Constipation can have numerous causes. Most of the time, it can be resolved without medication. We present the possible causes of constipation and show you what the solution can look like, i.e. what you can do yourself against the constipation.
What are the symptoms of constipation?
Officially, constipation is understood to mean the irregular evacuation of stool due to hard and dry stool, which can also be associated with effort and pain when emptying. There may also remain a feeling that the bowel has not been completely emptied. In addition, constipation can be accompanied by other symptoms such as flatulence, nausea, abdominal pain or cramps.
Anyone who is constipated from time to time, e.g. on vacation, does not have to worry yet. But the situation is different with chronic constipation. Such is the case if at least two of the following characteristics occur over a period of 12 weeks within a year:
- hard stool
- the feeling of incomplete evacuation
- the feeling of narrowing of the intestines
- effort in defecating
- fewer than four bowel movements per week
What are the consequences of chronic constipation?
From a naturopathic point of view, you should have at least one bowel movement a day. (With a high-fiber, whole-food diet with a high proportion of fresh food, ideally, you even have two to three bowel movements per day (one could say 1 bowel movement per meal)).
Anything else is already considered constipation, but many don’t want to admit this and ignore their sluggish digestion for years. However, chronic constipation can also have unpleasant long-term consequences:
Hemorrhoids and/or anal fissures (tears in the mucous membrane of the anus)
Hemorrhoids can be caused by straining when you have a bowel movement. Anal fissures occur when hard stool overstretches the sphincter muscle. This can also lead to blood in the stool. Both are annoying and sometimes extremely painful complaints that are better prevented with appropriate measures.
Rectal prolapse (Intestinal prolapse)
Part of the rectum can be pushed outwards through the anus as a result of the strong straining during bowel movements – especially in the case of congenital or acquired connective tissue weakness. It often slides back on its own or can be pushed back with a finger. In more severe cases, surgery may be necessary.
A relatively common consequence of chronic constipation is what is known as diverticulitis. Many people develop bulges (diverticula) in the lining of the rectum. If, as a result of constipation, stool is pressed into these mucous membrane sacs, this can lead to inflammation there – diverticulitis develops. Diverticulitis is accompanied by nausea, pain, fever and exhaustion.
How does constipation develop?
Constipation occurs when stool moves too slowly through the intestines and too much water is absorbed. As a result, the stool becomes hard and dry, which makes it difficult to eliminate.
How many people suffer from constipation?
In the western industrialized countries, chronic constipation is now one of the most common lifestyle diseases. More than 50% of people suffer from constipation
The number of unreported cases of chronic constipation is much higher, since many sufferers do not see a doctor because of their constipation. Constipation is also becoming more common in children. People over the age of 65 are most commonly affected. 75 percent of older people who are in hospital or in a retirement home regularly take laxatives.
What are the causes of constipation?
Constipation can be either acute or chronic. Symptoms of acute constipation generally begin suddenly and are short-lived. The most common causes of acute constipation are the following:
- lack of exercise
- Low-fiber diet
- Some diseases can be associated with constipation, e.g. Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, hypothyroidism, colon cancer or irritable bowel syndrome
- lack of water
- Frequent suppression of the urge to defecate (e.g. because one is on the road or for other reasons does not have time or does not want to take one)
- Being confined to bed during illness or after an operation
- Medication (with constipation as a side effect)
- Hormonal changes during menopause or pregnancy
What can you do about constipation?
The necessary measures that can be implemented to solve the problem in the truest sense of the word then result from the possible causes of a blockage listed above. If you are constipated, you can do the following:
Move! Do sports!
Regular exercise promotes digestion and also activates intestinal movement and thus shortening the length of time the chyme stays in the digestive tract. The more active you are, the less likely you are to become constipated. Special abdominal muscle training massages the intestines in a special way and ultimately ensures a healthy physiological increase in pressure in the abdomen during bowel movements.
Eat high in fibre!
The most common cause of constipation is lack of exercise combined with a low-fibre diet. Processed foods (baked goods made from white flour, sweets, sausage, and dairy products) are not only low in fibre. They are also high in fat, salt and sugar, which can slow down the digestive process. This causes excess fluid to be absorbed from the stool and causes constipation.
(Certain ingredients such as casomorphine in dairy products also have a constipation-promoting effect.)
Dietary fibres (from fruit, vegetables, whole grain products, and legumes) bind water in the digestive tract and thus increase the volume of the stool. This puts pressure on the intestinal walls and stimulates bowel movements.
Specific fibres can also be taken in the form of dietary supplements, e.g. psyllium husk, barley grass powder, baobab powder, coconut flour, oat bran, inulin powder etc.
You can find a high-fiber gut-friendly bread recipe here: Functional bread
Check if you are taking any medications that can cause constipation
If you take medication regularly or have recently received anesthesia, always check in the event of constipation whether a slowdown in bowel movements might actually be one of the side effects of these medications. If so, you could talk to your doctor about alternative medications that you may tolerate better. Congestive medications include:
- painkillers (opiates)
- Antacids (acid blockers)
- Antihistamines (e.g. against allergies)
- cough medicine
- Iron supplements
- Diuretics (“water tablets”)
- frequent use of laxatives
Drink more water!
If not enough still water is drunk, the body tries to maintain the required amount of fluid in the blood by removing the required water from the stool. As a result, the stool becomes hard and dry, resulting in constipation.
Water, on the other hand, is able to increase the volume of stool, making it easier for stool to move through the digestive system and be passed out with ease. Caffeinated drinks and alcohol are not suitable as water substitutes. They can have a dehydrating effect on the body and thus promote constipation.
Never suppress the urge to defecate!
The urge to defecate is often suppressed because, for example, one does not want to use public toilets or because the time just doesn’t seem right. Repeatedly suppressing bowel movements can lead to an insensitivity of the bowel. Over time, you no longer notice the urge to defecate and chronic constipation is the result.
Listen to your body’s signals and give in to the urge to defecate in good time. Also, take the time to go to the toilet undisturbed. Don’t stress your body.
Some people react to psychological stress such as a change of environment or unsatisfactory work or family relationships with diarrhea, and others with constipation. Despite a stressful life situation, make sure you have good stress management so that stress does not get power over you – and possibly trigger constipation.
Stick to fixed meal times!
Eating meals regularly promotes normal digestive activity and can help prevent constipation.
Natural laxatives that can help with constipation
There are many natural ways to help with constipation, from enema to castor oil, Epsom salt and magnesium citrate to senna leaves, buckthorn bark and xylitol.
Vitamin C as a home remedy for constipation
It is also known that vitamin C above a certain dose can lead to diarrhea. With constipation, the laxative property of the vitamin is very useful. So if you have vitamin C at home, then take 2 to 3 g of it first and see whether this dose is enough for you to be able to go to the toilet relaxed. Because those who tend to constipation only react to vitamin C in higher doses with diarrhea. So test out which vitamin C dose is ideal for you to have a normal bowel movement. The conventional effervescent tablets are probably not dosed high enough. Reach for high-quality vitamin C preparations that contain 1 g of vitamin C per tablet/capsule.
An enema can clear constipation temporarily
The enema is both a home remedy for constipation and a natural laxative because it works very quickly, usually within 15 minutes or less.
While many other measures against constipation tend to have a long-term effect or within 24 hours at the earliest (e.g. plums, linseed), an enema helps immediately. In contrast to a conventional laxative, which is known to also work very quickly, an enema – if done correctly – has no harmful side effects. On the contrary.
The enema not only brings the long-awaited bowel movement to light within a few minutes, but also activates the intestinal peristalsis, which has clearly lost activity in the event of constipation. At the same time, the intestinal walls are cleaned with an enema. Harmful bacteria and their bacterial toxins are also excreted so that the latter can no longer get into the bloodstream via the intestinal mucosa and consequently can no longer contribute to health problems.
But be careful – do not use the enema regularly to replace your bowel movement as this will make your bowels even lazier and you don’t want to do enemas daily for the rest of your life.