Constipation is one of the common complaints of many people which results due to infrequent bowel movement and associated uncomfortable condition. Constipation may or may not be present with other disease conditions. The symptoms of constipation include a small quantity of dry and hard stool passage, difficulty in defecation, incomplete defecation sensation. In most cases, the defecation is usually less than three times weekly. Annually, 200 million constipation cases are reported all over the globe. The incidence of irregular bowel movement due to constipation is more common in females. In addition, aging is also a contributory factor to develop constipation.
There are many synthetic laxatives displayed in the pharmacy shelves but the conventional treatment does not treat the underlying cause and only provide a temporary solution. Long-term use of these medication provides the habit-forming effect. Synthetic laxatives also increase side effect burden including nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, flatulence, diarrhea, electrolyte imbalance and skin eruption etc. Natural treatments not only provide symptomatic relief but also cure the underlying cause. Natural treatment gives prolong benefits without increasing side effect burden and medication dependency.
In traditional Chinese medicine therapy, acupuncture is a very useful therapeutic technique applied to acupoints present on our body surface. Experts apply needle pressure on the specific acupoints to normalize abnormal physiological conditions. There are different types of acupuncture. In hand-acupuncture, needles are manually inserted to stimulate the specific acupoints. In electroacupuncture, needles are inserted using electrical current to activate the acupoints. The mechanism of transcutaneous electroacupuncture is same as electroacupuncture, but the only difference is that electrodes are used instead of needles. Auricular acupuncture is applied on the ear skin acupoints.
The primary goal of treating constipation by applying acupuncture is to provide an improvement in the frequency of weekly bowel movement. Different positive outcomes, including patient’s satisfaction, improve stool characteristics, weekly defecation frequency, reduction of straining and constipation related other symptoms describe the success of acupuncture. But it is necessary to mention that correct acupuncture is an utmost requirement to get an effective result. There are different specific acupoints such as ST25, ST36, ST37, TE6, CV4, CV6, BL25, BL33, and BL34 are mainly used to treat chronic constipation.
Acupuncture applied on the specific acupoints improve colon contractility, thicken colonic smooth muscle and increase stool passage. Acupuncture also stimulates neurological signaling by activating vagal and parasympathetic mechanisms, which also accelerate anorectal motility. It is also expected that acupuncture may regulate hormonal as well as neural pathway to maintain the regularity of the defecation.
This is also an integrated therapy of traditional Chinese medicinal system. Moxibustion is not a widely used natural treatment. In this process, acupoints are stimulated by using burning moxa prepared from dried mugwort. The heat and smoke of moxa burning are essential for treating constipation problem.
Thousands of years back, our ancestors used massage as a therapy to treat different pain associated ailments. It is also effective to naturally treat constipation. There are various techniques applied in massage therapy to manipulate the superficial and deeper layer of connective tissues and muscles activation. Abdominal massage is applied to treat constipation for improving defecation frequency, relieving abdominal pain syndrome, and decreasing gastrointestinal symptoms and constipation symptoms. Massage does not produce the laxative effect but can be used in combination with another natural laxative in case of chronic constipation.
Both Aroma oil massage and meridian massage can be applied to provide the relieving effect of constipation. Massage is usually applied to treat constipation in children and elderly patients. Abdominal massage with essential oils is beneficial for constipation in the elderly.
Abdominal massage is a cost-effective treatment for constipation and self-administration is possible to attain a better bowel movement. Some patients have reported that abdominal massage improves their bowel habit.
Some herbs like Psyllium and Ficus carica act as a bulk laxative. The high insoluble fiber content and mucilaginous content of Psyllium gives laxative effect and improve stool consistency and rate of stool frequency. But Psyllium has no effect on anorectal motility. Oral intake of Psyllium husk prevents hard and dry stool formation as it holds moisture and increases water content in stool. This herb is known as a bulk laxative as it increases stool weight and increases total stool output. It is also found that Psyllium has a gut-stimulatory effect. This effect is partially mediated by activation of 5-hydroxytryptamine 4 receptor and muscarinic receptor.
Contradictory of this effect of psyllium, this herb is also recommended to treat diarrhea. Naturopath experts prescribed Psyllium with a higher dose to control excessive watery stool pass in diarrhea, as it has intestinal (gut) inhibitory effect. This effect may develop by activating nitric oxide-cyclic guanosine monophosphate pathways and obstructing calcium channels.
Ficus carica, which is also known as fig is not clinically used for treating constipation and neither any clinical research has been conducted to determine its laxative effect. But, some countries used this herb as a traditional laxative. Ficus carica is a rich source of cellulose. Ficus carica ameliorate constipation by improving fecal excretion. The cellulose content of this herb increases the water content in stool and produce bulk, enhances stool viscosity and reduces fecal transit time. Animal research conducted on rats also reported that Ficus carica paste increases stool weight, pellet number, water content and intestinal peristaltic movement. The research result has also described that Ficus carica is safe to use and does not alter blood parameters.
There are certain herbs including aloe, senna, cascara and rheum officinale contains anthranoid and act as a stimulant laxative.
Anthraquinones are bioactive phytochemicals present in these herbs and provide stimulant laxative property. Aloe, senna, cascara and rheum officinale also contains glycosides, which is unaltered in the stomach and pass to the intestine. The microbiota of the gut wall split these active constituents and improve the stool consistency and frequency of weekly defecation. However, these herbs can change stool color.
Naturopath experts often recommended a combination of the herbal formulation to treat chronic constipation more effectively. There are many naturopathic formulations that contain a combination of Psyllium and senna herbs. Agiolax is a naturopathic formulation which contains 52g Plantago ovata, 2.2g of Psyllium husk and 12.4 g of senna Pods per 100 gm of the formulation. A double-blind crossover study result showed that this combination improves stool consistency, daily bowel frequency, and effortless evacuation. This combination is therapeutically safe for use.
A combination of laxative herbs is usually prescribed in Chinese herbal medicinal system. In Chinese traditional medicine, the theory to treat constipation involves improvement of intestinal moisture content, bowel relaxation, and peristalsis movement improvement. Different Chinese herbs, which are uniquely combined in different formulations to treat constipation.
There are two Chinese herbal medicines including Ma Zi Ren Pill and CCH1 are clinically studied and the trial results supported their safety and efficacy. Ma Zi Ren Pill contains Semen Pruni Armeniacae (Bitter Apricot Seed), Semen Cannabis Sativae (Wild safflower), Fructus Immaturus Citri Aurantii (Bitter Orange), Cortex Magnoliae (magnolia-bark), Radix Paeoniae (Peony root) and Radix et Rhizoma Rhei (rhubarb root). Whereas CCH1 contains Panax ginseng (Panax), Zingiber officinale (Ginger), Glycyrrhiza uralensis (Chinese licorice), Atractylodes macrocephala (Bai Zhu), Aconitum carmichaelii (Chinese aconite), and Rheum tanguticum (Chinese rhubarb).
A herbal enema is also effective to treat constipation. Peppermint tea enema become popular among herbal users.