When was the last time you had a good bowel movement? Was it this morning..? Or three days ago? Do you have difficulty pushing or straining, or do you have discomfort, pain or bloating in abdominal area? If you are familiar with these questions, well, you are not alone. Constipation affects about 70% of Americans, and more than 40% suffer either occasional or chronic constipation; it’s a silent epidemic. Not only is constipation uncomfortable in the short term, chronic or long-term constipation can lead to many serious health problems.
Though elimination is often a touchy subject, it’s an extremely important one. The good news is that you can help relieve constipation naturally today! In this article, I’m going to help you find out how to be free from constipation and have a fabulous bowel movement every day. According to Eastern medicine, Fall energy resonates with large intestine and lungs. This is a perfect time to take care of your colon and to develop a good daily bowel movement.
The Basics of Digestion
Everything that you consume has to be eliminated from your body after a certain period of time. Normally, the transit time is 16 hours between eating food and when that food is eliminated. Not being able to empty your intestines everyday means that the food that you eat stays inside your body. Not only is this uncomfortable and probably gassy, the food begins to putrefy, creating a toxic environment and a breeding ground for viruses, bacteria and even tumors. The putrefied food, if it stays in for an extremely long time, also produces toxic gas, which flows back into the blood stream. This “polluted” (acidic) blood circulates all over the body, including your brain, feeds your cells, thus affects entire system.
Some studies have suggested the link between constipation and common chronic diseases such as irritable bowl syndrome (IBS), diverticulitis, obesity, diabetes, arthritis, allergies, heart diseases, and cancers, especially colon. This condition also affects the liver because dirty (acidic) blood has to be filtered and detoxified by the organ, putting extra stress on this hardworking organ.
What Causes Constipation?
There are many factors that may affect constipation (including stress and hydration levels), but the most important is diet. The indisputable cause of constipation is lack of fiber in the diet. Fiber is only found in plant foods, so those that eat a Standard American Diet (SAD) based on animal foods and processed grains have very little natural fiber in their diet. By eating more meat and less fiber-rich food (vegetables and grains), you may develop some constipation issues in which you chronically have trouble “pushing things out.” That “leftover” food stays inside your colon, then clogs the tube overtime.
To think about it another way, meat can really mess up your intestinal environment. Imagine keeping some leftover chicken in a sealed plastic bag, and leave it out on a 98 degree/super humid evening. What would happen after 16 hours? Obviously it putrefies, and the odor would become unbearable. Surely you don’t want to eat them because your instinct tells you that they are covered with E coli and other harmful bacteria. Well, that’s technically what happens inside your body when you consume meat, especially when you are already constipated. This makes for a very unhealthy intestinal environment.
Processed grain products are also one of the main reasons for constipation. Though we all love bread, pretzels and other baked flour products, these are usually made with refined white flour with commercial yeast. Refined flour has little fiber, and while it’s heavenly in your mouth, it’s not so good for your intestines. Unfortunately, most baked goods turn into this thick and slimy substance in your gut. If you are a cook, you know that flour is used to thicken your sauces, right? And as you might imagine, over-, regular- eating of white bread could eventually coat the intestinal walls in the same way, leading to clogging and constipation.
Whole wheat and other whole grains have more fiber than their refined counterparts, so these are definitely better options than white (refined) bread counterparts. But keep in mind that it affects your gut in the same way. Whole grain breads are good in moderation, but if you are already constipated, I would suggest that avoiding baked flour foods for a while.
Other factors that can cause or exacerbate constipation include excess eating, constant “grazing” and gobbling down without a proper chewing, which basically creates a traffic jam in your gut. As an example, the more cars there are in Lincoln tunnel, the more time it takes to get out to Manhattan. In the same way, if you put more food into your digestive “tunnel,” and if you keep adding more food ceaselessly, your intestines will be congested, it will take forever for the food to come out! It’s important to chew food properly in order to break down the foods into smaller molecules, it also stimulates the entire digestive system by activating the release of digestive enzymes by stomach, pancreas, gall bladder, and small intestines. Activity in the first stage of digestion (chewing) closely affects the end of the long process (bowel movement).
From a Macrobiotic perspective, there are mainly two types of constipation. One is mainly due to over-, regular consumption of meat, baked flour products, salty foods, and lack of liquid (dry) – these are all yang foods. The stool tends to be hard, dry, small, kind of like rabbit’s poop. This is caused by “contracting, constricted energy”, therefore, it’s “yang” constipation. The other one, when the stool tends to be soft, loose, and even watery is caused by sugar, alcohol, milk, tropical fruits, juice, excess liquid, drugs/medicines, and chemicals– these are all yin foods. In this case, the peristaltic action in the intestines is so weak that it cannot push things out.
How to Relieve Constipation Naturally
1. Eat more whole grains and vegetables
Both Western and Eastern traditions agree that high fiber diet is the solution to constipation. Whole grains, such as brown rice, barley, millet, corn are particularly the highest in fiber. All the vegetables are also fiber rich, but root vegetables are especially helpful. Try to include carrot, parsnip, daikon radish, burdock root, and more in your daily diet. Sea vegetables, though not widely used in daily home cooking, have even higher content of fiber than land counterparts. Beans are also great source (one cup of lentils has almost half your daily fiber!). Basically, a plant-based diet, if not complete vegan, is the surest way to get enough fiber.
2. Eat foods that nourish the large intestine
According to Eastern medicines, natural bitter and pungent flavors are nourishing to large intestines. This includes foods like daikon radish, kuzu root, ginger, hors radish, onions, and green onions (scallions, leeks). Naturally fermented foods are also good to develop healthy intestinal flora. Miso, natural soy sauce, tempeh, natto, sauerkraut and other natural pickles have great amount of beneficial bacteria.
3. Eat less, less often, chew well
Chewing well helps prevent over-eating and constant snacking and it helps to clear up your digestive “tunnel” with less traffic!
Lack of exercise also contributes to constipation and overall health problems. Even simple exercise like walking helps circulation but also stimulates the pressure points on your feet corresponding to digestive organs. Put on your shoes, and go for a nice walk!
5. Home remedies
Placing a heating pad (or hot towel) on the lower abdomen helps relax the muscle of intestine, and stimulate circulation in those areas and helps entire digestive function. There is also a special macrobiotic drink for constipation that includes pickled plum (umeboshi plums) and other healing roots. Click here to find a recipe for Umesho kuzu drink and here for a recipe for Umesho bancha tea.
If your constipation is the yang type discussed above, heal yourself by adding more yin energy into your diet. You can have more dark leafy greens, salad, even some seasonal fruits, more liquid, and use less salt in cooking. For yin type of constipation, try to include more root vegetables, whole grains, beans, seaweeds and less water. Longer cooking (yang) such as stew would be good instead of salad, juice or other raw foods, and remeber to include a moderate amount of salt in cooking. To learn more about Yin & Yang balance, click here.
To read my own personal story of healing from constipation, read “My Fabulous Bowel,” It appears at the bottom of the page