Herbal Remedies for Constipation

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.

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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.

More Herbal Remedies for Constipation

©2007 Nadja W Dandelion is the mildest herbal remedy for constipation.

Not all natural laxatives are harsh. Following are gentle herbal remedies for constipation.

Dandelion root is perhaps the mildest laxative in this category. Burdock, eaten as a vegetable, tea, or tincture, is also a gentle laxative. The Chinese have long prescribed it for constipation. Marshmallow has been used for centuries to treat constipation. Its soothing demulcent quality provides lubrication in the colon and calms inflammation.

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Dried plums, or prunes, are well-known for their ability to combat constipation. Plant an Italian prune plum tree, pick the ripe fruit, and dry them or eat them fresh. Rich in fiber and a natural sugar called sorbitol, prunes have the ability to promote bowel movements virtually every time. Researchers developed a jam using prunes and dates for hospitalized patients. It was so successful that many other institutions have adopted the recipe, which is shown above. Black cherry juice is also helpful in the same way.

Which type of laxative should you use? Generally there are two types of constipation. Flaccid constipation is characterized by weak muscular activity in the colon. This condition is the one that usually responds to bulking agents and increased physical activity. Abdominal massage, a high fiber diet, and certain herbs can help this type of constipation. Make an infusion or decoction (remember, an infusion is used for upper parts of a plant, whereas a decoction is used for the root) of one part each of licorice root, raspberry leaves, and Oregon grape root. Add two parts dandelion root.

Tense, over-contracted muscles in the colon characterize the second type of constipation. This type responds to herbs that help relax the muscles of the bowel so that residue can be pushed on through. Again, make an infusion or decoction of the following herbs: one part each of chamomile, valerian, and peppermint mixed with two parts each of licorice, wild yam, and dandelion root.

For all types of constipation, psyllium seeds are recommended. They are a gentle yet effective bulk laxative.

Some people experience allergic reactions (skin and respiratory) when exposed to psyllium seed. Do not use dandelion root if you have large gallstones. Avoid using senna or any of the other stimulating laxatives for more than ten consecutive days or they may cause dependency. Chronic use of these herbs can also result in diarrhea, dehydration, depressed potassium levels, and irregular heartbeat. Do not use stimulating laxatives if you are pregnant or have Crohn disease, ulcerative colitis, or inflammatory bowel disease.

Laxative Jam Recipe

  • 1 cup pitted prunes
  • 1 cup pitted dates
  • 1 cup boiling water

Bring water to a boil in a medium-sized saucepan. Cut or chop dates and prunes into small pieces. Add to boiling water, and cook until mixture is thick. Use 1 tablespoon per day. Yield: Approximately 20 tablespoons.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gayle Povis Alleman, M.S., R.D. hold degrees in both alternative and conventional nutrition.  She manages nutrition education programs and teaches nutrition in the community.  She is also a freelance writer and speaker in the area of food, nutrition and health, specializing in holistic nutrition to promote optimum health.

ABOUT THE CONSULTANTS

Silena Heron was a naturopathic physician with a family health-care practice. She was a nationally recognized specialist in botanical medicine who had taught throughout the West and Canada since 1973. She was founding chair of botanical medicine at Bastyr University and on the faculty for six years. Additionally, Dr. Heron was an adjunct faculty member at Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine. She was the founding vice president of the Botanical Medicine Academy, an accrediting organization for the clinical use of herbal medicines.

Eric Yarnell, N.D., R.H. (A.H.G.) is a naturopathic physician and registered herbalist in private practice specializing in men's health and urology.  He is an assistant professor in the botanical medicine department at Bastyr University in Seattle and is president or the Botanical Medicine Academy.  He is the author of several textbooks including Naturopathic Gastroenterology, Naturopathic Urology and Men's Health, and Clinical Botanical Medicine; He writes a regular column on herbal medicine for Alternative and Complementary Therapies.

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.