Constipation is a condition that is common and can affect people of all ages. The symptoms are that you are unable to pass stools regularly or you are not able to fully empty your bowel. Most people only have constipation for a short period of time, but unfortunately for others it can be a chronic problem (the condition lasts for a long time and causes pain and discomfort).
There are many factors which can cause constipation, such as: a sedentary lifestyle, lack of fluid intake, emotional stress, poor diet or the side effects of prescribed medications and supplements.
Changes to your lifestyle and diet are recommended, if you want to start upon a regime for overcoming constipation. This should include increasing your intake of fibre and fluids everyday and doing more exercise.
For women, menopausal constipation is generally due to the slowing of the gastrointestinal tract (estrogen is a gastrointestinal stimulant) and heavy demands on the liver. As a remedy you should avoid eating bran as a laxative, but instead try figs, prunes or rhubarb.
The most common laxatives to relieve constipation are known as purgative, these are often sold over-the-counter in chemists and health food stores. A herb that is often used in laxatives is senna, it contains anthraquinones which are strong and irritating chemical compounds that will force the bowels to evacuate. Senna is one of the most well known ingredients in laxative teas, it is the dried leaves and pods of the Senna alexandrina shrub. The compound in senna that stimulates the digestive system is called glycosides, this produces the laxative effect.
Peppermint leaves are a natural remedy for issues with the digestive system and many over-the-counter remedies contain peppermint extract. The menthol in peppermint may help to relax your stomach while having the effect of moving the stool through the intestines.
Dandelion root has several properties;
It can stimulate the liver to produce bile, which in turn can indirectly help with constipation.
May help with mild digestive symptoms, such as occasional constipation or bloating.
Can act as a diuretic, which adds more water to the digestive system and the stools. This helps to relieve mild constipation.
If you are pregnant or nursing, then you should not use senna or any herb that contains anthraquinones, neither should you consume this herb if you have gastrointestinal problems, including ulcers, ulcerative colitis, hemorrhoids or irritable bowel syndrome.
Period of use
Purgative laxatives should not be used for a long period of time, otherwise a condition known as lazy bowel syndrome can occur. What can happen is that the digestive system can become sluggish and the bowels are unable to evacuate without the use of more laxatives. Studies have shown that prolonged use of constipation relieving drugs or herbs can lead to disturbances in the body's electrolyte equilibrium. This can lead to a potassium deficiency and an associated problem if you are taking heart medications.
If you have concerns, always consult a qualified medical practitioner.