Digestive disturbances probably aren’t on your top 10 list for great dinner party conversation. It’s something we’d rather not think about—out of sight and out of mind. However, when you’re suffering from digestive troubles such as constipation or diarrhea, you’ll want to know about some effective natural remedies.
Regular bowel movements are essential for good health. For a person who eats a healthy, unprocessed, whole-foods diet, 30 hours is an average transit time through the digestive tract. Eighteen to 24 hours may be ideal. However, in our constipation-prone society,
a transit time of 48 hours or more is not unusual. This can be not only uncomfortable, but may indicate other health problems. Consult your doctor if severe symptoms continue for more than three weeks.
Aside from drinking plenty of water and getting enough fiber, healthy bowel movements depend on peristalsis (natural urging). Among the best herbs to promote peristalsis is senna (Cassia angustifolia). It should be used only short term (no more than 10 days) for brief episodes of acute constipation. Senna can have a strong laxative effect and cause cramping, so start with a small dose (500 mg, in capsules), and adjust as necessary. To ease potential discomfort, you can take what are referred to as “warming” herbs in Ayurveda, such as ginger and fennel, along with this remedy.
Cascara sagrada (Rhamnus purshiana), derived from tree bark, contains chemicals that stimulate the bowel and encourage peristalsis. As with senna, warming herbs can be taken with this remedy to alleviate potential discomfort. Cascara sagrada bark has a long history of traditional use—it has been used it as a laxative by Native Americans since the 1800s. For constipation, take 20–30 mg per day in capsules, drink 1 cup of tea, or take 2–5 ml of the liquid extract three times daily.
Aloe vera juice is a milder stimulant laxative than senna and cascara sagrada, as it draws less fluid into the large intestines, and is less likely to cause cramping. Aloe is considered an effective remedy for gastrointestinal complaints—results are typically seen in about 10 hours. The juice contains fiber that aids digestion and improves bowel movements. Compounds contained in the plant’s leaf ease the process of bowel release by increasing the water level in the stool. For constipation, drink two ounces of aloe vera juice daily.
Diarrhea poses the opposite set of issues. Remedies for diarrhea dry out the stool and reduce peristalsis. However, don’t stop drinking water in an attempt to stop episodes—diarrhea can lead to a rapid loss of water from the body and dehydration.
Caraway (Carum carvi) is often used to help relieve gas. It also helps to relax the gut wall and reduce diarrhea episodes. Caraway seeds can be extremely effective in resolving the symptoms of increased peristalsis. Sipping caraway seed tea helps bind the stools faster, reduces distension, and aids digestion. Add 1 tsp. of caraway seeds to a cup of boiling water and steep. Strain and drink for immediate relief.
The carob tree (Ceratonia siliqua) is related to plants such as beans and peas, and, like those plants, carob pods have been used as a food source for over 5,000 years. Carob powder, which tastes similar to chocolate, is most frequently used medicinally as a treatment for diarrhea. Carob contains chemicals called tannins, which astringe the gut wall and dry out the stool. Carob’s high soluble fiber content absorbs water for a similar effect. Take at least 20 gm per day as needed for diarrhea. Because of its similarity to chocolate, some people enjoy a “hot-chocolate” carob beverage.
Because of its similarity to chocolate, some people enjoy a “hot-chocolate” carob beverage.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) has a wealth of benefits for the digestive system. With its ability to suppress inflammation, increase mucin content of the stomach, and astringe the stool, turmeric works wonders for diarrhea. In capsules, take 500 mg of turmeric up to four times daily. Alternately, use two heaping Tbs. of turmeric powder, mixed into a paste with water or maple syrup, per day as needed.