Regulating the irregular
Q: I can’t believe I’m even writing this, but I really need help. I’ve been quite constipated for several weeks now. I don’t like taking laxatives, but I’m so uncomfortable that I’m considering it. I wanted to see if you have any natural alternatives first.
Dr. Wright: While constipation isn’t a popular topic of conversation, it is, nevertheless, an important subject that could mean a world of difference to your overall health. And the first thing I always remind my patients who suffer from this problem is that constipation is not caused by an Ex-Lax deficiency!
One of the most widespread causes of constipation is insufficient fiber in the diet. Increasing dietary fiber with foods like carrots, beans, and whole grains is a good starting point. Supplemental forms of fiber, including oat bran, wheat bran, and psyllium, are all available at natural food stores. Psyllium is widely used, and can be found as whole or ground seeds or sometimes as a powder. A daily dose of 1 to 2 tablespoons dissolved in water is usually sufficient.
Essential fatty acids can also help relieve constipation, since they are the precursor material to hormones called prostaglandins, which help to regulate bowel function. Flax oil is the best option, and 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons daily is usually enough to help. To help prevent the essential fatty acids from oxidizing too rapidly, you should also take additional vitamin E (400 units daily) along with them.
For people age 60 and older, additional folic acid may be helpful in reducing constipation. Six to eight 800-microgram (the largest quantity available in natural food stores) tablets per day, taken for several weeks can offer significant relief. Folic acid should be accompanied by 1,000 to 2,000 micrograms of extra vitamin B12 per day.
Two other common causes of constipation, especially as we grow older, are hypochlorhydria (lack of stomach acid) and insufficient production of digestive enzymes. For help in identifying the underlying cause of constipation and remedying it, contact a member of the American College of Advancement in Medicine (acam.org) or the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (naturopathic.org).