Constipation is a condition characterized by infrequent bowel movements (a change in your usual pattern); dry, hard stools that are difficult to pass; an inability to move the bowels when desired; and abdominal discomfort.

It's estimated that one-third of all Americans contend with constipation on a somewhat regular basis. Lack of fiber, water, and exercise can precipitate constipation. Many medications also contribute to this condition. Regardless of how often constipation plagues you, there are herbal remedies that can help.

Herbal Remedies for Constipation

First of all, be sure to eat plenty of high fiber foods -- all the vegetables and fruits from your garden plus whole grains. Avoid refined flour products, processed foods, and all animal products, as they tend to be low in fiber. Fibrous root vegetables such as carrots and parsnips are bursting with this undigestible substance, especially the insoluble kind that sweeps the colon clean. Drinking 6-8 glasses of water each day and walking for 30 minutes may be all your sluggish colon needs to get back on track.

If that doesn't do the trick, laxatives might. There are two main categories of laxatives: Those that add bulk and those that stimulate contractions in the bowels.

The bulking laxatives are rich in fiber and mucilage that expands when combined with water. The increased volume in the colon creates natural contractions that push food residue through. Be sure to consume large quantities of water, at least 2 cups, with these high fiber laxatives. These are the preferred types of laxative, as they are not habit forming and do not generally make the colon dependent. Typical bulk-forming laxatives include psyllium seeds and husks, flaxseed, and fenugreek -- not common in a garden but widely available.

However, you can grow the other type of laxatives. Take only small amounts and only use them occasionally. Regular use can make you dependent on them and cause dehydration and potassium depletion. Stimulant laxatives contain substances called anthraquinones that irritate the colon muscles, making them contract. Examples of this type of laxative include senna, cascara bark, and aloe. Some of these are very potent and cause painful cramping.

Aloe should be used with caution, as it contains an extremely strong laxative in the yellow portion right beneath the peel of the leaf. It can cause diarrhea. Only commercially prepared aloe has this potent compound removed; its mucilaginous gel may serve as a lubricant. Senna is another popular laxative that is commonly used too frequently. In large amounts, senna can cause cramping. Cascara bark is a milder but still potent stimulating herb. All these potent irritant laxatives should not be used regularly as their strong effects easily make the colon less responsive to milder stimulation, thus compounding the problem.

Go to the next page to read about more gentle, natural laxatives.

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This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.Before engaging in any complementary medical technique, including the use of natural or herbal remedies, you should be aware that many of these techniques have not been evaluated in scientific studies.   Use of these remedies in connection with over the counter or prescription medications can cause severe adverse reactions. Often, only limited information is available about their safety and effectiveness. Each state and each discipline has its own rules about whether practitioners are required to be professionally licensed. If you plan to visit a practitioner, it is recommended that you choose one who is licensed by a recognized national organization and who abides by the organization's standards. It is always best to speak with your primary health care provider before starting any new therapeutic technique.