Constipated? These Foods Will Help.

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

Constipation is very common and can be due to several factors. One is dehydration or dryness, meaning that the body is simply not getting enough water. Another is that things are not moving through the bowels quickly enough and that things are sitting too long in the colon. This can be due to several factors, like not having enough fibre in your diet, the colon needs roughage to push against and move things through the colon. Another is that you are simply not moving enough and things easily stagnate. The third is eating foods that are very warming and are drying out the colon so that things don’t move freely. There are other factors as well. Many medications are extremely heating to the body and have constipation as a side effect. Alcohol also introduces a lot of heat (and dampness) into the body. You may also have a very yang constitution and be predisposed to things like constipation and other heat symptoms. Another factor is smoking which tends to be very heating and drying to the body and all of its systems which inevitably leads to constipation.

In Chinese Medicine, constipation has many causes as well. The most common is an excess type which is from liver heat. Excess liver heat dries body fluids and stools become hard, dry and difficult to pass. An excess liver also disrupts the flow of qi so the peristalsis, or muscular contraction of the intensities which allows waste to move through them, is inhibited, exacerbating constipation.

Deficiency type constipation is due to a lack of blood and yin fluids in the body. When this deficiency is present the body compensates by absorbing too much fluid out of the food in the intestines which creates dryness and, constipation. This type of constipation is more difficult to treat than the excess type because rather than purging the excess, we must build up the body’s reserves of yin and blood which is a more lengthy process.

An important distinction between Chinese culture and Western culture is something I discovered when I was living there in my 20’s. The Chinese, at least the family I was living with, do not drink while they eat. This was a hard one o get used to, but the feeling is that drinking while eating dilutes stomach acids that are important for breaking down food effectively. In our culture it is customary to have a glass of water or some kind of drink with a meal. When you walk into a restaurant, the first thing the waitress/water does is brings everyone water. This is further complicated by the fact that much of the water we drink has ice in it which puts a strain on the poor Spleen. The Spleen, being the main organ of digestion in Chinese Medicine, likes heat and dryness so cold foods cause it to use more energy to heat things up again so that food can be digested. We all have some level of spleen deficiency (just by virtue of our culture of multitasking, cold foods, worry and overthinking) so doing this one small thing – not drinking with meals and not putting ice in drinks – will have a huge impact and your spleen will be much happier.

Other Factors To Aid Constipation

Chew Your Food for Constipation : Chinese Medicine Living

Foods That Lubricate the Intestines

Foods for Constipation : Chinese Medicine Living

  • Spinach
  • Banana
  • Apple
  • Apricot
  • Almond
  • Prune
  • Pear
  • Peach
  • Honey
  • Walnut
  • Pine Nut
  • Soy Products
  • Beet
  • Okra
  • Cauliflower
  • Carrot
  • Whole Fresh Milk (small amounts of high quality milk help ease constipation)
  • Alfalfa Sprouts
  • Sesame Seed Oil
  • Seaweed

Foods That Promote Bowel Movements

Foods for Constipation : Chinese Medicine Living

  • Cabbage
  • Coconut
  • Castor Oil
  • Asparagus
  • Black Sesame Seeds
  • Figs
  • Papaya
  • Peas
  • Sweet Potato
  • Bran from Oats, Wheat or Rice

Foods To Avoid With Constipation (All types)

Foods To Avoid with Constipation : Chinese Medicine Living

  • Tea
  • Alcohol
  • All Products with Baking Soda/Powder
  • Yeasted Breads (use sourdough or “Essene” breads)
  • Refined “white” foods such as all white flour products, white rice, white sugar, white (low quality) oils

Herbs for Constipation

Demulcent Herbs

Marshmallow Root for Constipation : Chinese Medicine Living

Marshmallow Root

When the membranes of the digestive tract are irritated or inflamed demulcent herbs act to soothe and protect them from further irritation.

  • Marshmallow Root
  • Licorice Root
  • Psyllium Seed
  • Fenugreek Seed
  • Flax Seed
  • Comfrey Root
  • Hops
  • Iceland Moss
  • Oats
  • Irish Moss
  • Quince Seed
  • Slippery Elm

Laxative Herbs

Dandelion Root for Constipation : Chinese Medicine Living

Dandelion Root

Many herbs can promote the evacuation of the bowels and they range from mild laxatives to stronger and more violent purgatives. These are to be used with caution and under supervision! The best laxatives are those that stimulate the natural secretion of the digestive juices like bile which naturally causes moving of the bowels.

  • Dandelion Root
  • Barberry Bark
  • Rhubarb Root
  • Cascara Bark
  • Wahoo
  • Licorice
  • Yellow Doc

The occasional bout of constipation is not a big deal and one can usually add a few foods to the diet, perhaps remove a few others, drink a little more water and try some herbal remedies. These combined should do the trick. Nature gives us many ways in which to rebalance, so if you know what to do, you can keep things moving now and in the future too. :)

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