While it might not be for dinner conversation appropriate, the big “c” word is something everyone wants to avoid: constipation. Let’s just get cozy with that for a moment because we’re going to be talking about how to avoid it without those nasty boxes and bottles of chemical-based solutions known as laxatives. Chemical laxatives account for one of the most profitable OTC drugs of all types. In fact, constipation is the leading type of gastrointestinal complaints in the United States, and laxatives are prescribed and promoted by medical organizations everywhere. When you’re in pain from any type of stomach ailment, you’ll do anything fast and quick to get relief. But chemical laxatives come with a major cost. It’s important to know how the gastrointestinal system works in order to understand why they’re not only harmful, but also ineffective and can even worsen the condition.
The Importance of Elimination for Good Health
Digestion and elimination are both incredibly important parts of our overall health. What we don’t absorb, we don’t benefit from, and what we aren’t able to eliminate ends up creating toxic waste within the body that slows us down. Our cells, tissues, and organs depend on digestion and elimination to function at their best. Without proper elimination that happens after we eat and (hopefully) absorb nutrients from our food, the intestines become backed up which leads to constipation and the uncomfortable side effects that comes along with it.
Constipation normally occurs in the large part of the digestive system: the large intestine. That’s where transit time takes the longest and slows down. The small intestine is where food goes after it is emptied from the stomach and this is the area most chemical laxatives reach first. Chemical laxatives taken orally do help empty the small intestine through a stimulant effect, but they don’t touch the large intestine which can still suffer from blockage. This is one reason why they never help you fully eliminate waste and you never really feel better. Not only are they inefficient, but their chemicals can also create damage, leading inflammation and a sluggish bowel because they lead to dependency.
The Nasty Secrets Behind Laxatives:
Miralax, the leading laxative prescribed by physicians, works by hydrating the bowels to help soften the stool and flush out wastes. This is better than some harsh stimulant-based laxatives, but Miralax and others like it are also made with a toxic chemical known as propylene glycol (what anti-freeze is made with). Ex-lax, Dulcolax, and many other laxatives on the shelf all contain other chemicals that weaken the strength of the intestines and create excess toxic wastes in the body. They’ve also been linked to Alzheimer’s, dementia, and mood disorders! Remember, supplements are just like food once ingested: your body has to get rid of what it can’t use. What do you think happens to all those chemicals? They end up being absorbed by the cells and creating cellular wastes.
Many chemicals laxatives can also weaken the strength of the bowel, which is a muscle by the way. The best way to work a muscle is to take care of it and strengthen it naturally. Eating water-rich, plant-based foods is one of the best ways to hydrate the bowels naturally, and keep them moving efficiently. Fiber is also important when it comes from natural source (versus over the counter fiber tablets that can often lead to constipation instead of improve it).
Nature’s Answer to a Natural Problem …
Constipation is nothing to be scared of. Our bodies are complex and have so many neurotransmitter, hormone, and digestion changes that sometimes, these things just happen. Instead of over-the-counter chemicals and laxatives, add more naturally cleansing foods to your diet. A plant-based diet is largely already cleansing, but constipation can still occur when too many dry, dense foods are eaten.
Here are five, cleansing whole foods to get things moving and help you feel better in truly no time!
1. Sweet Potatoes
These are a great constipation reliever because they contain water, fiber, magnesium, and vitamin B6. Water and fiber will both hydrate and push out wastes, while magnesium and vitamin B6 have a softening effect on the bowels because they trigger peristalsis. Peristalsis is the natural movement that happens in the bowels, but typically only happens with the body is calm and relaxed. These nutrients also contribute to a healthy nervous system, which is crucial for healthy bowel movements.
If you’re not into potatoes or on a low-carbohydrate diet, add some canned pumpkin to your routine … it works wonders! With only 4 grams of sugar per half cup and 5 grams of fiber, it’s an excellent natural remedy for both constipation and diarrhea. In fact, pumpkin (and sweet potatoes) are often recommended as a natural remedy for dogs with constipation if your dog needs some help with this too. Add a half cup of canned pumpkin to a smoothie for breakfast, oatmeal, or season it with pepper, vegetable broth, and some nutritional yeast for a savory side dish at dinner. Pumpkin is also a great source of vitamin B6 and potassium, which both help keep things moving along naturally.
3. Raisins or Figs
Prunes are a common go-to for constipation, but they also contain the natural sugar alcohol known as sorbitol, which can cause some bloating. Instead, go with raisins and figs, both higher in magnesium, fiber, and they also pack in iron and calcium! These are also high in potassium, which flushes wastes from the body and aids over all water balance. Raisins and figs can be eaten dried alone, added to breakfast, or used in a trail mix or energy balls, bites, or bars in place of dates.
Spinach, Swiss chard, collards, and kale are some of the most nutritious greens and are highest in magnesium. Magnesium supplements are often recommended for constipation, and while they can work more naturally than laxatives, food-based sources are best to use first. These greens can be used in salads, smoothies (which will also add more hydration), cooked for dinner, or used in a soup. They also contain vitamin B6, potassium, iron, and vitamins A and C for added nutrition.
Any kind of seeds are amazing for digestion, predominantly flax, chia, hemp, and pumpkin seeds for constipation. These all trigger elimination, are rich in omega 3’s, filled with protein, iron, magnesium, and B vitamins. Try adding them to a smoothie, oatmeal, a cooked sweet potato, soy or coconut yogurt, or however else you like. Do your best to add them to a dish instead of eat them alone, however, since they need to be combined with water to soak up the stool and move it out of the body.
Choosing the Right Cleansing Foods: More Natural Tips and Tricks
Remember, all plant-based foods are excellent for digestion, but if you’re already in pain and suffering a back-up, it’s important to eat the right kinds of foods instead of making them worse. The best for constipation that will promote easy, pain-free and regular movements include: berries, very ripe bananas, broth-based soups, cooked broccoli and carrots, roasted beets (or steamed), artichoke hearts (canned or cooked), cooked green beans and asparagus, celery, romaine lettuce, very well-cooked oatmeal, and cooked quinoa or wild rice.
Be wary of foods like beans, too many legumes, nuts, breads and other dense source of fiber may cause a drying effect or further blockage. These will all help you “go” but they can also cause pain and cramping because they’re a little harsher and also not as hydrating as some of the options above. All foods have a different effect for everyone, however, so see which ones work for you. Remember, for optimal relief and elimination, fiber, water, and nutrient-dense foods work best. You can also try taking a probiotic supplement which stimulates regular movements, eat fermented veggies like sauerkraut, consume apple cider vinegar which cleanses the system naturally, or drink some herbal tea to help things move along better too. Coffee is also a natural bowel relaxing agent you can use each day too, but leave out the sugar and cream for the best digestion effects. Refined sugar and dairy can both cause complications for optimal digestion and constipation, so use stevia and some non-dairy milk instead.
Next time constipation hits you, don’t waste your money on chemicals that hurt your body—try these other, natural (and effective!) remedies instead.
Lead Image Source: Flickr