Originally published in Women's Health Letter, December 1, 2016; Used with permission.
One issue that tends to plague women as they age isn’t fun to talk about. But resolving the issue can have significant benefits for your quality of life – and is often easier to do than you might think.
This issue is chronic constipation. It’s often a problem for women in general and the elderly in particular. While the typical definition of constipation is fewer than three bowel movements per week, individual experiences can vary. This is because the range of “normal” bowel movements is quite large, spanning three per day to three per week and because a variety of other sensations can contribute to a feeling of constipation.
For example, if you normally experience more than one bowel movement per day and suddenly decrease to 4 or 5 per week, you’re likely to feel constipated even though you don’t fit the standard definition. Or you may not experience a change in frequency, but you do notice a change in stool consistency, a feeling of incomplete emptying, unusual straining, or a greater urge to go.
Any one of these issues can point to a problem with constipation, even if your bowel movements are fairly regular. You also may have forgotten that you struggle with constipation because you rely so heavily on laxatives. In fact, anywhere from 50 to 74% of the elderly who live in care homes take a laxative every day to keep them regular. While this can work, there are gentler, more natural ways to help resolve issues of constipation.
Start by examining your dietary habits. I’m sure you know by now that you should be getting at least 25 grams of fiber every day to help move things along. Make sure you’re meeting or exceeding this target.
You can try psyllium or chia seed, if you need some help meeting this number. However, if you do take these, it’s absolutely vital that you drink enough water. Dehydration can contribute to constipation anyway, but psyllium and chia seeds rely on water to bulk up and move the stool along. Without sufficient water, they can actually make constipation worse.
Oftentimes, when you begin adding fiber, you will experience gas. If this happens to you, stop for two days and then cut the amount in half. In addition, try drinking chamomile tea after taking the additional fiber.
Herbs and nutrients
If you have good fiber and water habits, but still struggle with occasional constipation, there is a blend of herbs and nutrients that have a natural laxative effect and promotes healthy digestion through a blend of three fruits known as Triphala. Triphala will not only help you have productive bowel movements but will help keep your whole digestive system operating smoothly.
Triphala is a mix of three medicinal plants called Emblica officinalis, Terminalia chebula, and Terminalia belerica. While Triphala has been used for centuries with great success, you know modern medicine always has to check things out for itself. As expected, Triphala stood up to the scrutiny. Researchers have conducted a number of studies on this combination through the years. More recently, a team of researchers did a review study of all these studies and published their results in the Chinese Journal of Integrative Medicine.
The review confirmed that Triphala has a number of beneficial properties. It’s great at scavenging for free radicals. It has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, anticancer, chemoprotective, adaptogenic, and hypoglycemic effects. It also promotes wound healing.
With all of these benefits, it’s not surprising that Ayurvedic medicine uses Triphala to help resolve a number of ailments. But one of its most common uses is for treating gastrointestinal disorders. The review study confirmed that Triphala is great for this purpose too. They found that it has excellent laxative effects, improves appetite, and reduces gastric hyperacidity. Because of these properties, Triphala is particularly effective at helping to relieve constipation.
If this is an issue you struggle with, Triphala can help you resolve it gently and naturally, just as it’s done for followers of Ayurvedic medicine for hundreds of years.
If fiber, water, and Triphala don’t resolve your constipation, be sure to see your doctor to rule out a more serious issue.
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