Getting Things Moving – Chronic Constipation

  • Tara Andresen

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In a healthy body, waste travels through the digestive tract in a regular cycle, taking between 6 and 24 hours to pass.  If the waste matter passes too slowly through the large intestine, the result is called constipation.  Often constipation is accompanied by gas and bloating along with painfully hard stools.  A healthy person has 1 to 3 complete bowel movements per day.  Long-term, chronic constipation has been linked to a number of disorders including: skin problems, bad breath, headaches, IBS, hemorrhoids, weight gain and fatigue. There are many factors that can contribute to constipation including: low fibre intake, low fluid intake, stress, inactivity, certain medications, inadequate good gut flora, compromised digestion, magnesium deficiency, liver disorders, underactive thyroid and laxative or enema abuse.

Naturopathic treatment for constipation depends on the underlying cause but often includes dietary changes as well as improvements to digestive functioning and correcting nutrient deficiencies.  In some cases, herbal support is required on a short term basis to correct regularity.

Dietary changes recommended by a Naturopath include improving water and fibre intake.  Not all fibre is equally effective but your Naturopath can help you identify which fibre sources will be most helpful and guide you through increasing your fibre intake at a rate that will not shock your system and cause further gas and bloating.

While fibre and water are important to add to your diet, it is equally important to remove problematic foods that can slow the intestinal transit time.  These foods include all dairy and high fat foods.  It is also important to limit dehydrating liquids like alcohol and caffeine during an episode of constipation.

In addition to dietary changes, your naturopath can help you with adding digestive support and replenishing depleted nutrients that may be needed for regularity.  Magnesium can be very helpful but determining the proper dose and form of magnesium will greatly affect outcomes.

Herbal support may be recommended by your Naturopath to support bile secretion from the liver and improve constipation.  Milk thistle, aloe, fenugreek , dandelion and gentian and some of the herbs that may be helpful. Laxative herbs, however, are usually avoided since they do not correct the problem.

To find out more about how naturopathic medicine can improve constipation and other digestive complaints, book your appointment with Dr. Andresen at one of her Toronto Naturopathic Clinics.