By 1100 AD Europe was awash in grain millers, whose job was to grind wheat and eliminate the outer bran (fiber) and inner germ (protein and vitamin E). Thus ensued the greatest robbery in the history of mankind: taking fiber out of our diet. Denis Burkitt, MD was a surgeon who spent 6 years in Africa and commented: “the larger the stools, the smaller the hospitals”. Essentially, enough fiber in the diet yields regular bountiful bowel movements which lowers the risk for most diseases of civilization. We are a constipated lot. There are many natural remedies for constipation.
Constipation is one of the more common complaints among Americans. Given our low fiber, low fluid intake along with too much sugar, meat, cheese, and fat; it should not be surprising that the most commonly shoplifted item from American pharmacies is Preparation H, for hemorrhoids.
Most cases of acute constipation happen because you are not eating enough of the right foods, consider adding more fruits and vegetables, drink enough water and perhaps get more exercise. Choosing a healthy diet and healthy habits can help with constipation.
Foods to Help With Constipation
Plant based diet: fiber
When early nutritionists examined our diet and found that the same amount of fiber that goes in the mouth comes out in the rectum as poop, they reasoned: “since you cannot digest and absorb fiber, it must be useless.” Couldn’t be further from the truth. Enter the Human Microbiome Project (started in 2007) was funded by the National Institutes of Health. The researchers found more than they could have imagined. Humans have about 100 trillion microbes inhabiting our gut which play a crucial role in our health. In exchange for “room and board” they microbes create vitamins (like K and biotin), anti-cancer substances (like butyrate and hydrogen), and assist in digestion. There is an intricate “telegraph” system occurring between the cells lining the human gut and the millions of different post biotics, which are the final result of microbes metabolizing what we cannot digest. Once called fiber, now called resistant starches, our health begins here.
Plants foods are rich sources of fiber: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, mushrooms, sea vegetables. Dine frequently on these foods for your gut health and your general physical and mental health.
Cayenne increases the flow of juices in the intestinal tract, which helps to speed the food through the GI tract. At moderate intake, hot chilis will encourage regularity. At a higher intake, chilis can cause diarrhea and irritation of the colo-rectal region, hence the slogan at many a chili fest: “Burns at both ends.” Obviously, we are looking for healthy and daily bowel elimination, not diarrhea or irritation of hemorrhoids.
Herbalists find that a mixture of cayenne (since it is a potent stimulant) along with kelp, gentian root, and Irish moss may be able to stimulate the thyroid back into full action.
Fennel stimulates the production of gastric juices and is another great spice having carminative properties. It is often used as an after-dinner digestive aid. It also has antispasmodic properties.
Fennel seeds are a very rich source of dietary fiber as well. It consists of metabolically inert insoluble fiber, so it increases the bulk of the food you eat as it goes through your digestive system. This eases constipation problems and a great natural remedy for constipation. The fiber helps protect your colon.
Fennel also contains a variety of antioxidants, such as quercetin, which is thought to offer protection from aging and diseases, including cancer.
Garlic has many benefits, but one of the main reasons I recommend it because it is a wonderful antimicrobial. And many people with constipation have infections. In fact, the research shows that garlic has antibacterial (1) (2), antiviral (3) (4), antifungal (5) (6), and even antiparasitic activities (7) (8).
Regular small doses of turmeric with black pepper have been known to help with irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, bloating and lethargy after meals by decreasing inflammation, strengthening intestinal walls and reducing abdominal pain. Turmeric helps by destroying fungi and bacteria.
Many people can benefit from taking turmeric. Turmeric can help to reduce proinflammatory cytokines (13) (14) (15) and increase regulatory T cells (16). Turmeric also can benefit cardiovascular health (17) (18), and it also has anticancer properties (19).
The seeds of cilantro, known as coriander seeds have been used for thousands of years to help with digestion and constipation. Both coriander seeds and cilantro are healthy, but the seeds contain more health benefits for digestion. Coriander helps with gas. It is also known to have antispasmodic and stomachic properties. It calms intestinal spasms that can lead to diarrhea so it may be helpful to some people having irritable bowel syndrome. Coriander can also help settle indigestion.
As an added benefit, cilantro is packed with phytochemicals, which are super antioxidants.
This fragrant and attractive herb is best known as a plate embellishment and for its ability to cleanse your breath. However, both parsley juice and fresh parsley have been found to be an effective remedy for constipation. For many years, the laxative effect that parsley had was known only as folk medicine, but researchers at the American University in Beirut confirmed that parsley does indeed have laxative qualities.
Derived from the leaves of the senna plant, senna is a natural remedy that contains sennosides. Sennosides irritate the lining of the bowel, which cause a laxative effect. Research published in JABFM compared the effects of senna with another laxative in treating chronic constipation. Senna proved to be a better choice. Given the potency of senna, it should only be used for short-term constipation relief. Side effects could include stomach cramping and diarrhea.
Cardamom and Ginger
Cardamom is part of the ginger family, so no wonder it’s helpful for your digestion. Both have been used in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine for centuries but is also backed by science as having actions that help relieve bloating and gas. It also has antispasmodic properties, as it can slow the rate of stomach muscle cramping.
Cardamom and ginger also stimulates the appetite along with easing gas, nausea, indigestion, and cramping. It helps to kill off any food-borne bacteria in the digestive tract, thus helping to protect against food poisoning and gastric distress.
Ginger is very well known for its anti-inflammatory properties. It helps to reduce inflammation by suppressing prostaglandin synthesis, specifically inhibiting cyclooxygenase-1 (COX-1) and cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2). Ginger also can be beneficial for certain types of cancers, including prostate cancer (37), pancreatic cancer (38), gastrointestinal cancer (39), and breast cancer (40).
What Helps With Constipation
If the above remedies do not do the job for your regularity, then try prune juice, or any of the dozens of probiotics on the market. A daily bowel movement may be as important as a good night’s sleep.