You know what sucks? Not being able to poo. (Note that I used the same opening in a column about not being able to reach orgasm. Some things can only be put one way).
It's not a very sexy topic (except for a select few), but the fact is, lot's of people out there are walking around feeling uncomfortable. You get all packed up with poop and feel like you can't move. Sleeping can be difficult. It's hard to eat, cuz you're already full. It can make you grouchy.
Narcotic-containing drugs may block you up (Tylenols 1, 2 and 3, Demerol, morphine), and so can some psychoactive drugs, like antidepressants.
No matter how annoying it is, however, an inability to vacate for a couple of days is not necessarily constipation. Experts say the quantitative definition of constipation is fewer than three movements a week.
But many folks claim to be constipated, which means they're not going as much as they'd like. What to do?
What the experts say
"Some people find a high-fibre diet doesn't work -- it just makes them gassy and bloated. Many of the available herbal remedies are basically senna . You can wind up getting dependent on it, so it's not good for regular use. The other group moves water into the bowel. Those are safer. The classic one is milk of magnesia . Then there are stool softeners . The best is mineral oil, but that's not good to take too often. There's a myth that drinking water is good for the bowels, but this isn't necessarily so -- you'd have to drink up to 9 litres a day. Vigorous exercise is good. You never see constipation in marathon runners. A lot of young women don't eat enough, and it's hard to keep things moving when there's nothing to move."
ALVIN NEWMAN , gastroenterologist, Mt. Sinai Hospital, Toronto
"Herbs that work for constipation are dandelion root , burdock root , turkey rhubarb root and senna leaf . They should be combined with carminatives like ginger , anise , peppermint and/or fennel seeds . I like to put a soothing herb like marshmallow leaf in with my herbal tea blends -- also rosehip seeds . Plenty of water and lots of fruits and vegetables work well. Also psyllium husk , 1 teaspoon per cup of water or juice in the evening. These should all be taken in the evening, because it takes the herbs six hours to exert their laxative effect."
CELINA AINSWORTH , herbalist, Toronto
"I see a lot of people in my practice who don't eat enough foods containing fibre. Then there are people who don't have time to go to the washroom. Some take fibre supplements but don't drink enough water. Another cause of constipation is stress. Medical conditions such as hypothyroidism can cause constipation. There are simple recommendations: drink more fluids (especially a glass of warm/hot water) in the morning, eat high-fibre foods and decrease stress . "
SHERRY CHEN , naturopath, Toronto
Daily routine is one of the most effective forms of prevention. On top of that, Ayurveda recommends certain yoga asanas: sun salutations , chest-to-knee pose and leg lifts . Also, the yoga exercise nauli (circular movement of the abdominal muscles that massages the internal organs) is very beneficial. Home remedies include a glass of water with dry raisins soaked overnight and drunk in the morning, or 1 teaspoon ghee in a cup of hot milk at bedtime. Also try pineapple juice , papaya and sugar cane . Triphala is a popular herbal formula. One of the most important treatments in Ayurveda is bastikarma , a therapeutic enema."
SONAL BHATT , Ayurvedic practioner, Toronto
"If you're constipated, you're usually not eating enough fruits and vegetables . It doesn't matter how much you say you're eating. The most effective treatment is nutrition and exercise. Hormone regulation depends on regular bowel movements. Acupuncture works quite well. And look at how good you are at letting go mentally and emotionally . People who tend to hold onto things they shouldn't tend to be constipated."
KALEB MONTGOMERY , Chinese medicine practitioner, Toronto