Constipation affects a large portion of the population, however, as we age, constipation can become an even more common occurrence. Constipation can be defined as difficult, infrequent or incomplete bowel movements on a regular basis. Generally, less than 3 bowel movements per week is considered chronic constipation. While the number of bowel movements perceived as healthy can vary between individuals, at least one healthy and easy bowel movement each day is ideal. Women are even more greatly affected than men when it comes to experiencing constipation.
Constipation can be an embarrassing problem for some, however it is very common and should not be ignored. Seeking solutions and finding resources that work for your body is important. Proper elimination is important for overall health, energy, and longevity. The good news is, there are many actions which you can take today to help improve elimination and detoxification in the body.
Common Causes of Constipation
- Lack of fiber in the diet
- Lack of water
- Lack of food in general
- Lack of sleep
- Medications (especially painkillers, antidepressants and antacids)
- Stress, trauma, emotional unease
- Menopause and hormonal imbalance
- Lack of exercise
Emotions and Constipation
Our emotional state, both positive and negative, can impact the movement of the colon. Constipation can indicate repressed feelings, anger, and grief and can also be triggered by new situations, stress and a feeling of losing control. Tap into your emotions right now, notice if there are any triggers for you which you could begin to address. Be kind and patient to yourself as you work towards relieving your constipation.
Chronic constipation impacts overall health greatly and can lead to complications such as ulcers in the colon, impacted feces, tears from the pressure of evacuation, hemorrhoids, and bacterial dysbiosis. It also puts a strain on the rest of the body’s systems to detoxify, particularly the lymphatic system, kidneys, liver, lungs, and skin.
There are many over the counter and herbal laxative options available today. While these may help relieve constipation in the short term, it is important to avoid dependency on these products. Long-term use can lead to dependency and the inability of the bowel to eliminate normally without them.
Foods that Relieve Constipation
Prunes - are very high in fiber and helpful in relieving constipation. They are also full of antioxidants, helping to detox the body and protect against free radical damage.
Try: eating 4-5 prunes daily. If you have trouble chewing the prunes or digesting them, try soaking for a few hours or overnight and blending into a puree.
Flaxseeds – ground flaxseed can be taken to add bulk to stool, however, flaxseed tea has more of an emollient effect, soothing the digestive system and allowing for easier movement of the bowels
Try: flaxseed infusion: add 1 tsp of flaxseed into about 1 cup of water. Allow to sit, covered, in the fridge overnight. In the morning, the water will be thicker - this is the mucilaginous fiber of the flax seeds that will help get your stools moving while soothing the digestive tract. NOTE: do not use boiling water as this will damage the precious omega-3 oils contained in the flax seeds.
Soups – warming and easy to digest, soups can be a great option, especially when you aren’t feeling overly hungry
Try: a hearty squash and lentil soup. Soups can be pureed for easier consumption and to give your digestion a break.
Apples – an excellent source of pectin, an insoluble fibre that helps to add bulk to stool.
Try: eating apples raw, cook into an apple sauce for easier ingestion, or supplement with pectin.
Slippery elm – has demulcent properties, soothing the intestines by relieving inflammation and can assist in the elimination of the bowels.
Try: preparing a tea with ground slippery elm bark. Slippery elm powder can also be added into baked goods.
Aloe Vera – naturally mucilaginous and gel-like, Aloe Vera is an excellent and gentle remedy for constipation.
Try: a liquid Aloe Vera from your health food store or take powdered Aloe Vera mixed with water.
Chia seeds – are nutritive and a tasty addition to your breakfast or as a snack. They are also very mucilaginous and form a gel once soaked for about 15-20 minutes, adding soothing bulk to stool to assist in the movement of the bowels.
Try: mixing 1 tbsp. of chia seeds into 1/3-1/2 cup of almond or coconut milk. Allow it to sit for 15-20 minutes (or overnight). Add your favorite berries and enjoy as a delicious and fibrous snack. Chia pudding makes a delicious breakfast as well - just double the portions.
Sweet basil – basil is an excellent gentle herb for all ailments concerning the digestive system, from bloating, gas, nausea, to constipation. It is also very soothing to the nervous system. *Those with diabetes should use with caution as basil may increase the body’s reaction to insulin.
Try: steeping a tea with fresh basil leaves
Probiotics – building up beneficial bacteria in the intestine can help with proper elimination of wastes.
Try: a daily probiotic supplement designed for mature adults (over 60)
Digestive Enzymes – as we age, our body becomes less effective at producing the digestive enzymes required to break down proteins, fats, and carbohydrates.
Try: supplementing with a digestive enzyme prior to meals.
Bitters or Apple Cider Vinegar- As we age, the digestive system naturally slows. The body produces less hydrochloric acid and enzymes which help to chemically break down foods which we ingest.
Try: Taking bitters before meals or take 1 tbsp. of ACV mixed with water before meals.
Magnesium citrate – magnesium is a natural muscle relaxant and can help relieve constipation by relaxing the muscles of the GI tract.
Try: magnesium in the form of a capsule, or a beverage such as Natural Calm which you can drink warm at bedtime. Extra benefit, magnesium is a relaxant and can help ease you into sleep.
Vitamin C – is a potent antioxidant (great at keeping our bodies healthy and youthful) and at high doses can also have laxative properties
Try: 1000-3000mg daily or to bowel tolerance
Increase water intake – water is essential for relieving constipation.
Try: drinking plenty of room temperature water or if you prefer, warming herbal teas and coconut water, or adding sliced fruit to your water.
Abdominal massage: a gentle abdominal massage, which can be performed at home may be helpful in encouraging bowel movements
Try: using lavender or chamomile essential oils diluted with coconut oil and massaging the stomach in a circular, clockwise pattern (up the right side of the abdomen, across to the left, just under the ribs, down the left side, and across again to the right).
Increase fiber-rich and watery foods – fiber helps to form stools, providing bulk and allowing easier elimination from the body.
Try: foods such as cabbage soup, watermelon, apples, oranges, and oatmeal.
Increase prebiotic foods: prebiotic foods help to feed beneficial probiotic bacteria in the gut. Aiding in digestion and elimination.
Try: bananas, garlic, onions, leeks, artichokes and asparagus
Avoid allergenic foods – foods that cause an immune response from the body may increase digestive upset and encourage constipation
Try: avoiding gluten, dairy, and soy products for a few weeks to see if this is of any benefit to your digestive health.
Try gentle exercise – various forms of exercise are not only wonderful for reducing stress but can also help encourage a movement of the bowels.
Try: activities such as tai chi, qi gong, yoga, swimming, or walking
Reduce stress – stress can lead to changes in bowel movements, often constipation.
Try: meditation, pranayama breathing, journaling
Find joy – beyond just reducing stress levels, try to find activities which help you find joy.
Try: finding a hobby, listening to music, joining a social club, spending time with loved ones.
Regaining bowel function through elimination of constipation and restoring regular bowel movements can help you feel more energetic, lift your mood, reduce brain fog and headaches, and contribute to a feeling of “lightness”.