Constipation is a common disturbance of the digestive tract. In this condition, the bowels do not move regularly, or are not completely emptied when they move.
Constipation is the chief cause of many diseases because such a condition produces toxins which find their way into the blood stream and are carried to all parts of the body. This results in weakening of the vital organs and lowering of the resistance of the entire system. Appendicitis, rheumatism, arthritis, high blood pressure, cataract and cancer are only a few of the disease in which chronic constipation is an important predisposing factor.
The number of motions required for normal health varies from person to person. Most people have one motion a day, some have two a day, while others have one every other day. However, for comfort and health, at least one clear bowel movement a day is essential and considered normal.
The most common symptoms of constipation are infrequency, irregularity or difficulty of elimination due to hard faecal matter. Among the other symptoms are coated tongue, foul breath, loss of appetite, headache, dizziness, dark circles under the eyes, depression, nausea, pimples on the face, ulcer in the mouth, constant fullness in the abdomen, diarrhoea alternating with constipation, varicose veins, pain in the lumbar region, acidity, heart burn and insomnia.
The most important causes for chronic constipation are an unsuitable diet and a faulty style of living. All foods in their natural state contain a good percentage of ‘roughage’ which is most essential in preserving natural balance of foods and also in helping peristalsis - the natural rhythmic action by means of which the food is passed down the alimentary canal. Much of the food we eat today is deficient in natural bulk or roughage and this results in chronic constipation.
Intake of refined and rich food lacking in vitamins and minerals, insufficient intake of water, consumption of meat in large quantities, excessive use of strong tea and coffee, insufficient chewing, overeating and a wrong combination of food, irregular habits of eating and drinking may all contribute to poor bowel function. Other causes include faulty and irregular habit of defecation, frequent use of purgatives, weakness of abdominal muscles due to sedentary habits, lack of physical activity and emotional stress and strain.
Diseases such as tumours or growths, sluggish liver, colitis, spastic condition of the intestines, hyperactivity, diseaes of the rectum and colon, bad teeth, uterine disease, diabetes, use of certain drugs for treating other ailments, abnormal condition of the lower spine and enlargement of the prostate gland can also cause chronic constipation. Elderly patients may suffer from constipation due to relaxed muscle tone, inadequate dietary intake for nutritional needs and diminished activity.
The purgatives and laxatives give only temporary relief. They unnecessarily irritate the stomach and intestines, weakening the colon. Laxative abuse may also lead to low blood potassium and long term chronic ill-health. The natural way to treat constipation is to reeducate the bowels and give up all artificial aids. The observance of regular hours for meals, elimination and sleep, a balanced diet, sufficient exercise, and a high standard of general health with good muscular tone are essential in the treatment of constipation.
The most important factor in curing constipation is a natural and simple diet. This should consist of unrefined foods such as whole grain cereals, bran, honey, molasses and lentils ; green and leafy vegetables, especially spinach, french beans, tomatoes, lettuce, onions, cabbage, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, celery, turnip, pumpkin, peas, beets, asparagus and carrots ; fresh fruits, especially pears, grapes, figs, papayas, mangoes, grape-fruits, gooseberries, guavas and oranges ; dry fruits such as figs, raisins, apricots and dates ; milk products in the form of butter, ghee and cream.
The diet alone is not enough. Food should be properly chewed - each morsel for at least 15 times. Hurried meals and meals at odd times should be avoided. Sugar and sugary foods should be strictly avoided because sugar steals B vitamins from the body, without which the intestines cannot function normally. Foods which constipate are all products made of white flour, rice, bread, pulses, cakes, pastries, biscuits, cheese, flesh foods, preserves, white sugar and hard boiled eggs.
Drinking lots of water is beneficial not only for constipation but also for cleaning the system, diluting the blood, and washing out poisons. Normally, six to eight glasses of water should be taken daily as it is essential for digesting and dissolving food nutrients so that they can be absorbed and utilised by the body. Water should, not however, be taken with meals as it dilutes the gastric juices essential for proper digestion. Water should be taken either half an hour before or an hour after meals.
Grapes have proved highly beneficial in overcoming constipation. The combination of the properties of the cellulose, sugar and organic acid in grapes make them a laxative food. Their field of action is not limited to clearing the bowels only. They also tone up the stomach and intestines and relieve the most chronic constipation. One should take at least 350 grams of grapes daily to achieve the desired results. When fresh grapes are not available, raisins soaked in water can be used. Raisins should be soaked in a tumberful of drinking water for 24 to 48 hours. This would swell them to the original size of the grapes. The raisins should be eaten early in the morning. The water in which raisins are soaked should also be drunk.
Drinking hot water with sour lime juice and half a tea- spoon of salt is also an effective remedy for constipation. Drinking water which has been kept overnight in a copper vessel, first thing in the morning, will bring good results. Linseed is extremely useful in difficult cases of constipation. A tea-spoon of linseed swallowed with water before each meal provides both bulk and lubrication.
In all ordinary cases of constipation, an exclusive fruit diet for about seven days would be the best way to begin the treatment. For long-standing and stubborn cases, it would be advisable to have a short fast for four or five days. This will drive out the packed contents of the bowels, eliminate toxins and purify the blood stream. The weak patients may take orange juice during the period of fasting. After the all-fruit diet or the short fast, as the case may be, the patient should gradually embark upon a balanced diet comprising adequate raw foods, ripe fruits and whole grain cereals. IN some cases, further short periods on fruits or short fasts may be necessary at intervals of two months or so, depending on the progress being made. The bowels should be cleansed daily through warm water enema for few days at the commencement of the treatment.