I am at my worst when I am constipated- and I will talk your ear off about it. Why? I’m a firm believer in the art of talking about poop ““ it’s such a common thing, but the conversations around it can be somewhat secretive, especially the issue of constipation. But I like to be open about it: “Hi! My name is Coco and I have about 2-3 inches of fecal matter compacted up in my lower intestine and not only does it make me feel like I’m carrying twins, but I’m also gassy, cranky, and it hurts.” Soon as you break that ice, people can turn into the Wikipedia of constipation cure-alls. The wealth of knowledge overfloweth and so will you soon enough.
First off – what is constipation? Many of us know it as that brick-in-the-gut feeling we experience if we have eaten foods outside our normal diet, traveled, and been stressed or sick. There is dyschezia , your laymen’s constipation ( otherwise known as costiveness or dyssynergic defaecation ), and obstructed defecation. Dyschezia is your generic constipation caused by diet, hormones, or medication. Obstructed defecation is impacted feces – this is serious and while rare, is considered a medical emergency and usually affects those who have recently given birth, have structural damage in the large and small intestines, have colon-rectal cancer, or have abused laxatives. If you suspect that you have impacted feces (haven’t had a bowel movement in two weeks, have severe pain and blood in what stool you are able to pass), see someone immediately.
Talking about constipation can be a grey area – everyone’s body is different, so the typical wisdom of going three times a week can be confusing to those who feel that their bodies aren’t on schedule. Some people go twice a day, some go every day, some three times a week. The key is to be able to track your cycle when you are at a “peak” mode or when you feel like you aren’t stressed, you’re eating well and are all together regular.
So how do you know you are constipated? It’s usually (and uncomfortably) obvious, but symptoms usually include gassiness, tender and irritated abdomen, straining during bowel movements, hard stools, and a swollen stomach. These symptoms can all come from multiple and varied reasons – from eating disorders to depression. But most often, constipation is caused by very basic things – not getting enough water, inadequate fiber in your diet, and lack of mobility. These things, while simple, can be easy to overlook, whether due to financial reasons, the stress of our everyday lives or just convenience. But eventually, we have to pay the piper with that uncomfortable feeling.
The easiest way to combat constipation is to prevention: fruits and veggies, whole grains, water, and walking are top-notch ways to keep your colon happy. But what about when you just need relief? This is where we can get creative. My collection of constipation cures read like an encyclopedia, collected from many people from all over this great earth.
* Fresh fruits and vegetables: Lentils (legumes), brussel sprouts, grapes, cabbage, collard greens, beans, and berries, always have a magical effect on my delicate little intestines. Not only do they taste delicious, they are chock full of fiber and act like Hulk to a brick wall, Hulk-smashing the way into relief.
* Dried Fruits: Prunes = manna from heaven. Also, dried figs, apples, apricots, dates, plums and anything you can afford in your bulk food aisle. A key to remember – make sure they don’t have extra sugar added and if you can, avoid dehydrated food with sulfur dioxide (preservative that is somewhat shady).
* Water: Lots of water. Water is what your body is desperately lacking and the grease to your intestine’s wheels.
* Other Helpful Liquids: Electrolyte-rich liquids like coconut water and Gatorade will fill up you. Electrolyte imbalance happens if all hydration in your body goes towards trying to get the feces out of your digestive system, leaving you a bit groggy and tired feeling. Prune juice is a great alternative to getting fiber into your colon. Ginger tea or licorice tea soothe the irritation stomach while doing magic on your colon. Also, my personal miracle cure – coffee. A cup of strongly brewed coffee has more than once sent me racing to the bathroom in a fit of joy and fear. If you aren’t a coffee drinker, try Yerba Mate and black or green tea. Kefir or goat’s milk are also two wonderful liquids chock full of good bacteria to help digest.
* Supplements: If you can, everyone should have a bottle of pro-biotics or acidophilus in their bathroom cabinet. These helpful little microbes eat away at the junk in your tummy and intestines and replace it with helpful bacteria, dedicated to your inner region’s health. Can’t splurge on them? Try plain, unsweetened yogurt or kefir. Fage and Lifeway are both great and inexpensive. If you want to be super fancy, you can order kefir grains online and make your own kefir (another article, another day) and save on money. Also, fiber pills are great to have around – Metamucil makes a one a day supplement, as well as a powder that keeps the belly happy. Always a key with taking fiber supplements – drink lots of water, otherwise, fiber can just build up and get “stuck” in your colon, adding to your distress.
* Let’s Get Physical: Go for a walk. Stretch. If these prove to be uncomfortable, try a colonic massage. Lie on your back and stretch as you can , slowly massaging your abdomen. Take three fingers from each hand and slowly put pressure on your lower abdomen and start rubbing in circles. If it hurts, stop. Try this for five minutes, stretch and repeat.
* I might hurt someone I’m so desperate: A homegrown cure of my mother’s – mix 2 tablespoons of sea salt into two hot cups of water (not too hot). Drink. Repeat twice. Now drinking this always brings feelings of total nausea and disgust, but this works. The rest of the body can’t properly absorb the saline solution, so it acts as a waterslide for your pooping problems. The key here is to make sure you drink a lot of it, otherwise it just sits in your stomach and you feel sick. If this method sounds like slow water torture, Milk of Magnesia is a great alternative and acts in a similar manner.
* The sweet aftermath and where do I go from here: Again, get familiar with your triggers. Dairy gets you down? Try to avoid it or use products made with goat’s , rice, almond, or hemp milk and beloved popular, favorite, soy milk. These are all easier to digest than cow’s milk. White flour demons run amok in your belly? Whole wheat flour is the way to go – white flour, while it makes the most delicious pizza crust I have ever imagined, is the equivalent to glue. It has been processed to hell and lacks in the nutrients that whole wheat flour has. Incorporate probiotics into your daily routine – they keep you regular. Drink more water. Green and ginger tea once or twice a day can help you as far as cramps go.
Always avoid laxatives unless it’s an emergency. Laxatives can often aggravate your symptoms and make it harder for your bowls to empty themselves in the future. Laxative abuse is one of the worst things you can do to your bowels and it will cause long-term damage. This includes emollient gels, glycerin suppositories, anything with sorbitol or polyethylene glycol, and “natural” laxatives like senna, castor oil and cascara. These act as stimulants and irritants, causing your colon to retract and fully empty – a “You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here” cleanser, getting rid of good gut bacteria, electrolytes and leading to dehydration and diarrea. If you do need an “everything must go now” cure, use something that isn’t harmful, like Milk of Magnesia.
The encyclopedia of constipation is a full-time growing source and is always in need of more options and tried-and-true cures. As much as something might work for one person, it might not help another. What are some cures that have freed you up on the days where you feel like you have been carrying around two weeks’ worth of French fries and Pop-Tarts?