Constipation is defined as having a bowel movement fewer than three times per week. With constipation stools are usually hard, dry, small in size, and difficult to eliminate. Some people who are constipated find it painful to have a bowel movement and often experience straining, bloating, and the sensation of a full bowel.

Constipation occurs when the colon absorbs too much water or if the colon's muscle contractions are slow or sluggish, causing the stool to move through the colon too slowly. As a result, stools can become hard and dry.


  • Insufficient fluids / Dehydration, too little fibre and high sugar diet (three of the most common causes). Without enough fluids and bulk, and a high sugar diet, the peristaltic muscles become sluggish, and stool becomes hard and develops rough edges. These rough edges can cause a rectal fissure, a painful microscopic tear in the rectum

  • Too much fat in the diet & laxative abuse

  • Lack of physical exercise

  • Holding back the urge to defecates

  • High stress levels and anxiety

  • Food sensitivities and intolerances. Cow’s milk can cause hard, dry stools in children!

  • Medications such as iron pills, antacids, diuretics, pain killers and anti depressants

  • Thyroid inactivity, IBS, Stroke, Liver problems, stroke leading to nerve damage

  • Imbalance in intestinal flora / dysbiosis

  • Magnesium deficiency and folic acid deficiency

  • Parasites (one of the most common causes for chronic constipation. Giardia lambia - in the U.S. it is estimated that about 50% of the water supplied to the communities is contaminated with this parasite

  • Changes in life or routine such as pregnancy, aging, and travel

  • Problems with the colon and rectum and intestinal function (chronic idiopathic constipation)


Chronic constipation can usually be prevented with a combination of dietary changes, extra fluid intake, exercise, and, when necessary, short-term use of a laxative. Your healthcare provider may talk with you about proper bowel habits (consistent, unhurried elimination practices).


Lifestyle and dietary changes along with nutritional support can contribute to the long-term resolution of constipation. Certain herbs may help promote bowel activity. Use laxative herbs with caution because they may become less effective with habitual use.


  • Take time to eat, breathe slowly, and chew food thoroughly.
  • Eat smaller, more frequent meals and avoid overeating at one sitting.
  • Eliminate refined foods, sugars, caffeine, alcohol, and dairy products from your diet.
  • Decrease intake of saturated fats (animal products) and increase essential fatty acids (cold-water fish, nuts, and seeds).
  • Eat more fresh vegetables, whole grains and fruits. Leafy vegetables are high in magnesium, a lack of which causes constipation, and citrus fruits are high in Vitamin C, which in high doses has a laxative effect.
  • Drink more water. Have spring water, herbal teas, juices, and soups readily available if drinking water is hard for you
  • Stewed or soaked prunes, 1 to 3 a day, these have a slightly laxative effect.
  • Flax meal, 1 heaping tsp. in 8 oz. of apple juice, provides fibre and soothes the digestive tract. Follow with an additional 8 oz. of water.
  • Warm lemon water taken before meals stimulates digestion.
  • Consider digestive enzymes for chronic constipation.
  • A deficiency of B vitamins can also cause constipation, therefore having foods high in B vitamins – such as almonds, most leafy greens, whole grains, would be beneficial.


  • Cabbage - sauerkraut
  • Artichokes
  • Papayas
  • Gooseberries
  • Sorrel
  • Oats - oatmeal with flaxseed tea


Psyllium, available in capsules or powder, is an excellent stool softener with mild laxative properties. However, psyllium husks can irritate the mucosal lining and cause bleeding at a microscopic level. It can also lodge itself behind or in the folds of colon polyps and cause inflammation.

Flaxseeds are high in mucilaginous fibre and supply the body with Omega 3 essential fatty acids. They absorb up to 8 times their weight in water, thereby softening stools and making them easier to pass. The fibre of wheat bran and oat bran also acts a natural laxative. If taking any fibre supplements, it is very important to increase fluid intake as it’s necessary for waste movement.

* DISCLAIMER: The information on this article is the property of Dr. Sushma Shah, Naturopathic Doctor, and is not intended to treat, diagnose or cure any diseases or promote any services or products mentioned on the website.

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