Motivational speakers say what you think, that you become. But in the case of the human body, it is like what you eat, that you become. But biologically it is not true in our physical body. As humans, we are not able to produce our food or energy, we depend upon our food for energy. The food we eat gets divided into smaller absorbable particles by various enzymes in the body in many steps and energy is released during the process. It is called digestion. It starts from the mouth and happens stagewise. Many organs like the liver, pancreas, etc participate in this process. When a person eats food, the nourishing contents of nutrients get absorbed into the bloodstream to nourish the body. Contents are absorbed from the food moving through the gastrointestinal tract in a rhythmic wavy motion called peristalsis. The end product of solid waste is collected at the end of the tract or rectum and excreted out from time to time. Proper absorption and assimilation of nutrients are very necessary for health but the elimination of faeces or solid waste from the intestine is also equally important. In normal cases, daily once or twice stools are passed in a soft formed shape, not very hard, not very loose. But unfortunately, in some persons, it does not occur. This condition when faeces or passing stools is not satisfactory is known as constipation.
Constipation is diagnosed not on the basis of quantity but according to the level of discomfort. It is highly variable among individuals. Not passing the stools in normal frequency along with discomforts like pain, abdominal distension, indigestion, etc. is considered as a severe case of constipation. There can be many reasons for constipation, the commonest among them being a diet with low fiber or drinking, not enough water. Environmental changes like seasonal change can also cause this condition. Traveling, irregular food and sleep schedule, jet lag, etc can be associated with constipation. Some foods that are heavy to digest like dairy products cause constipation in some people. Unhealthy toileting and bowel habits are also troublesome. Even stress or hesitation can be the culprit, but in many cases, constipation is not taken seriously by otherwise healthy people. They forget that it can cause many problems in the long run, including haemorrhoids.
Older people suffer from reduced and difficult bowel movements due to reduced muscle control and power or dehydration. People who are bedridden are more prone to constipation, like people who do not do exercise. Sitting jobs like computer professionals and people who have regular abdominal pressure like weight lifters can have changes in their muscular structure in the rectum and anus, which leads to constipation. Pregnant women(Constipation in pregnancy)with hormonal changes and small children are constipated often.
Apart from digital examination, blood tests, ultrasound, X-ray, or colonoscopy can be used to determine the structural or functional anomaly causing constipation. There are specific tests to assess the muscle strength and tonicity of the rectum.
Treatment for constipation depends upon many factors like age, the strength of the patient, severity, and cause of constipation, etc. In many cases, only lifestyle changes and a healthy diet are needed. Medications like stool softeners, laxatives, stimulants, or fiber supplements are available to treat acute cases. The stools that are stuck in the rectum can be removed with enema or suppositories. In chronic constipation, prescription medicines like linaclotide or lubiprostone may be needed. Biofeedback mechanisms are used to normalise the nerve and muscle functions locally. In more serious structural problems like tumors or strictures, surgery is indicated.
What Ayurveda says about constipation
Ayurveda considers the removal of Mala or waste products from the body as prime importance. There is a chapter on waste products and nerve reflexes that should not be held back in urgency. Natural urges like cough, sneeze, tears, urine, faeces, etc are considered not to be held back. Diseases due to the forced holding back or compelled expulsion are elaborated in this chapter along with effective treatment. Urge to pass stools is understood as one of the main functions that are controlled mostly by Vaata. Pureesha or faeces gets expelled from the body through the anus by the normal or balanced state of Apaana Vaata. If any obstruction is caused or dhatukshaya like dehydration, this Apaana can go aggravated and lead to constipation. This condition is explained as malasanga or obstructed faeces and can cause many diseases including gulma, udavarta, and pratisyaya. Abdominal distension, pain, indigestion, and abnormal gurgling sounds can be seen in Malasanga patients. Some may develop headaches along with sneezing, running nose, and severe sinusitis. Body aches, muscle cramps, especially in calf muscles, sleep disorders, stress, mood swings, and haemorrhoids are said to be developed as a result of chronic constipation. Ayurveda explains very detailed treatment plans for constipation but it is important to know the reason for the management of the condition. If there is any blockage or obstruction, measures to remove it should be done with dry and penetrating treatments. If there is a lack of proper nourishment, the use of oils and fats is advised considering the state of the gastrointestinal tract. Proper diet and lifestyle are essential factors for normal digestion and excretion.
Food items to be avoided in constipation (constipation causing foods)
- Junk food that is heavy to digest
- processed and canned food items that are high in calorie and low in fiber
- Gluten, in many people
- Food items with artificial sweeteners and preservatives
- Milk and milk products in some people
- Fried foods especially red meat
- Pulses like chickpea or black gram can lead to constipation in some people
- Carbonated drinks and alcohol
Wheat, Indian gooseberry, grapes, green leafy vegetables, ginger, and garlic are especially good to be eaten for constipation.