Let's face it - most people don't pay much attention to their bowel movements or make elimination a top priority in their day. A large percentage of people have unhealthy bowel movements and don't even realize it unless symptoms become uncomfortable. For many, constipation means not going to the bathroom for many days and straining. However, chronic constipation is more common than you might think, and is an indication of imbalance, so it is important not to ignore it.
A healthy person should have around 1-3 bowel movements daily with the consistency of a ripe banana. Healthy elimination starts with a bowel movement in the morning. According to the classical Ayurvedic definition, when the body doesn't eliminate naturally first thing in the morning, it is considered a sign of imbalance - a mild form of constipation. If addressed with balancing diet, lifestyle and herbs, this can be corrected before it turns chronic and leads to more serious conditions such as hemorrhoids, rectal prolapse and bowel disease.
While conventional medications or laxative herbs such as senna can give quick relief for blockages, they can cause cramping and discomfort and are not a long term solution since the bowels become dependent on laxatives. Many people will find that a morning coffee does the trick, but are unable to go without a stimulant such as coffee, meaning your body is not doing the job on its own.
Naturopathic medicine works with providing relief and removing obstacles to healthy elimination, while reminding the body to do its job.
Some causes of constipation are related to diet (lack of hydration, inadequate fibre, food sensitivities, refined food), lifestyle (lack of exercise), stress and anxiety, and other conditions such as hypothyroidism, IBS, depression, cancerand nervous system disorders. Increasing fibre or drinking more water may not always fix constipation for many people, so you need to look at what is out of balance and treat it accordingly. Read below for an overview of different types of constipation according to Ayurvedic body types and ways to correct imbalances.
Ayurvedic Body Types & Constipation
Elimination is governed by apana vayu, - think of this as the force of the wind which helps expel things from the body. This force regulates the "urge" to go, and can be easily thrown off balance with stress, anxiety, overthinking, poor eating habits and excess activity. Have you ever had to go, but then you had to rush to work or run to do something and lost the urge? Elimination is natural so listening to your body is crucial. When you know your body type, you can understand which factors in your daily life will throw off your digestion and elimination.
What kind of constipation you experience will depend on your constitution (vata, pitta, kapha), the season and symptoms with which you present. Additionally, tongue and pulse diagnosis can pinpoint what kind of imbalances are manifesting.
Vata ConstipationThere is an essential connection between the nervous system and elimination. When you are relaxed and at ease (parasympathetic mode), it is much easier to eliminate. When you are in fight or flight mode, blood and energy shunt away from your digestive system to your muscles in order to flee from what the body sees as potential danger. Chronic constipation develops quickly in individuals who have a Vata imbalance and is characterized by a dry colon with hard, dry stools. Eating too much fiber, such as raw vegetables, in Vata constipation can actually worsen constipation because it is rough and drying.
Tips:Increase your water intake and healthy omegas to help lubricate the intestinal passage. Make time in the morning to eliminate without rushing. Avoid suppressing the natural urge to go, and avoid eating on the go. The nervous system plays an important role in the digestive system, so spending time to eat in a relaxed environment and eating at regular times can improve regularity. Working with your ND for a customized diet, soothing demulcent herbs and natural lubricating suppositories can help with Vata constipation.
Constipation in these body types is not as common as in Vata & Kapha, because of their innate digestive strength. However, elimination issues manifest from excess heat in the body, particularly in the colon, leading to mucus, inflammation, burning sensation and hemorrhoids. These body types tend to be "doers", often pushing their body's limits to get work done and ignoring natural urges.
Hydration in key for Pittas and so is slowing down. Following a Pitta balancing diet with cooling foods such as abundant leafy greens, salads and fruits can help treat constipation. Acupuncture can also help reduce heat in the body and stimulate movement in the colon. Cooling herbs such as aloe vera work well to soothe the intestines and work as a natural laxative.
Kapha ConstipationKapha body types can struggle with elimination, in addition to fatigue and weight gain. This type of constipation is characterized by slow, sluggish bowels and mucous. Bowel movements tend to be large and oily. Eating heavy foods such as deep fried, excessive oil, cheese and creamy foods or eating late meals can aggravate this kind of constipation. Lighter food rich in fibre and vegetables are helpful to address this kind of constipation. If constipation is not addressed in a Kapha body, toxins can accumulate quickly and lead to weight gain, fatigue and other diseases.
Exercise and gentle self massage or dry skin brushing can help stimulate movement in the colon. Fibre and dry foods support elimination and reduce mucous and heaviness in the intestines. Warming digestive spices such as ginger and black pepper can help as well as drying, astringent herbs and food (such as leafy green veggies). Triphala is a great herbal formula to address constipation in all types, including Kapha constipation. There are various ways and dosages to take this herb so speak with your ND to find out if this will help you.
Other Naturopathic TipsRegardless of your body type, there are some foundational factors to ensure that your bowels move well. You can work on these tips with your naturopathic doctor to help identify your imbalances and what approach to take for your treatment.
- Adequate water intake
- Healthy fibers (such as vegetables, chia seeds, psyllium)
- Probiotics to restore gut flora and promote healthy bowels
- Healthy oils such as fish oils, ghee, coconut, seabuckthorn and olive oil
- Food sensitivity testing: many people suffer from food sensitivities to dairy, wheat and other common foods. Identifying which foods are triggers for digestive health can make it easier to treat constipation.
- Posture: the colon is meters long and muscle tension and poor posture can obstruct the route for healthy elimination.
- Letting go: identifying emotional blockages or areas where you feel "stuck" in your life - in relationships, career etc. Working with your practitioner with counselling, homeopathic remedies, acupuncture and body work can help you release unprocessed emotions which often coincide with physical symptoms such as constipation.
If you notice any changes in your bowel movements, it is important to bring it up with your naturopathic doctor as they could be a sign of a more serious health issue such as hypothyroidism, bowel obstruction, IBD or side effects of medications. While constipation is common, it isn't normal or healthy. You don't have to live with constipation - there are natural treatments that can bring relief. Healthy elimination means the body is able to dump out toxins and help your body work much more efficiently!
Dr. Leena Athparia is a naturopathic doctor & Ayurvedic practitioner at Naturopathic Foundations with a focus in joint health, pain and chronic disease. She has a special interest in Ayurvedic nutrition. If you are healthy and looking into preventing disease or learning more about your constitution, Dr. Athparia can help you. Please call the clinic at 905-940-2727 to book an appointment.