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Article by Diana Thurbon


Diana Thurbon - Naturopath/Herbalist


In my experience 3 groups of people are most likely to suffer from constipation. These are children, the elderly and those who have just given up cigarettes. 

In children limited  diet is the cause – they often don't drink enough and they frequently like bland fiber free food.

With the elderly everything tends to slow down anyway and if you couple this with a sharp decrease in exercise from arthritic hips or knees, (it's hard to get enough exercise plodding along with a walking frame) then constipation is very likely. This is another group that often forgets to drink. 

Smokers who give up are a different story. Nicotine is a bowel stimulant and irritant. If you deprive the body of this after years and bowel habits often change. The answer is simple lots and lots of water and a simple herbal laxative gradually tapered off as the body slowly adjusts.

Poor diet is the most common cause of simple constipation. In  cultures where people eat a wide variety of unprocessed foods there is little constipation.  This is because unprocessed food contains more  resistant starch and dietary fiber, both essential ingredients for good bowel health.

Resistant starch passes largely unchanged through the small intestine and is found in carbohydrate-rich plant foods, such the industry patented Barley Max, barley grains  bananas, apples, dried fruits, oatmeal, brown rice, linseed meal, sweet potato and some potatoes.

Fiber has an essential role in the digestive process as its soft, bulky texture stretches the bowel walls, stimulating waves of muscular contraction that help food move easily through the digestive tract.

In the normal process of digestion, food and fluids you have consumed make their way to the stomach where they mix with acids and are broken down. These nutrients are absorbed through the small intestine wall into the bloodstream.

Any undigested food passes through to the colon  where water is absorbed and bacteria breaks down the fiber and resistant starch.

If you do not have enough fiber or resistant starch in your diet, more water is absorbed and food moves more slowly through the colon causing constipation.

The most effective way to prevent simple constipation is to ensure that your diet includes plenty of unprocessed food, and  roughage from a wide variety  of food

Dietary fiber 

There are two types of fiber – soluble fiber (which dissolves in water, becoming soft and gelatinous) and insoluble fiber (which passes almost unchanged through the intestines.)

The minimum recommended fiber for normal bowel movements for adults is 30 grams a day (for children a good formula is to add  your child's age plus five grams, for an eight-year-old that is 8 + 5 = 13 grams of fiber per day.


Serving size

Amount of fiber

High-fiber mixed-grain bread

1 slice

1.6 – 3g




Wholemeal pasta

1 cup cooked


Brown rice

1 cup cooked


Kidney beans (canned)





















Dried figs



Dried apricots






Pumpkin seeds



Source: The Gut Foundation of America


The most effective way to prevent simple constipation is to ensure that as well as sufficient fluid you also consume   plenty of unprocessed foods and dietary fiber from a wide range of sources.

Good bowel habits

Eating a diet high in fiber  and fluids should help ease symptoms of constipation, but it is also important to practice good toilet hygiene

Most of us tend not to think about our bowel habits until we are constipated, however, good bowel habits can help you avoid constipation and make it easier to pass a motion once you are constipated, so remember:

·    go to the toilet when you need to (don't hold it until you get home.)

·    don't rush, take your time and empty your bowel.

·    when you sit on the toilet, lean forward, rest your elbows on your knees and angle your legs up and away from your body (you can do this by lifting your heels off the floor or resting your feet on a footstool) Children should always have a stool to raise their feet.

·    avoid straining (this can weaken your pelvic floor muscles leading to ongoing issues with constipation and/or incontinence.)


·    Many adults use a cup of strong coffee first thing as this is also a bowel stimulant.

It is important to help children establish good bowel habits, as constipation can become a vicious cycle – pushing out a hard stool hurts, if it hurts to go to the toilet the child will avoid going, thus making the child more constipated. If your child avoids going to the toilet encourage them to establish a 'toilet routine', for example sitting on the toilet for 10 minutes after a meal.


Sometimes it takes more than a high fiber diet and good bowel habits to treat constipation, on these occasions you will need to take a trip to the health shop, chemists,or your naturopath who will examine your diet and circumstances and decide what will be best for you.

Types of laxatives

Bulk-producing laxatives are the mildest treatment and you can't go past  Psyllium husks, second choice is All Bran every day. Psyillium can be purchased in the Supermarket and can be added to yoghurt, soups, juice or taken stirred into a glass of water.  These usually work within 24 hours and are best taken in the morning, with plenty of water. 

Stool softeners are preparations that increase the ability of faeces to absorb water from the body and so become softer. They are useful if a person is experiencing painful constipation or other side-effects, such as haemorrhoids. Often included in over the counter herbal laxatives. Paraffin and mineral oil, are included here but these are only suitable for very occasional use.

Osmotic agents draw water into the bowel from surrounding tissues, creating a soft stool mass and stretch the walls of the large intestine, stimulating muscle contractions. Magnesium hydroxide, magnesium sulphate, glycerol and sorbitol are common osmotic agents. Osmotic agents can lead to dehydration so they should be used with caution in the very young and very old. #Epsom Salts is the most common and well known of these

Stimulant laxatives speed up the colon's movements. They usually take between 6 and 12 hours to work. Treatments include senna (a herb that has been in use for many centuries), cascara sagrada (another stimulant laxative herb) castor oil and anthraquinones. Some stimulant laxatives come as suppositories, which are inserted directly into the anus and work very quickly, usually within an hour.


EXERCISE can 'get things moving' and we know constipation is more common in people who are not very physically activity (such as the elderly or people with disabilities.)

Early morning exercise, followed by a high-fiber breakfast, can help you develop more regular bowel habits.

Drink plenty of fluids. The best way to know if you are drinking enough water is to check the colour of your urine – if it is darker than straw- coloured you need to drink more water.


WHITE BREAD Beyond  it's lack of fiber there is no doubt white bread leads to constipation in many many people.


UNBALANCED GUT FLORA- CANDIDA, GUT DYSBIOSIS, ANTIBIOTIC TREATMENT, LEAKY GUT – all of these lead to poor colon health, poor general health and bloating. The best pro-bioticcc to help digestion and constipation is Lactobacillius casei Shirota. Availablen multi strain probiotic powders, yakult and one or two live yoghurts.



The best herbs to start with are, liver, gentle blood purifiers, and licorice. Stronger herbs like Senna are effective but habit forming and best for occasional use only. Get advice from a qualified herbalist.


HERBAL  TEA Chamomile tea settles the stomach and Peppermint moves wind along and reduces bloating. Drink both every day instead of tea or coffee or soft drinks, and alcohol


CONSTIPATION IS SERIOUS Many toxins from the bowel end up in the blood stream creating more unwellness.  A fruit or much better, vegetable juice fast of up to 3 days is a good starting point

Children may replace a meal and a snack with fresh juice for about 2 weeks if other remedies fail

If constipation persists please consult a GP and ask for a colonoscopy to rule out any serious problems.


27 Sep 2011

Article/Information supplied by Diana Thurbon

Disclaimer - Any general advice given in any article should not be relied upon and should not be taken as a substitute for visiting a qualified medical Doctor.