This can be defined as difficulty or infrequent passage of feces, and must be seen as a symptom and not a `disease’ state. Diagnosis is thus vitally important. Acute constipation is a definite, recognizable change for that individual, and this change in bowel habits might be a sign of organic disease. In chronic constipation there is an ongoing hampering of normal bowel movements. In such cases the ideal is to work through the diet to normalize and regularize movements.
The commonest cause of constipation in Western cultures is a lack of dietary fibre. However there are some important less common causes which must be borne in mind by the practitioner, but a detailed discussion of these goes beyond the range of this book. Examples range from conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, diverticular disease, serious infection of the abdomen (e.g. appendicitis) to painful anal conditions that make the person afraid to open their bowels. Other causes might be drugs that effect bowel motility, long periods of immobility, stress or depression.
There are many herbs that will alleviate the discomfort of constipation and rather than knowing all of the individual species, we can generalize about relevant actions. Laxative remedies are obviously relevant, but others must be considered. Because of their general
stimulation of the digestive process, bitters may be very helpful. Where stress or depression are involved the relaxing nervine, anti-spasmodic and anti-depressant herbs should be considered.
A number of different varieties of laxative may be used. The bulk laxatives are fibre rich foods and herbs that are the only truly safe long term treatments. They act slowly and gently and are best used through a gradual increase in dose morning and evening until a softer, bulkier stool results. Secretory laxatives promote bowel movement through stimulation of bile production in the liver. Hepatics act as secretory laxatives. Stimulant laxative are anthraquinone containing herbs that stimulate peristaltic movement directly via an impact on the nerve ganglioa of the gut. Carminatives may ease the pain and discomfort that is associated with constipation.
A treatment suggestion
As with many other functional problems in the digestive system, there are many specific herbs used in different cultures and by different herbalist’s. As constipation is a symptom, there cannot be any true specifics. Commonly use defective herbs include Yellow Dock and
- Yellow Dock – 2 parts
- Dandelion root – 2 parts
- Aniseed – 1 part tincture to 5 ml 3 times a day
- Dandelion root – 2 parts
A stronger combination with anthraquinone containing herbs such as Sennamay be appropriate in
some cases. A dietary approach focusing on the rational use of fibre is the most effective. I stress rational because becoming an oat bran
addict is not far off drug abuse!