days. Constipation can be caused by lifestyle problems such as inadequate fluid intake, a low-fiber diet with highly refined foods and lack of exercise. Bowel irregularity can also result from medical conditions and prescription drug side effects. Constipation is more common in women and is often reported as an adverse occurrence of pregnancy. If left untreated, constipation can have adverse health effects including impaction, bowel obstruction and the development of hemorrhoids from straining.
An easy way to reduce chronic constipation is to increase the fiber in your diet. You should consume high-fiber bread products such as whole-grain cereals, pastas and breads rather than products made with refined white flour. Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage and leafy greens are high in fiber, and it is helpful to eat vegetables raw or lightly steamed to maintain the fiber content. Most beans such as kidney beans, pinto beans and green peas are loaded with fiber as are most nuts such as almonds, cashews and pecans. High-fiber fruits include mango, papaya, figs and prunes. Eating fruits such as apples and pears with the skin increases the fiber content as does eating the seeds in fruits like berries and grapes.
Other kitchen remedies are particularly helpful in relieving acute constipation by promoting a bowel movement with sugar or with something that contains pectin, using oil lubrication or encouraging bulk stool production. A commonly used remedy for children who are constipated is drinking 2 tablespoons of molasses or dark corn syrup in a cup of warm water. Olive oil mixed half and half with juice may help lubricate the digestive tract. You can also buy fennel seeds, linseeds or psyllium seeds from a health food store and soak them in water for a homemade laxative drink.
Medicine Cabinet Remedies
For an acute case of constipation, the medicine cabinet may already have some remedies. Mineral oil is one of the ingredients in some over-the-counter laxatives. You can take 1 or 2 tablespoons of mineral oil alone or with other liquids to lubricate your digestive tract. Epsom salts are crystals of magnesium sulfate and may be mixed in water to act as a saline laxative similar to bowel surgery preparation products. You should not use either of these methods for chronic constipation as long-term use may result in vitamin and mineral deficiencies and electrolyte imbalances.
Regular exercise will help stimulate your digestive system and develop muscular support needed for adequate bowel movements. It is also important to ensure that you drink plenty of fluids daily to maintain enough fluid in your digestive tract. This is especially important if you are taking a fiber supplement, because the fiber needs fluid to produce a bowel movement. Unwillingness to move the bowels in an unfamiliar or public place may contribute to constipation. The longer stool remains in the lower intestine, the more water will be absorbed from the fecal matter leading to hard, dry stool and possible impaction, so it is essential when treating constipation to move your bowels as soon as your body signals.
- Medline Plus: Constipation
- MotherNature.com: Doctors Book of Home Remedies (online version)
- Prescription for Nutritional Healing; James F. Balch, MD; Phyllis A. Balch, CNC; 2001
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