“If you eat 40 per cent meat and 60 per cent other foods, the likelihood of you being constipated is very high,” he says. While vegetarian food takes 2–6 hours to digest, meat takes 36 hours to digest and 72 hours for most of it to pass through the digestive system.
“In young women or menopausal women, constipation can also be due to hormonal imbalance,” says Raman Das. “This type of constipation causes dryness and wrinkling in the skin and is treated differently from other types of constipation.”
According to Ayurveda, people with kapha (water and earth) constitution suffer most from constipation, followed by people of vata (air and ether) constitution. Kapha-type people have slow movement and a lot of mucus build-up in the intestines, and with vata types, air easily becomes trapped and this can obstruct movement and cause constipation.
Yogis (people who practise yoga as a way of life) consider that constipation is not merely a physical ailment but also a mental state. Your chances of being constipated are higher if you:
- Are uninspired and listless about life
- Have fixed ideas
- Are unable to graciously accept the changing nature of life
- Are referred to as being “anally retentive” by those who know you well
If any of the following symptoms apply to you, you may need to do something to improve your regularity:
- You don’t go to the toilet daily
- You feel bloated
- You feel fatigued and toxic if you don’t have a bowel movement every day
- You have discomfort in the intestinal region
- You have excess flatulence
- You have pains in your body
- You suffer from headaches
- You have bad breath
The usual treatment for irregular bowel movement is a mild laxative, such a milk of magnesia, which induces defecation. However, laxatives can have detrimental side-effects, weakening the colon and preventing it from functioning properly in the future. It’s also easy to form an addiction to these drugs and to become dependent on them for bowel movement.
“Isolating the exact causes of someone’s constipation is the first step in Ayurvedic healing,” says Dr Prasad. “Introducing sufficient cardiovascular and abdominal exercises and postures is very important, as is attending to dietary needs.”
Triphala churna: This Ayurvedic medicine, containing a mix of three fruits, is good for improving regularity and can be purchased through an Ayurvedic practitioner. Take 2–3 tablets at night with warm water to help clear the stomach and encourage good elimination the next morning.
Enema (basti): An Ayurvedic enema treatment, where medicines such as sesame oil, or herbal decoctions in a liquid medium, are introduced into the rectum, can effectively alleviate constipation. The oil or decoction should be retained for a minimum of 30 minutes, longer if possible.
Castor oil: Castor oil is an effective purgative. For chronic constipation, one tablespoon of castor oil can be taken with a cup of ginger tea. This tonic is safe enough to use even when treating small babies and has no side-effects. To treat an infant, dip your little finger into the oil and let the baby suck on it.
Metabolic tonics: These include herbs such as myrrh, dandelion, gooseberries and shatavari.
Ghee: Mix a teaspoon of ghee (clarified butter) into a cup of hot milk and drink at bedtime.
Flaxseed oil: Add a tablespoon of flaxseed to a glass of boiled water and drink at bedtime.
Hot milk: In the morning or before bedtime, drink hot milk with a ¼ teaspoon of ginger (fresh or powdered), five black peppercorns and a teaspoon of honey.
Lemon juice: Mixed with warm water and drunk two or three times a day, lemon juice helps cleanse the bowel.
Abdominal massage: A massage of the abdominal muscles, known as udavartana, can be used if constipation is chronic. This helps strengthen the intestinal muscles so they can work better in dispelling the wastes.