Principal Proposed Natural Treatments
In the nineteenth century, a naturopathic concept came into being whose influence persists today: namely, that regular, frequent, and complete bowel movements are necessary for optimum health. William Harvey Kellogg, of Kellogg's cereal fame, wrote extensively of the dangers of "auto-intoxication" purportedly caused by inadequate elimination. He and others claimed that a concrete-like sludge builds up on the wall of the colon, increasing in thickness over time and destroying the health of the body.
However, in modern times physicians have performed millions of direct examinations of the colon, using the procedure known as colonoscopy, without finding any evidence of such a coating. Caked colons are a myth.
Furthermore, conventional medicine has never observed any connection between elimination and overall health. Many people eliminate only once a week or so, and their health appears to be no worse than that of the population at large.
Nonetheless, most people find occasional constipation unpleasant. For some, it becomes a severe chronic problem. It can be associated with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), in which case it is called constipation-predominant IBS.
Conventional treatment for constipation involves mainly increasing exercise and intake of dietary fiber and water, while reserving laxatives, suppositories, and enemas for emergencies.
Occasional constipation can be safely self-treated. However, if constipation becomes a chronic problem, it should be evaluated by a physician.
A typical dosage of fiber is 5 to 10 g, 1 to 3 times daily, with at least 16 ounces of liquid. Start with the lower doses and work up gradually, as too much fiber all at once can actually worsen constipation.
The herbs cascara sagrada and senna are stimulant laxatives approved as over-the-counter treatments for constipation. Another herb, common buckthorn , also contains these substances, but it is not an approved OTC drug in the US. All of these work by virtue of chemical constituents called anthraquinones that irritate the colon wall. When taken to excess, stimulant laxatives can cause dependence. In addition, if overused, they can cause depletion of potassium. This is especially dangerous for people taking drugs in the digoxin family .
The psychological aspect of constipation should be considered as well. Like sleep, elimination is inhibited by thinking too much about it. Part of the key to solving chronic constipation problems is to decrease the sense of worry and anxiety that surrounds the issue. Although constipation is certainly unpleasant, its evils have been greatly exaggerated. Thinking less about it will often go a long way toward solving the problem.
- Reviewer: EBSCO CAM Review Board
- Review Date: 08/2013 -
- Update Date: 08/22/2013 -