What to do in case of constipation: Natural laxatives help gently with constipation

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Constipation often occurs when travelling, during pregnancy or after eating something unusual. Those who are affected by constipation frequently struggle with symptoms like discomfort, flatulence and sometimes stomach ache or cramps. Until the intestine regains its regular functions, it can take a few days. Find out here what you can do if you are constipated and how you can gently help your digestion with natural laxatives.


Causes of constipation

The reasons for short-term constipation can be quite trivial – you are in an unfamiliar environment, have sat for long periods of time or have changed your diet. All of these are factors that come together when you are on vacation, for example, and often the reason why we first need one or two days in the hotel to adapt until everything once again goes as well as usual. Having to “hold it in” once because it was not possible to go to the toilet in a relaxed way can also lead to short-term constipation. However, there are intestinal ailments that can trigger long-term constipation. If you suffer from constipation for a long time, it is recommended to go to the doctor that the cause can be elucidated.

Particularly common: Constipation during pregnancy

Under certain circumstances, women are especially affected by constipation. Naturally, we mean constipation during pregnancy: Almost half of all pregnant women report suffering from temporary constipation. There are two reason for this. On the one hand, the uterus is growing (which in some women presses against the anus and is mechanically narrowing it). On the other hand, the concentrated hormones are responsible for slowing down the transportation of intestinal content. Finally, the redistribution of fluid during the last trimester of pregnancy also contributes to drying up the intestinal content. Water is increasingly stored in tissue, which in many women manifests itself in the form of swollen feet and heavy legs. The water needed for this is withdrawn from the gastrointestinal tract instead of being released with the bowel movement. In addition, the iron supplements that pregnant women frequently take can facilitate constipation.

Constipation symptoms

Digestive patterns are unique to every individual. Some people have to “go” several times a day, others only once every two or three days. However, if this usual pattern is interrupted and the intestine gets out of step, constipation can set in. The predominant feeling is that you want to go, but cannot – and the longer you wait, the worse it gets because the longer the stool remains in the rectum, the more water is withdrawn from it. The stool becomes hard and lumpy, intestinal emptying takes a long time and force must be exerted. Afterwards, there is often the feeling that the intestine did not completely empty. Subsequently, small but uncomfortable anal lesions can form. More generalized side effects are stomach ache, discomfort and even bad mood.

When is it chronic constipation?

If bowel movement has not returned back to normal and the described symptoms continue for a long time, we can talk of chronic constipation. If you suffer from constipation symptoms for over three months or have unpleasant side effects like hemorrhoids, you should by all means go to see the doctor, who can determine the causes of your constipation and possibly prescribe therapy. However, if constipation does not last long, simple home remedies and gentle laxatives help the intestine to return to its usual pace.

What to do in case of acute constipation – simple home remedies against constipation

In order to get the intestine to get moving again when travelling or in unfamiliar surroundings, two simple measures often help: Drink plenty of water and move! Particularly after long journeys in the car, bus or airplane, the intestine becomes sluggish because you are sitting around for long periods. Therefore, you should stroll a bit after your arrival and consciously use your belly to breathe. This movement triggers the intestine’s natural peristaltic movement to get going again. To support it, you can gently massage your belly by spreading it out clockwise exerting gentle pressure. If you know that your digestion reacts sensitively when you are travelling, drinking a large cup of warm tea in the morning before breakfast is recommended. The water does not have to be brought to body temperature first, but can directly compensate your fluid balance and stimulate the intestine. The movement together with the additional fluid helps intestinal content transportation in a fully natural way and constipation is prevented. Support these measures additionally with a fiber-rich fruit and vegetable diet as well as wholewheat bread or muesli.

What can you do if you are constipated during pregnancy?

Similar remedies help in constipation during pregnancy. It is very important to drink a lot because you also relieve the symptoms caused by water retention or edemas. Regular movement and physical exercise like swimming also work well to avoid constipation during pregnancy. In this case, once again, a fiber-rich diet is a must. Pregnant and nursing women should be very careful when using laxatives because many are unsuitable for them.

Natural and synthetic laxatives against acute constipation

When these simple measures do not contribute to constipation relief, you can try to supplement them with synthetic or natural laxatives. Regarding their use and mode of action, there are basically two different kinds of laxatives – oral and rectal ones. For acute rectal constipation, suppositories or enemas inserted into the anus produce quick and reliable relief. The stool inside the intestine is evacuated fast owing to the lubricant film or liquid they contain. Generally, they eliminate constipation very reliably, but not its cause. Their advantage is that they do not make contact with the rest of your digestive system and act very quickly. Therefore, use them near a toilet.

Synthetic laxatives have a strong effect

Oral synthetic laxatives that contain active ingredients such as sodium picosulfate or bisacodyl also have a similar fast-acting effect. They inhibit electrolyte and fluid absorption of the intestinal wall and stimulate the influx of fluid into the intestinal interior. The stool is liquefied by the salty water accumulating in the intestine and this can cause the evacuation after a short time. These laxatives are prescribed when the intestine must be completely emptied before surgeries and should be taken only as ordered by a doctor. An overdose can easily lead to overreactions such as abdominal cramps and diarrhea.

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Not all natural laxatives are gentle

Naturally, there are also plant-based laxatives that act quickly in case of acute constipation. However, not every natural laxative can be called “gentle“. The leaves and fruits of Egyptian and Indian senna (also called Alexandrian senna), for example, have a laxative mode of action that resembles the one of the synthetic active ingredients described above. Like them, the active ingredient in senna reliably produces full evacuation by facilitating the influx of fluid from the blood into the intestinal interior and inhibiting absorption into the blood. The strong effect of this plant has been known for centuries. To prevent strong reactions, it is especially important to take the right dose and not to be impatient and take too much of it. Senna leaves should not be used by pregnant and nursing women because the active ingredient passes into breast milk.

Natural laxatives Epsom salt and Glauber salt: Gentle help in fasting cures and constipation

Natural laxatives from Epsom salt or Glauber salt are considerably gentler. The active ingredients they contain are the salts magnesium sulfate or sodium sulfate. The salts bind large quantities of water in the intestine, thereby preventing electrolytes and water from flowing out through the intestinal wall, but they do not facilitate additional influx through the intestinal mucosa. The water that quickly accumulates in the intestine softens up the stool, increases its volume and promotes natural evacuation. These kinds of laxatives are also often used in fasting cures because they thoroughly “cleanse” the intestine and also channel dead bacteria and intestinal cells out. The efficacy of both salts is somewhat different. Glauber salt acts on the entire intestinal area and can lead to diarrhea-like evacuations. Many users take it mainly at the start of a fasting cure. For constipation, the use of Epsom salt is also recommended. It produces gentle relief, as it does not irritate the digestive tract. With both laxatives, it is important to drink a lot to compensate for the loss of fluid. A disadvantage is the very bitter taste of the pure salts. Many users try to rinse it away by drinking a large glass of water or add a dash of lemon juice to the salt. But there are also formulations commercially available that  taste better.

Swelling agents psyllium and linseed: Natural laxatives against constipation

So-called swelling agents have another somewhat different mode of action. Generally, they consist of crushed linseed or psyllium. The seeds swell in the intestine and therefore enlarge and moisten the other intestinal content. Their effect is the slowest of all, but they can be also used in protracted constipations because they evacuate very gently. Important: If you use swelling agents, it is indispensable to always drink a lot. If the necessary liquid is absent, their effect reverses and becomes the opposite, thereby aggravating the constipation. Most of the oral laxatives need about six to ten hours to exert their effect. Take them with plenty of water before you go to bed and the desired effect should set in by the next morning at the latest.

What do you have to pay attention to when taking natural laxatives?

Although most laxatives are very well tolerated, you should take natural laxatives only for a longer period if you suffer from chronic constipation and a doctor has prescribed their use for several weeks. On the one hand, the permanent support allows your intestine to become sluggish once again. On the other hand, laxatives that retain salts and fluids in your intestine interfere with your electrolyte balance, creating an imbalance because the substances that you additionally eliminate through the action of the laxatives are naturally needed by your body in the long term. If laxatives are grossly misused, the lack of minerals can trigger arrhythmias. Whenever possible, laxatives should be used only for short periods. If there is the need for long-term use, regular 2- to 3-week interruptions are recommended. Anyway, if the constipation persists, the cause should be medically clarified. Please also remember that laxatives can reduce the efficacy of oral medications and contraceptives.

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