Alternative Therapies for Constipation
There’s nothing fun about constipation. Even the word is isn’t fun! But if you deal with constipation on a regular basis, know that you’re not alone. Although it’s a topic not many of us like to talk about, about 16 out of every 100 adults in the United States suffer from constipation, and some believe that number is much higher. This condition is not only uncomfortable, but if untreated it can lead to serious conditions like hemorrhoids or fecal impaction.
Not only that, but some people who are constipated find that they also develop nausea or lose their appetites, which can in turn lead to nutritional deficiencies. That is why it’s not surprising that some people with chronic constipation may experience unexplained weight loss and fatigue.
Keep reading to learn some creative ways to treat constipation and prevent it from becoming a long-term problem.
Common constipation treatment
Common constipation treatment involves certain medications designed to stimulate the bowels, as well as fiber supplements that work to bulk the stool. However, sometimes these medicines are not enough to help resolve constipation. Some cases of constipation may be caused by conditions like:
- Blockages in the colon or rectum
- Nerve health issues of the colon or rectum
- Motility issues with the muscles involved in elimination
- Hormonal issues like diabetes, pregnancy, or thyroid health conditions that can upset the balance of hormones, and in turn cause constipation
No matter what the cause of your constipation, one thing is for sure—it’s uncomfortable and unpleasant. The following treatment options can help relieve constipation, and in turn, improve your quality of life.
Drink more water
Sometimes the simplest actions can have the greatest impact. Although drinking water can seem like a simple thing to do, most of us don’t drink enough water for optimal health. Some experts recommend that most women should drink about 2 liters of water per day, while most men should drink about 3 liters a day. One good way to determine how much water you should drink is to calculate your body weight and divide it in two. The resulting number is the number of ounces you should drink per day.
Water is vital to staying hydrated, and hydration is necessary to prevent constipation. Research shows that lower fluid intake is linked to intestinal constipation. Additionally, research shows that sparkling water may be more effective than tap water in relieving and resolving functional indigestion and constipation issues. A more recent study published in 2016 confirmed these study findings when they found that 1 liter of mineral water a day for three weeks improved the frequency in bowel movements as compared with tap water.
Prebiotics and Probiotics
You may have heard of probiotics in the context of gut health. If so, it is probably no surprise that research shows potential for probiotics and prebiotics as a treatment for constipation. Probiotics are living microorganisms that can provide health benefits to the host when consumed in adequate amounts. However, probiotics cannot flourish without their fuel, otherwise known as prebiotics.
Most prebiotics are classified as dietary fiber, but not all fiber-containing foods are prebiotics. Examples of prebiotic foods include chicory, garlic, leeks, onions, asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, bananas, whole wheat, yams, and sweet potatoes.
The combination of prebiotics and probiotics, also known as synbiotics, can help restore balance to gut bacteria in the body, in turn improving digestion. Research shows that an imbalance in the gut bacteria may be a leading contributor to functional constipation as well as constipation-related irritable bowel syndrome. Synbiotics may be the key to treating such conditions.
In fact, a 2017 study looked at the impact of the prebiotic galacto-oligosaccharides, along with synbiotics made up of the prebiotic fructo-oligosaccharides with various probiotic combinations on gut health symptoms. Study results show that these prebiotics and probiotics helped improve stool frequency, consistency, and some other symptoms related to constipation. Another study looked at the impact of probiotic treatments in older adults. Study results show that compared to a placebo, probiotics improved constipation in elderly individuals by 10-40%.
Be sure to also include fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, kefir, and other probiotic foods that help restore healthy balance to the gut.
Exercises and biofeedback therapy
Exercise is not only good for heart health but can help treat constipation. Research shows that constipation is associated with sedentary behavior, so promotion of physical activity, and especially certain yoga poses and stretches, could help resolve this. However, if your constipation is caused by a motility issue in the rectum, then exercise may not be enough. That is where biofeedback therapy comes in.
Biofeedback therapy involves electrical stimulation of the anus to help restore rectal sensation in people that have impaired rectal muscle stimulation. A 2017 study found that this type of therapy can also help those with functional constipation related to a condition known as dyssynergic defecation in which contraction or inadequate relaxation of the pelvic floor muscles occurs during attempted defecation. Study results show that biofeedback therapy is a safe and effective therapy for individuals with this condition to help relieve their constipation.
Just like a shoulder or back massage can relieve pain or stress in those muscles, abdominal massage can help relax the intestinal tract, which can help relieve constipation. It does this by helping to release gas and waste products as well as stimulate muscle contractions in the intestines.
A 2016 study looked at the impact of abdominal massage on relieving post-operative constipation. Study results show that abdominal massage that was applied to patients diagnosed with postoperative constipation not only helped reduce symptoms of constipation, but it also helped to reduce the time intervals between episodes of defecation, and increased quality of life. Similar results were seen in a study of abdominal massage applied to people with Parkinson’s who suffered from constipation.
To reap the benefits of abdominal massage, you should learn the appropriate techniques from a qualified healthcare or massage practitioner that specializes in such massage techniques.
As you can see, when you have constipation, the road to recovery doesn’t always have to end with a laxative or stool softener. If you find that these medicinal methods are either not effective or are not tolerated well, there are many other ways to help relieve your constipation.
Not all methods will work for everyone, however, so you must be patient and willing to try unique methods like those listed above. If your constipation starts to cause symptoms that affect your quality of life or induces unintentional weight loss, be sure to see your healthcare provider for assessment and treatment.