Naturopathic philosophy views poor health as beginning in your bowels and it’s little wonder: if waste matter sits in the bowel for too long, toxins may be reabsorbed into the bloodstream, putting an extra burden on our system.
Rather than relying on laxatives, why not take a holistic approach, starting with the following ten tips.
1. Eat more fibre
Fibre acts as a bulk-forming laxative, increasing the size and weight of the stool so that it passes easily from the body.
Build up the amount of fibre in your diet gradually in order to avoid an initial increase in gas and intestinal discomfort. Ultimately, your aim is to consume 27- 40 grams of dietary fibre daily, including both soluble fibre (which absorbs lots of water and forms a relatively soft stool) and insoluble fibre (which forms a firmer and bulkier stool).
Soluble fibre is found in psyllium (along with insoluble fibre), flaxseed meal and other seeds, vegetables, fruits, legumes and grains such as oats. Insoluble fibre can be found in the bran of wheat and other whole grains, as well as nuts and seeds, fruits and vegetables.
2. Re-establish your bowel flora
Both constipation and a diet low in fibre may be associated with an overgrowth of bad bacteria in the bowel and a lower proportion of friendly bacteria, which help maintain healthy bowel function. Supplementing with probiotics is recommended to re-establish bowel flora after it has been disturbed, and may help to restore or improve regularity.
3. Support your liver and gall bladder
If your liver and gall bladder function are poor, it’s not uncommon for the bowel to be underactive too, so the naturopathic approach to treating constipation often involves the use of herbs and nutrients that support the liver and gall bladder. Examples include dandelion root and milk thistle, which may assist liver function and enhance bile production to soften stools.
4. Stay hydrated
If you’re not keeping your fluids up, your stools can become hard, dry and difficult to move. Drinking around eight glasses of pure clean water per day (not tea, coffee, or cola, which can be dehydrating) has many health benefits, not least of which is that it will support your colon function and the excretion of wastes.
5. Get moving
Engage in regular exercise for at least 20 minutes, three times per week. Include abdominal and pelvic floor exercises to improve muscle tone and aid bowel movements. A regular yoga or tai chi class may help move things along too.
6. Work with your body
We often ignore the call from nature to go to the toilet because it’s simply not convenient, but ignoring this urge can contribute to constipation problems, so get into the habit of heading for the bathroom whenever you get the urge to do so.
You might also like to try to retrain your body into regular habits by spending ten minutes or so sitting on the toilet at the same time every day, preferably after a meal or exercise, even if you don’t need to pass a bowel movement.
7. Think about your posture
Changing the way you sit on the toilet could help make passing a bowel movement easier for you. Try leaning back on the toilet seat, with your feet raised on a small footstool; the angle of the bowel in this position makes evacuating the bowel much easier than sitting vertically upright, and allows you to press down with your feet to increase the muscular pressure on your abdominal cavity.
8. Try a tummy massage
When you massage your abdomen, you’re also massaging your bowels, which can help trigger the wave-like muscular contractions called peristalsis that move the stool along the bowel.
Lying on your back, start with your fingertips on the right-hand side of your abdomen, diagonally below and to the right of your navel and parallel to your hip. Massage upwards in circular movements until your fingers are just beneath your ribs, then massage horizontally across to the other side and then down again, ending up diagonally below your navel on the left.
Repeat this massage for a period of five minutes, ideally before you get out of bed in the morning.
When you’re stressed or tense, the “fight or flight” mechanism kicks in, slowing down digestion and the passage of waste matter through the bowels. If you suspect that tension is at the root of your bowel problems, take time out to listen to relaxing music or go for a walk.
Magnesium has a calming effect on both the nervous system and the muscles, and may help to relax muscle tension, including in your abdominal muscles while also helping to provide relief from nervous tension and stress.
10. Avoid relying on laxatives
From time to time taking a laxative may help you go to the toilet. However, laxatives should not be relied upon for long-term use as they can make the bowel lazy and worsen constipation.
Constipation is sometimes a symptom of more serious health problems, so it’s important that you consult your healthcare professional if you experience severe or persistent problems.