You experience uneasiness, feeling heavy with a bloated hard stomach. Think about it, realized that you have not had a bowel movement for a couple of days. At times, it can stretch to a few days. Finally, when there is an urge to poop, you have difficulty to pass hard and dry stool. You are not alone. Many people experience constipation from time to time. I included. It is a very common health issue caused by our modern lifestyle. Before rushing out to buy over the counter medication, there are cooking herbs that help constipation. Read on to find out if you have those herbs to make your own home remedies.
Firstly, let’s talk a bit about constipation, its causes and ways to prevent it.
What is constipation?
Should you have fewer than three bowel movements per week, you are constipated.
Constipation causes the colon (large intestine or large bowel) to swell, expand and change shape in every possible way. Because the colon does not exist in isolation, once swollen, it will compress or crush the organ next to it. It could be the liver, kidneys, gallbladder or pancreas to name a few.
Also, the leakage of toxins will affect your body organs and cells. Furthermore, backed up stools will invite microbes to multiply attracting parasites.
Constipation may happen infrequently or chronic. Regardless, you have to be mindful of these symptoms.
- • Hard stools
- • Bloated or hard stomach
- • Difficulty or straining in passing stools
- • Abdominal pain
- • Feeling as though you are blocked
What Causes Constipation & Best Way to Prevent It
While our modern lifestyle such as consuming junk and processed food, drinking alcohol and smoking contribute to the problem, there are several significant causes you can prevent.
Low Fibre Diet
This is a very common cause of being constipated. You need to get enough fibre in your diet to get it moving.
Generally, there are two types of fibre:
- • Soluble fibre soaks up water, helps keep your stool soft.
- • Insoluble fibre adds bulk to your stool, helps move through your digestive system faster.
Consume lots of fibre-rich foods including vegetables, fruits and whole grains. Consider blending your greens and fruits into mouthwatering smoothies. Doing so, you will be able to ingest more fibre than you would just by eating them. Find out how to make a healthy smoothie without a recipe and remember to add your fresh herbs.
Additionally, you may consider including psyllium husk in your daily health diet.
Psyllium is a type of fibre commonly used as a gentle, bulk-forming laxative. However, you must understand that more fibre is not always better. It is important to take it with water and drink water regularly throughout the day. This takes us to the next reason for constipation.
Inadequate Fluid Intake
Not drinking enough fluid is the most common contributing factor to constipation. Fluid helps move the food through your digestive system and soften the stool.
Generally, you must aim to drink 9 cups of water per day. If you are constipated and taking a fibre supplement, you need to drink more.
Besides water, you may consider other beverages such as green tea, black tea, or fresh juices. Read more about juicing with herbs here.
High Meat Consumption
Meat, especially red meat is low in fibre and high in fat. This combination may increase the risk of constipation. If you are consuming more meat than vegetables, your fibre intake lessens.
Consider replacing the red meat in your daily diet with protein and fibre-rich alternatives such as beans, lentils and peas.
Lack of Exercise
Physical movements can get the bowel moving. It helps stimulate the muscles in your intestines and colon.
I get it. You may not feel like moving at all while with a heavy stomach. But, you may get quick relief for constipation by exercising regularly.
An article on WebMD, The Basics of Constipation, mentioned that medications that cause constipation include narcotics, diuretics, iron supplements, antacids, and drugs for blood pressure, seizures, and depression.
Talk to your medical practitioner to get a clear understanding and advice should you feel that your current medications interfere with your bowel movement.
Overuse of laxatives
Laxatives are medicines to treat constipation by softening the stools, making passage easier. Or stimulating the lower intestine to push out the stool.
Overuse of laxatives can cause long-term and potentially permanent damage to the digestive system. They can decrease your colon’s ability to contract and actually aggravate constipation. Furthermore, it can lead to electrolyte disturbances, dehydration and mineral deficiencies.
Electrolytes which include calcium, chloride, potassium, magnesium and sodium help regulate several body functions. An electrolyte imbalance can cause abnormal heart rhythms, weakness, confusion and seizures.
Exercise care if you choose to use a laxative. There are many types of laxatives. Generally, bulk-forming laxatives, also referred to as fibre supplements are the mildest on your body and safest to use. For instance, Metamucil and Citrucel. While you can easily purchase them over the counter, it is best to seek your doctor’s advice.
Stress can upset your gut and make you tense your muscles, causing constipation. On the other hand, chronic constipation trigger anxiety and stress. This is a nasty cycle of stress, worsening the condition.
No matter it is your emotions or bowels that starts the stress cycle, it is important to manage your stress level.
Needless to emphasis, exercise regularly helps. Consider yoga and meditation, and try adding herbal teas into your self-care routine.
Keeping a consistent schedule helps too. Getting up and moving around at the same time every day may help you avoid constipation. Visit the loo first thing in the morning or before bedtime. Find your ideal time and stick to it. Also, if there is an urge to poop, do not withhold.
Here is a study published in The National Center for Biotechnology Information. It concluded that stress causes bowel dysfunction.
Natural Remedies for Constipation from the Kitchen
Cooking herbs and spices do more than just flavouring your dishes. Most contain phytonutrients that benefit your body functions. In this case, they help with constipation.
This common cooking herb contains menthol, which has an antispasmodic effect that relaxes the muscles of the digestive tract and allows easy passage for food.
Also, the carminative property in peppermint relieves flatulence related to stomach bloating and constipation.
Many over the counter medicines for digestive problems contain peppermint extract.
Peppermint tea can be brewed by adding a few sprigs of peppermint to two cups of hot water. Steep for 5 – 10 minutes. You may use just the peppermint leaves.
Caution: Peppermint is NOT recommended for people with heartburn or GERD because it relaxes the muscle in the oesophagus and stomach, thus worsen the acid reflux.
This is a hardy, perennial herb with a pale bulb and long green stalks. All parts of the fennel plant, including the bulb, stalks, leaves and seeds are used in cooking but the seeds are mainly used in herbal medicine.
The volatile oils found in fennel seeds can help kick start digestion by promoting the production of gastric enzymes.
On top of that, drinking fennel tea helps cleanse your body and move toxins through your system.
Brew your fennel tea by adding 1 teaspoon of dried fennel seeds into 1 cup of hot water. Steep for 10 minutes. You will get a light yellow infusion. Drink 3 times a day.
This is an annual herb plant with light green leaves and small white flowers. Both its leaves and seeds are popular ingredients in Indian cuisines.
Fenugreek seeds are ancient spice with a long history of use in food and as medicines.
The high content of water-soluble fibre in fenugreek helps relieve constipation. Foods that contain a large amount of soluble fibre are known as bulk-forming laxatives. When soluble fibre absorbs water in the intestines, it expands or increases in bulk. The expansion pressures the intestines and triggers contractions that move stools through the passage thus stimulating bowel movements.
You can easily make your own fenugreek tea by adding 1 teaspoon crushed fenugreek seeds to 1 cup of hot water. Steep for 5 minutes. Strain, add honey is desired and drink 2-3 times a day.
Ginger root has been used in Chinese and Indian cultures since ancient times. It is a vegetable but commonly considered a herb or spice in the culinary world. Also known as the “warming herb”, ginger increases the heat generation in the body that can help accelerate slow digestion.
When constipation stems from poor digestion, ginger tea can help after a heavy meal.
Make a simple ginger tea by adding a thumb-sized piece of fresh, peeled ginger to 2 cups of boiling water. Allow steeping for at least 20 minutes. Add honey if desired.
A common spice and major ingredient in curry powder, turmeric has been used to treat various conditions, ranging from colds, infections to digestive problems. Its medicinal properties mostly come from curcumin, which is an anti-inflammatory compound.
Turmeric is said to have the potential to reduce IBS symptoms. Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a common disorder of the digestive system. It causes abdominal pain, cramping, bloating, gas and constipation or diarrhoea, or both.
A pilot study conducted way back in 2004 concluded that turmeric may help reduce IBS but placebo-controlled trials are warranted to confirm these finding. In this study, human participants with IBS took 1-2 tablets of turmeric every day for 8 weeks reported reduced abdominal discomfort and improved bowel movement.
Add 1 – 2 teaspoons of ground turmeric into 4 cups of boiling water. Stir the mixture and simmer for 10 minutes. Strain and let cool.
You may add honey, lemon, lime or ginger to enhance the antimicrobial properties and antioxidant of the drink.
Adding whole milk, almond milk, coconut milk or coconut oil will increase the absorption because curcumin requires healthy fats to dissolve properly.
Consider Magnesium Supplements
Magnesium is a mineral that is essential for your overall physical health. It plays an important role in muscle function, heart rhythm, blood pressure, immune system and blood sugar level.
Oral magnesium supplements work as an osmotic laxative. It draws water into the intestines thus soften the stool. Additionally, it relaxes the muscles which help to create a smoother passage.
You can buy magnesium capsules at pharmacies and health food stores. However, you must talk to your doctor or pharmacist if you have a history of kidney problems. Also, magnesium may interfere with the effectiveness of some prescription medications.
Have You Heard of Triphala
Triphala is a very common and popular Ayurvedic medicine for constipation used by many Ayurvedic physicians. Literally meaning “three fruits” in Sanskrit, it is a herbal remedy that consists of Amalaki, Bibhitaki and Haritaki.
Together, these three fruits have a combined effect covering the whole metabolic process. Amalaki helps with digestion, Bibhitaki helps with absorption and Haritake helps with elimination.
I read a very good article about the health benefits of Triphala on Very Well Health. Learn more if you are interested to find out.
If you consider using Triphala tablets to manage your constipation, conveniently buy on Amazon.
Caution: You may want to avoid Triphala if you are taking chronic medications for diabetes and hypertension as it may reduce their efficiency.
When to See a Doctor
Constipation can happen every now and then. You may be going through a stressful day or week with irregular or unhealthy meals. If your condition becomes too regular or the following symptoms arise, it is time to see your doctor.
- • Rectal pain
- • Blood in stool
- • Unexplained weight loss
- • Sudden onset of severe cramping
- • Severe abdominal pain and bloating
- • Alternating constipation and diarrhoea
Besides, you should talk to your doctor if the laxatives you are consuming are not working after several weeks of use.
Being constipated is uncomfortable and can make your life uncomfortable. Feeling bloated and heavy, of course, you want quick relief for constipation.
Try making your own remedy using the above-mentioned herbs and spices. Cooking regularly at home, you should have them in your kitchen. Else, you can always buy them from your neighbourhood store as those are common cooking herbs and spices.
While the herbal remedies may help to relieve constipation, it is important to consume a balanced diet and exercise regularly to keep the bowel movement going.
Eat fibre-rich foods such as wheat bran, oats, fresh vegetables and fruits and up your fluid intake.
Lifestyle improvements often help relieve constipation for many people.
However, if it continues, your next choice may be using over the counter laxatives.
No matter, herbal remedies or laxatives, keep in mind that while they are effective on a short term basis, continual use can cause dependency, in other words, “lazy bowel syndrome”. You don't want this.
So, what is a natural remedy for constipation? My personal experience with managing constipation is to keep a consistent schedule. If I travel, the whole system is a mess. Stress is another issue which I try to manage. A warm cup of herb tea helps me relax especially at the end of the day. On a bad day, I will have a cuppa at any time. Peppermint tea is one of my favourites. Breakfast is always a bowl of oats with raisins. If I feel much constipated, lunch will be oats again. A daily 20 minutes morning walk and simple stretching exercises. Constipation has been my companion since childhood. Now, I am very mindful in fighting it.
Before ending this article, I want you to understand that even though herbs are natural and gentler than most over the counter laxatives, they are still powerful and have the potential to cause drug interactions or negative side effects. Talk to your doctor before using herbal remedies, particularly if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
We always say prevention is better than cure. Start a healthy lifestyle now!
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From the Corner of My Home – Spice Up Your Life with Herbs and Spices
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