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Constipation - back to the dawn of mankind

The medical profession terms it obstipation - Sufferers feel blocked. This phenomenon has been with us for a long time: The first known records on treatment for a sluggish bowel come from Egypt and date back to 2000 B.C.

Nowadays obstipation has become a bona fide common disease. Some 30% of the inhabitants of industrial nations suffer chronically or occasionally from constipation. Women are affected twice as often as men; the elderly more often than young People.

Bowel movements – how often is normal?

A healthy bowel movement frequency is somewhere between 3 times a day and 3 times a week. The wide range is due to diverse individual factors and depends on a person's diet: The more fibre ingested through food, the greater the amount of stool and the more frequent the urge is to have a bowel movement.

What causes constipation?

Three types of obstipation can be distinguished:

  • Colonic (colon = intestine) 
    This is caused by the intestine. Mostly it is a sluggish bowel or a lack of movement or mobility of the intestinal muscles.
  • Anorectal
    Anorectal obstipation is caused by a change or disorder of the rectum or anus, e.g., due to haemorrhoids, constriction of the anus, thickening of the sphincter.
  • Idiopathic
    No physical causes can be identified. Idiopathic obstipation is usually the consequence of a changed diet or environment. The body reacts to the new situation with transient sluggishness of the bowel.

Possible causes of constipation

Usually, the bowel does not move strongly enough and this is referred to as a sluggish bowel.
The following may cause a sluggish bowel:

  • Underlying diseases such as 
    - Intestinal inflammation
    - Underactive thyroid
    - Psychological disorders
  • Side effects of a variety of medications (for example, antidepressants, sleeping tablets, tranquillisers or iron preparations)
  • Impaired function of the muscles, being bed-ridden
  • Stress
  • Change of everyday habits (travel)
  • Lack of
    - Fibre in the diet
    - Fluid
    - Exercise

What helps counter constipation?

Get the cause evaluated first of all.
Then review your dietary habits: A diet rich in fibre is particularly important for good digestion. Eat plenty of wholemeal products, fruit and vegetables! Dried fruit can support you and as well as fresh Juices.

Drink plenty – soft stool needs fluids!

Take plenty of exercise – muscle activity also stimulates the intestinal muscles! This becomes very clear when you, for example, bounce for a while on a trampoline – provided that you drank enough prior to this.

Avoid stress or practice relaxation exercises to reduce stress! – If the body is in stress mode, it has less energy available for Digestion!

Laxatives – a wise choice?

If these general measures are not successful, laxatives can also be taken. There are different types of laxatives.

Filling and swelling agents such as ispaghula husk ensure an increase in stool volume. They swell in the large intestine, thus ensuring further transport and ultimately stimulate a bowel movement. They are well tolerated and support intestinal activity. Osmotic laxatives on the other hand draw water into the large intestine, which makes the stool softer. Many of them also active intestinal activity and, thus, facilitate a bowel movement. The danger with these medicines is, on the one hand, they can have a detrimental effect on the body's fluid and mineral balance. In addition, there is a risk that the intestine will become used to its effect and thereby its intrinsic activity will be reduced – chronic constipation or dependency may develop. Therefore, osmotic laxatives should not be taken for longer than 1 week.

Treatment of constipation with natural medicines

If you have clarified the reasons for your constipation and the general measures mentioned above are not sufficient, herbal medicines can help to treat constipation in the short-term.
A well-proven remedy is Cascara bark which is obtained from the American black alder Rhamnus purshiana. This plant was already used as a laxative by the Native Americans.
The active substance of Legapas® is Cascara bark, a herbal stimulating laxative. It can be used to treat transient constipation.