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Helpful Herbs to Treat Constipation

Constipation is a very common condition.  It is defined as having three bowel movements or less each week or having difficulty passing movements. It can become chronic constipation if it continues over many months. The National Digestive Disease Information Clearinghouse also states that the condition can be characterized by having overly hardened or dry waste that is uncomfortable to pass.

Certain dietary and lifestyle changes can be useful in treating constipation, but natural herbal supplements can be used to increase the effectiveness of other treatments.Helpful Herbs to Treat Constipation

Aloe Vera

The juice from the Aloe Vera plant has been known to be a great remedy for alleviating painful sunburns, but it can also be a great laxative.

Aloe juice stimulates the walls along the alimentary canal and activates muscle contractions which propel waste through the body. This process, called peristalsis, happens whenever one eats food, but can be stimulated further to promote digestion.

Aloe juice is very effective at inducing these contractions, so much so that they can become quite intense and possibly cause painful cramps. For this reason, The University of Maryland recommends that Aloe only be used after other gentler laxative have been tried first.

Over-the-Counter Senna

Medical doctors use the herb Senna to clear the bowels out before diagnostic testing. The FDA also approved the herbal laxative for nonprescription use.

Sennosides, the component that causes the laxative effects, work by irritating the walls of the colon and stimulating the evacuation of waste. This effect has been used for various other conditions, including hemorrhoids and IBS.

MedlinePlus suggests Senna as an effective oral laxative. The short-term effects are proven, but it is not as useful as a long term solution. Using the herb for extended periods of time can lead to an imbalance with the vital minerals important to muscle contractions, including calcium and sodium. This can lead to weakness in muscles and eventually a damaged liver. Dependency to laxatives is also possible and should be taken into account when choosing a remedy.

Helpful Herbs to Treat ConstipationCascara

If the effect caused by Senna is too intense, the bark from the Cascara Sagrada plant could be a more appropriate solution. The anthraquinones chemical components produce a less intense laxative effect. Specifically, the NYU Langone Medical Center states that the anthraquinone named cascarside reacts with the natural bacterial flora in the colon to produce a bowel movement. Cascara is nonprescription and can be purchase in oral pill form at pharmacies and health food stores, making it a very accessible treatment.

People suffering from certain conditions should never take Cascara:

  • Blocked intestines
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Appendicitis
  • Pain in the abdomen

Flax Seed as a Laxative

Whole flax seeds works as a laxative by adding bulk and moisture to stool. The fiber pulls water into the large intestines to make the waste softer and easier to pass. This treatment is unlike Senna or Cascara in that the muscles of the colon are never stimulated. Additionally, there is no risk of dependance if consuming flax seeds regularly.

The University of Maryland Medical Center also points out that flax seed oil cannot be substituted for whole flax seeds. The oil extract is devoid of fiber, making it a ineffective in treating constipation.

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*The views and opinions expressed in this page are strictly those of the Editor. Results may vary from person to person and cannot be guaranteed.

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