Causes and symptoms
Constipation is one of the most frequent disorders among the population. It is difficult in eliminating stools completely or regularly. A person suffering from constipation uses excessive strain during bowel movements due to impaired bowel motility or abnormalities regarding the volume or consistency of fecal material.
In general, we speak of constipation when the number of weekly evacuations is less than three. Constipation is often associated with a number of other symptoms including headaches, nervousness, and gas buildup in the intestine, which in turn causes bloating, and tension.
Constipation can be acute or chronic. In the first case, you suffer from constipation in a sporadic and transient way, perhaps following the intake of certain drugs or reduced physical activity, for example after a surgical operation that forces you to rest.
In chronic constipation, on the other hand, the disorder lasts for more than three months and, in this case, the frequency of symptoms can lead to secondary problems such as inflammation of the hemorrhoids, the onset of diverticula or, in more serious cases, to intestinal occlusion.
The causes of chronic constipation can be different, but they are generally linked to an inadequate diet and an improper lifestyle. In fact, constipation is often caused by a diet poor in fruit, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains that provide fiber or by poor hydration of the body, as well as by a reduced physical activity known to improve intestinal motility.
How to fight constipation
In order to resolve constipation, it is necessary to act first of all on the causes. If the symptoms have lasted for more than three months or if they occur frequently, it is advisable to consult a doctor for a diagnosis and therapy adequate to treat the causes, which can be physical or even psychological.
In any case, to improve the functionality of the intestine, it is useful to carry out constant physical exercise, at least three times a week, in order to train the abdominal muscles and stimulate the intestinal ones.
If there are no pathological causes of constipation, nutrition can normalize the regularity of the intestine. The diet must include at least one and a half liters of water a day and foods rich in fiber, vegetables, fruits, cereals, and legumes.
The daily portions of fruit and vegetables should be at least five and it is advisable to regularly consume legumes and prefer whole grains. Natural remedies can be combined with diet and lifestyle changes against constipation. Herbal preparations can help but do not resolve the cause of constipation and should only be taken after consulting your doctor.
Natural remedies to combat constipation are basically divided into four categories based on their mechanism of action: emollient laxatives, bulk laxatives, osmotic laxatives and anthraquinone laxatives.
The emollient laxatives are intended to soften the intestinal contents to facilitate emptying and substantially include vegetable oils such as extra virgin olive oil. By lubricating the intestinal lumen, vegetable oils help the evacuation but, since they are very caloric foods with a mild effect, they are used as a remedy against mild constipation that occurs sporadically.
Bulk laxatives are instead most used, which include natural remedies such as bran, flax seeds and psyllium seeds which, taken with plenty of water, increase the fecal mass, stimulating peristalsis. Other bulk laxatives are agar – a remedy made from various species of red algae – and some gums such as guar gum.
This type of laxatives are considered safe but must always be taken with a lot of water to avoid obtaining the opposite effect and can cause bloating and flatulence, so it is good to associate them with carminative herbal teas based on fennel seeds or green anise.
On the other hand, osmotic laxatives are often used on children for sporadic constipation: they include remedies such as manna, capable of retaining water inside the intestine, effectively increasing the fecal mass and, at the same time, softening the stool.
Finally, anthraquinone laxatives are represented by senna, buckthorn, cascara, rhubarb and aloe. These are plants that contain a class of molecules – anthraquinones – which have an irritating action on the intestine, increasing its motility. These laxatives are probably the most used among natural remedies and are widely recommended to awaken the lazy bowel, alone or in combination with each other and with other herbs.
However, these remedies should not be abused as excessive use can lead to colic, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. Furthermore, however, these are not suitable remedies in case of chronic constipation, since prolonged use can cause addiction, worsen constipation, and can lead to impaired intestinal function.