Clearing the bowels with herbs
Constipation is very common amongst most adults and even children; such prevalence is quite telling about how dietary and life-style habits have degenerated in modern life. The plant world offers some seriously valuable remedies for constipation and maintaining healthy bowels. The herbs that help to eliminate waste from the lowest part of the digestive system are called laxatives or evacuents and stronger types of herbs are called purgatives or cathartics. Such herbs generally work very well if used appropriately with lifestyle changes. Constipation isn’t actually a disease, but a symptom of some underlying problem that can be easily resolved. Basically, if someone has poor bowel movement, no bowel movement at all or incomplete evacuation it can be called constipation, normally one should have at least one bowel movement a day. Straining to do a poop on the toilet is common with people that suffer from constipation and can cause follow on issues such as haemorrhoids. The good news is that herbal treatments can get things moving regularly again and restore our sense of functional and emotional ease.
This is the acute version of constipation, which is a bodily reaction to a change. Occasional constipation may simply result from a change in diet, a decrease in physical exercise, a decrease in water consumption, a course of medicine, over the counter antacids or even a trip away from home that puts your regular routines out of "wack". The best and most gentle laxatives for this type of constipation are herbs such as rhubarb root, cascara sagrada, dandelion and ginger. Bulking herbs, such as psyillium, flaxseed or slippery elm are often enough prompt to get the bowels to evacuate.
Chronic constipation may begin insidiously and persist for months or even years if not addressed. This type of constipation may also be caused by not enough fibre in the diet, an underactive thyroid, a bowel obstruction, poor blood supply to the large bowel, an inactive colon and also where the message to pass a motion is not occurring which is indicative of a nerve problem. Due to all these possible causes it is advisable to seek professional guidance to ascertain the root cause and the corresponding suitable herbs to restore the body’s vital eliminatory function. In cases of chronic constipation, the muscles of the intestines have to be retrained to move the bowel content. The movement of the intestinal wall is a complex and highly integrated example of muscle control, designed to push the content onwards at the right time with the right force Rhubarb root could be a primary herbal treatment to get the intestines to do their job properly. If constipation is a result of a disease process, it is important to relieve this symptom whilst also treating the cause, otherwise the body may well reabsorb some of the stagnant waste from the intestine.
Every body’s unique root cause for their constipation will be different to other people, so lets explore some of the most likely causes.
Low fibre diet
When constipation is caused by a lack of dietary fibre, it is a no-brainer that the best course of action will be to eat high fibre plant based food, lots of fresh fruit and vegetables and avoiding processed food and congestive dairy foods and meat. It might not solve every gut health problem but it will go a long way if you are struggling with constipation.
Dehydration is a common cause of constipation. Drinking plenty of water and staying hydrated is a great way to regulate digestion. It is recommended to drink six to eight glasses of lukewarm water per day. Drinking enough fluids can also help prevent and treat constipation. It can help move food through your digestive system and stop stool from hardening.
The natural peristaltic movement can be blocked by prolonged use of laxatives especially OTC laxatives.. To retrain and restore the bowels functional integrity and rhythm meals should be taken at the same time everyday and small amounts of certain herbs can help re-stimulate the peristalsis and one such herb is cascara sagrada.
It is worthwhile for those who are struggling with constipation to look into their behavioural patterns and emotional state. Stress can wreck havoc with digestion and impact how well we poop. Stress hormones directly influence bowel movements by affecting bodily processes. Someone who is tense and tight, who holds onto everything and everyone is going to manifest the physical symptoms of not being able to let go and relax. Relaxation is paramount so any relaxing practice such as yoga, meditation or walking in nature to calm the mind and thus the body will be of benefit. Many people become constipated when they travel or are worried about something. It is wise to add nervine herbs to your constipation herbal tea to address this aspect as well as antispasmodic herbs.
Not enough movement and exercise
Despite the exercise revolution of modern times, there are still so many who don’t exercise due to busy schedules, stress and ill health. Driving, desk sitting and the thrall of the media world, keeps our bums glued to seats or sofas and eventually the lack of wholesome movement becomes endemic and results in our inner mechanisms of elimination slowing right down and becoming dysfunctional and pooping becomes difficult.
Food intolerances and gut infections.
Food intolerances will usually cause diarrhoea instead of constipation. There are a handful of difficult to digest foods. Many people with gut health issues (including constipation) have trouble digesting foods like soy, gluten containing foods and even nuts and seeds. Removing them all together for a few weeks and seeing if your constipation improves may be helpful. Different bugs can take up residence in your gut and can cause all kinds of issues from food sensitivities to diarrhoea to stomach pain and bloating and constipation too.
Other reasons for constipation
Lack of sleep, irritable or spastic colon, bowel obstruction, some types of medication, painful pelvic conditions like endometriosis, PCOS, period pain and post childbirth pains
Laxative herbs work in myriad ways by prompt the bowels to evacuate and are called by a number of different names depending on their strength and usually their strength is considered to be dose dependent, with the more stimulating laxatives containing higher levels of actives. Herbal medicine can help your constipation but if there is an underlying cause that hasn't been addressed then you won't get far. Start with gentle, bulking herbs like psyllium husks and flaxseed. If this doesn’t work then try bitter herbs such as dandelion root or barberry that can help to fire up digestion; such milder herbs are classified as clearing heat. If no bowel movement occurs then the stronger, stimulating laxative herbs may be employed.
Any of the evacuent herbs will work well on their own, however creating a synergistic blend that covers a variety of causes is always the best course of action. Antispasmodic and carminative digestive herbs like aniseed or fennel seed or ginger are excellent to include in a constipation formula, as they can help mitigate harsher reactions such as a possible griping reaction to the more intense herbs. It is pertinent too, to include in your mix calming nervine herbs to relax the body and psychological causes, or a mucilaginous herb to soothe the more irritating effects of some stimulant laxatives.
How herbal laxatives work
There are a few general modes of action for constipation herbs that are best categorised as either stimulating or osmotic laxatives. Stimulating laxatives are often those herbs that contain the plant constituent anthraquinones and their action is to stimulate greater contractions of the muscle walls of the large intestine. They induce gut motility, which leads to a decrease in transit time. These laxatives work by drawing in fluid to the colon and increasing peristalsis with the "end result" of softer stools. Peristalsis is the contraction of the intestines that helps move material through the colon to the rectum. Stimulating laxatives should be used judiciously and not for long term. Herbal examples include: Senna, cascara sagrada and aloe vera.
Osmotic or bulking Laxatives draw water to themselves and hold it in the colon, serving to soften the stool and give it bulk (also called bulking agents or stool softeners). Bulking laxatives should be our first herbal port of call when treating constipation because they are quite benign and normally very effective. They can be taken for longer periods of time because they are like a type of food. Flax seed and psyllium seed are good examples.
Let us not forget the mucilaginous herbs like marshmallow root, slippery elm and corn silk that soothe the compromised mucosal linings of the intestinal tract and bowel wall. Such lubricating laxatives are indicated when dry, hard stools occur, to increase the mucous secretions in the colon. These are a safe remedy for children’s constipation.
Working with the liver
The liver supporting herbs are called hepatics, cholagogues and choleretics that tone, strengthen and stimulate the liver to function optimally. They improve bowel function by activating the liver and gallbladder to increase the flow of bile, which creates a reflex action of the bowel that tends to improve the musculature tone of the colon. A whole range of plant constituents will have this action on the liver tissue, but without it being forced or damaging. The secretion of bile is of great help to the whole digestive and assimilative process with its primary role to facilitate fat digestion and it is also a natural laxative in itself capable of cleansing the system. These herbs have a much deeper value than simply the release of bile; they ensure a strong and healthy liver that enlivens the whole being. Some examples are: Dandelion root, milk thistle, burdock, artichoke, liquorice and turmeric.
Psyllium husks Plantago ovata
A member of the plantain plant species, psyllium is a natural fibre laxative that helps to bulk up the stool as it passes through. Psyllium is often used to treat chronic constipation and may be combined with other laxatives herbal treatments. The husks have a great balance of the two types of fibre, soluble and insoluble; it acts like a herbal broom sweeping the contents of the digestive tract, which helps poop move through and out.
Flaxseed Linum usitatissimum
Also known as linseed this herb can be very useful for constant constipation. Much like psyllium husks it helps to bulk and soften the stool to hasten its passage through.
Rhubarb root Rheum palmatum
Of all the laxative herbs, rhubarb root is one of the most normalising. If this herb is used in higher dosage, it acts more as a purgative, with a stronger cathartic result. If it is taken in smaller doses however it tones and astringes the intestine wall, as well as dispersing any trapped gas. Rhubarb root is rich in antioxidants that have anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer properties as additional beneficial protective action for the bowels.
Marshmallow root Althaea officinalis
Marshmallow root contains mucilage fibre that swells up when it comes in contact with water, forming a protective coating around mucus membranes that line hollow organs and intestinal tracts, reducing pain and inflammation. This classic demulcent, soothing action is why marshmallow root is so useful for including in constipation herbal blends.
Dandelion root Taraxacum officinale
Dandelion root is a bitter tonic herb that stimulates the digestive process and is a wonderful liver supporting specific. If poor digestion is the root cause of your constipation then dandelion root can help.
Yellow dock Rumex crispus
Yellow dock offers serious help for constipation by helping the contents of the digestive tract move on and out, preventing the toxins and waste products from stagnating and recirculating in the body. The actives in it have a markedly cathartic action on the bowel, yet because of its tannin content its effects are not too severe. Yellow dock loves the liver, prompting bile flow and also acts on other digestive organs to holistically help clear constipation.
Senna Cassia angustifolia
Senna pods are used as a powerful cathartic in the treatment of constipation and can be quite a heavy hitting herb in which case it should be used in low dosage for a short period of time; this kind of stimulating action gets results fast. It works by mildly damaging or irritating the cells that line the gut that moves things along in a serious way. One should realise that flushing the body out continuously can lead to dangerous imbalances.
Cascara Sagrada Rhamnus purhiana
This herbal laxative that comes from the bark of a species of buckthorn tree works by irritating the colon enough to promote bowel movements so it is wise to add demulcent and carminative herbs to a herbal blend to mitigate irritation or griping. It encourages peristalsis while it tones and relaxes the muscles of the digestive system. Good to combine with marshmallow and liquorice root. Use this herb in low dosage.
Slippery elm Ulmus fulva
This herb has a solid history of use for curing constipation. It stimulates nerves in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, which leads to mucus production and provides relief from constipation. Slippery elm contains the sticky substance mucilage, which coats the GI tract and as a result, helps stuck waste slide on through.
Ginger Zingiber officinale
Ginger works indirectly to quell constipation by stimulating the entire circulation in the body and working specifically to activate all aspects of digestion. As a carminative, that calms and promotes gastric secretion, it is an excellent herb to include with the stronger laxative herbs. Ginger has a wonderful quality of enhancing the transportation and therapeutic effects of other herbal actives through out the body. Fennel seed will exert similar action in a herbal mix.
Liquorice root Glycyrrhiza glabra
Liquorice root has a neutral energy and sweet taste that has mild cortisone-like action on the digestive system with mild laxative properties. It increases mucus production and blood supply in the stomach, soothing the linings to improve assimilation and elimination that indirectly addresses constipation. It works well in conjunction with stronger cathartics.
Aloe Vera Aloe barbadensis
People who experience periodic constipation may use pure aloe vera juice or dried powdered aloe as a natural laxative. The outer portion of the plant contains anthraquinones that have a laxative effect. If trying aloe vera juice for the first time, it is recommended to use a low dosage, as it can be quite cathartic. Aloe vera can reduce abdominal pain and discomfort as well as flatulence in patients with constipation predominated IBS but should not be overused.
”Every blade of grass has its Angel that bends down and whispers over it Grow, grow grow!” The TalmudThe essential oils that help with constipation
Using essential oils for constipation is a safe and effective way to find relief. Not only can certain essential oils help to alleviate constipation, but they can also reduce and eliminate all the nasty side effects that come along with it, such as bloating and flatulence. Their carminative, digestive, nerve tonic and antispasmodic properties will be of good use. For example the limonene in the citrus oils and the sesquiterpenes in ginger essential oil will support the of. It also facilitates the expulsion of the stools thanks to its laxative activity. They are most effectively used in blends to be massaged into the lower abdomen.
The essential oils: Peppermint, mandarin, coriander, ginger, fennel, rosemary, lemon
Massage the lower abdomen
Make a fist with your right hand and place it on your abdomen at hipbone level. Press firmly into your belly and slide your hand in a circular motion up toward your ribs, across your belly, down to your left hipbone, and back across the bottom of your belly. Repeat 10 times.
Eat or supplement with probiotics
Probiotics are live, beneficial bacteria naturally found in fermented foods, including kombucha, kefir, sauerkraut and tempeh; they’re also sold as supplements. Probiotics enhance the gut micro biome, the collection of beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract that helps regulate inflammation, immune function and digestion and heart health. In a holistic way they will help restore normal bowel function. If you have to flush out the lower digestive system with laxatives, then it makes good sense to replenish its natural enzymes and beneficial flora, which can become depleted. Picking the right probiotic is key to treating constipation, as certain strains may not be as effective as others. Look for supplements that contain the following strains of bacteria, which have been shown to improve stool consistency. Bifidobacterium lactis, Lactobacillus plantarum, Streptococcus thermophiles, Lactobacillus reuteri and Bifidobacterium longum
Adopt the pooping squat
The western style of sitting to defecate has been of grave disservice for the function and ease of pooping; unlike the Asian squat toilets that are superior for facilitating healthy pooping habits. The problem with sitting is that it makes a kink in the lower bowel that forces us to work harder to push out the poop. Squatting relaxes our puborectalis muscle more and straightens out the colon, giving the poop a straight route out. As a result, we can go more easily with less straining. We can emulate the squat position when using a seated western toilet by raising the feet on a low stool when pooping.
The Grounding Yoga Squat Pose
Malasana or garland pose is yoga's deep squat that helps enormously with constipation. It utilises the complete range of motion of the legs by bending the knees fully until the pelvis is resting at the back of the heels. It opens our hips and groin in counterbalance to the tightness we can develop from sitting too much. Props can be used for support at first to do the pose in a way that's not painful. Malasana pose enhances “Apana Vayu”, the inner vital energy that that regulates downward movement. According to Ayurveda, constipation is the result of Vata (air element) imbalance in the body as Apana Vayu becomes blocked and affects the colon movement and impacts the working of its muscles.
Other yoga poses to help constipation
Certain yoga poses particularly twists and poses that put pressure on the abdomen gently massage the digestive tract, encouraging it to move stool along. Balasana or child pose is helpful for relieving constipation as it contracts organs, increases blood flow and helps in bowel movement, so is wind-relieving pose. Apart from these, there are also bow pose, butterfly pose, which can help to treat constipation.
Spiritual causation of constipation to address
The body will always reflect our mind and any imbalance or ill health in the body has a lot to tell us about a detrimental mental attitude or behavioural habit that needs modifying. If we suffering from constipation, we may be may be experiencing emotional constipation, so by feeling and expressing emotions, we’re better able to digest experiences. As the main purpose of the bowel is to release toxins and what is no longer useful to the body, symbolically constipation can mean there is an unwillingness to release old ideas and feelings that no longer serve.
The metaphysical cause of constipation can be our over attachment to material things, excessive accumulating of stuff and refusal to let anything go especially because of underlying fear of not having enough, this includes anxieties about basic physical needs for survival. Other root fears can trigger constipation, such as fear; fear of not being in control, of change or of being wrong. Constipation, as an ailment of the eliminatory system, comes under the domain of the first chakra - Muladhara. Accordingly when there is a blockage in the flow of the large intestine meridian, some of the related emotions are: holding on to things no longer needed, guilt, fear, lack of self-worth, anger and frustration as well as a need to be in control.
Releasing Energy Stagnation
Our life force energy needs to flow freely in the body in order for it to work efficiently. Prana or vital energy supports peristalsis in the entire GI tract and with the organs involved. Any blockage of energy along the way can impede energy flow to the bowels; this will be the basis of any spiritual work to be addressed. There are many ways we can approach releasing emotional blockages and the best ways require our active participation. It is important to incorporate awareness of feelings and the body, observing where feelings manifest physically. We need to be actively present with them and then notice if the sensation in the body changes as we let your emotions shift. The deep work of meditation, breath work, slow yin yoga and other energetic bodywork impacts our mind and body to recalibrate to the innate relaxed state that will heal our recurring constipation.
The large Intestine is all about letting go and it’s related to the emotion of grief in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Prolonged periods of grief will also create an imbalance of lung/large intestine energy. These meridians reside in the upper body creating a disharmony between the upper and lower body or making the large intestine energy weak. Liver qi stagnation is another condition that can create constipation, initiated by pent up anger that creates tension in the upper body and along the sides of the torso. This can keep the energy from flowing down. The liver energy also affects other organs that have to do with digestion including the large Intestine.