There exist almost as many treatments for constipation as reasons why it occurs in the first place. Anything from poor diet to illness or stress can cause constipation. Unfortunately, many of the conventional treatments, although they provide short-term relief, can cause chronic constipation when used long term. A few herbs are effective for even the worst cases of constipation and are safe for long-term use.
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Aloe vera is a healing herb that is used externally to treat burns and heal minor wounds. According to the Clayton College of Natural Health (CCNH), it is also considered a natural laxative. In addition, it is beneficial for the liver and is gentle. The juice can be consumed daily, or aloe vera can be taken in gel capsules.
Cascara sagrada is a natural herbal laxative. Its effects are gentler than the more popular herb, senna, which can cause gas and cramping. In addition, CCNH indicates that, unlike senna, cascara is non-habit-forming. Start out with one capsule daily and increase by one each day as needed.
Psyllium seeds come from the plantain plant. They are high in both soluble and insoluble fiber, which are important to provide bulk in the intestines and stimulate movement of the colon. Psyllium is the main ingredient in most over-the-counter fiber supplements and overnight laxatives. Because psyllium does bulk up, it is important to take it with lots of water to prevent blockages in the intestinal tract. Take as directed by the package and do not take extra doses. Give the pysllium time to take effect, anywhere from one to seven days.
Slippery elm is an emollient herb, which means it helps lubricate the intestinal tract and soothes mucous membranes. Like aloe vera, it is healing and nourishing. It aids in digestion and helps relieve gas and cramping. It helps soothe an irritated stomach, which makes slippery elm an ideal herb to use for constipation related to irritable bowel syndrome. Herbalists use it for both constipation and diarrhea.
Buckthorn is another herb that is calming to the intestinal tract. It is a mild laxative but gentle enough that it is commonly used to treat constipation in children. It is generally combined with other herbs, such as cascara sagrada and slippery elm, for chronic constipation. It is also used by herbalists to treat liver congestion, gall stones and ulcerative colitis.
Triphala, an East Indian remedy, is actually a combination of three fruits (Haritaki, Bibhitaki and Amalaki) that is used to treat constipation. It is cleansing and rejuvenating. Herbalists use it to relieve constipation, as a diuretic and for weight loss. It is a popular remedy in Ayurvedic medicine and is considered to primarily balance the doshas. Doshas are constitutional types of each individual. Ayurvedic doctors teach that vata is most like air, pita like fire and kapha like water. While one or more doshas tend to be dominant, occasionally they become imbalanced, resulting in health-related issues, such as constipation. Constipation is a dry, or vata condition. Triphala balances the doshas by adding water, or kapha. It should be taken as directed by an herbalist or health care practitioner.