An Ayurvedic Approach to Constipation ReliefDr. Surya Bhagwati
Like everything Ayurveda, the approach to constipation is holistic. To begin, you need to understand the underlying causes of constipation. Ayurvedic insights can then be used to address those causes and correct imbalances that have arisen. This would involve a multi-faceted approach including diet, lifestyle, and other changes, as well as the use of herbal Ayurvedic medicine for constipation. So, let’s take a closer look at the roots of constipation and how Ayurvedic recommendations can be used to address the problem.
The Underlying Causes of Constipation
As is the case in any disease, dosha imbalances have significant role to play. With constipation, vata disturbances are generally the culprit. The drying and cold energy of vata increases dryness in the body and this can sometimes be excessive. In these situations it leads to drying of wastes or fecal matter and reduced lubrication of the gastrointestinal tract. This in turn increases colonic transit time or the time for bowel movements. At times, the vata aggravation can also lead to vitiation of pitta and kapha, making it necessary to correct those imbalances too. But how do vata dosha disturbances arise in the first place?
They are invariably traced back to poor dietary and lifestyle choices. Most sources from ancient Ayurvedic texts agree that dietary behaviors such as a high consumption of pulses and legumes can contribute to constipation. This is because of the drying effect of these foods. This is also a common feature of almost all processed foods, which are devoid of fiber and nutrition, making the problem more pervasive today. Consuming these foods then results in vitiation of vata in the gastrointestinal tract to cause obstruction and impair bowel movements. This obstruction and buildup of wastes can eventually cause aggravation of pitta and in rare cases can also affect kapha dosha.
While modern science still cannot fully comprehend some of these Ayurvedic concepts, it does arrive at many of the same conclusions. The role of dietary and lifestyle factors has been highlighted in almost all studies to date. Similarly, clinical studies have also helped establish the efficacy of most Ayurvedic treatment for constipation.
The Ayurvedic Approach to Constipation Relief
Ayurvedic Diet Advice for Constipation
- To get started you should limit your intake of vata aggravating foods while including more vata pacifying foods. This means that processed and refined foods should be eliminated completely, while intake of pulses, legumes, and dry fruits should be restricted.
- To pacify vata, consume more foods with sweet, salty, sour tastes and a heating and lubricating effect. This means that sweet fresh fruits like bananas, berries, cherries, dates, figs, grapes, mangoes, papaya, and melons are good choices, while apples should be cooked lightly to avoid a drying effect. Likewise, vegetables are best consumed cooked or sautéed, and never raw or chilled.
- Cooked whole foods, including vegetables and grains should constitute your main meals, while fruits are ideal for snacks. This will ensure optimal nutrition and adequate fiber intake allowing for passage of stools. Increasing fluid intake is also important to counter the drying effect of vata. This helps to keep stools soft and eases their passage.
- Avoid consuming caffeinated, alcoholic, carbonated, and processed beverages. Instead get all of your fluid from water and water containing vegetables or fruits like cucumbers and melons. Curd or dahi are also good additions to your diet.
Ayurvedic Exercise Advice for Constipation
- Because of modern medicine’s focus on drugs to treat diseases, we tend to think of Ayurveda in the same manner. However, Ayurveda has emphasized the importance of physical activity for every function including digestion. To get started take up any mild activity, including walking, gardening, or cycling for ten to fifteen minutes a day.
- This kind of activity helps to maintain mobility and reduces the risk of sluggish bowel movements. Studies have supported these ancient Ayurvedic recommendations, showing that a sedentary lifestyle greatly increases the risk of constipation.
- Highlighting the importance of exercise in Ayurveda, yoga includes a whole set of asanas or poses that can help relieve constipation. Poses like Utkatasana, Pawanmuktasana, and Ardha Matsyendrasana are regarded as therapeutic for digestive disturbances like constipation, bloating, and so on.
Ayurvedic Medicine for Constipation
- While diet and lifestyle changes are essential for a sustainable cure, especially when dealing with chronic constipation, Ayurvedic herbs and medications have a very important role to play too. Ayurvedic herbs and polyherbal formulations are an effective and safe alternative to laxatives.
- Herbs like sonamukhi have a proven laxative effect and can stimulate bowel movements to give you quick relief from constipation. Compounds in the herb have been found to stimulate the gastrointestinal tract and reduce gastric transit time. Similarly, herbs like guggulu and saunf can also help, especially when used along with sonamukhi.
- Sunth or dried ginger is also effective as it has a strong heating effect that strengthens agni or digestion. Studies prove that it accelerates gastric emptying and can reduce other gastric problems. Ginger can be consumed in Ayurvedic constipation medicine and also as a herbal tea.
In most cases of constipation, whether acute or chronic, such Ayurvedic approaches will prove effective. In cases of acute constipation, Ayurvedic medicines for constipation would suffice, but frequent or chronic constipation also requires diet and lifestyle changes.
- Christodoulides, S et al. “Systematic review with meta-analysis: effect of fibre supplementation on chronic idiopathic constipation in adults.” Alimentary pharmacology & therapeutics vol. 44,2 (2016): 103-16. doi:10.1111/apt.13662
- Huang, Rong et al. “Physical activity and constipation in Hong Kong adolescents.” PloS one vol. 9,2 e90193. 28 Feb. 2014, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0090193
- Costilla, Vanessa C, and Amy E Foxx-Orenstein. “Constipation: understanding mechanisms and management.” Clinics in geriatric medicine vol. 30,1 (2014): 107-15. doi:10.1016/j.cger.2013.10.001
- National Center for Biotechnology Information. “PubChem Compound Summary for CID 5199, Sennosides” PubChem, https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Sennosides. Accessed 31 July, 2020.
- Wu, Keng-Liang et al. “Effects of ginger on gastric emptying and motility in healthy humans.” European journal of gastroenterology & hepatology vol. 20,5 (2008): 436-40. doi:10.1097/MEG.0b013e3282f4b224