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Ayurvedic Treatments for Constipation

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Ayurveda is a holistic approach to health and wellness that emphasizes balance between body, mind, and spirit. It’s one of the oldest and most respected medicinal traditions in the world. Today, it’s practiced widely, both in India where it originated and around the world.

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health estimates that around 240,000 people use Ayurvedic medicine in the United States.

Ayurveda focuses on preventing disease, so its approach to treating constipation encompasses a whole range of healthy choices, rather than focusing solely on laxatives and immediate relief.

In addition to natural laxatives, an Ayurvedic diet, exercise, and massage are key elements of maintaining a healthy digestive system. Keep reading to learn more about Ayurvedic treatments for constipation.

An Ayurvedic view of constipation

Ayurveda describes three separate doshas, which are forms of energy at work in the body. While every person has all three doshas, one is generally dominant. The dominant dosha is expressed in a person’s body shape, characteristics, and health vulnerabilities.

Here’s a brief overview of the three doshas:

  • Vata: a type of energy associated with movement, space, and air
  • Pitta: a type of energy associated with metabolism, fire, and water
  • Kapha: a type of energy associated with body structure, earth, and water

Together, these doshas regulate your body functions. An imbalance between them results in illness, poor functioning, or disease.

Ayurvedic medicine explains constipation as an imbalance in the vata dosha, which centers in the colon.

Ayurvedic laxatives

Some Ayurveda practitioners say constipation is related to an excess of cold and dry elements in the body — remedied by adding warmth, hydration, and oils.

Some of the Ayurvedic laxatives described below can be made into warm, soothing teas or taken in tablet form with water. Some are available in liquid form, too.

Triphala

One of the best known Ayurvedic laxatives is Triphala, a medicinal blend of dried fruits from the plants Emblica officinalis (Amalaki or the Indian gooseberry), Terminalia bellerica (Bibhitaki), and Terminalia chebula (Haritaki).

A small 2011 study found that Triphala improved constipation symptoms for 79 percent of the study participants after 2 weeks of use — roughly 65 percent saw improvement the first week. None of the people in the study reported any unpleasant side effects from using Triphala.

In more recent animal and human studies, Triphala has lowered blood sugar, boosted weight loss, and improved the gut biome by promoting growth of the beneficial microbes Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus. Research from 2021 concluded that Triphala is an effective treatment for diabetes, constipation, and obesity.

You can buy Triphala in a powdered form, which is useful if you want to brew an Ayurvedic herbal laxative tea. Some people find the taste of the laxative tea bitter. If you do, add a teaspoon of honey after your tea has steeped. Lemon isn’t recommended.

You can also buy Triphala in tablet or liquid extract forms if you prefer.

Senna

Senna, an herb used in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries, is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as an over-the-counter laxative. Compounds in the herb (sennosides) stimulate the lining of the bowel, usually bringing constipation relief in 6 to 12 hours.

Senna is considered to be safe for adults and children when taken at the right dose and for less than 1 week. Longer periods of use aren’t recommended.

Some people may experience stomach cramps and diarrhea when taking senna. Children in diapers may develop blisters if their diapers aren’t changed often when they’re taking senna laxatives.

Senna isn’t recommended for children under 2 or people with these health conditions:

  • heart disease
  • electrolyte imbalance
  • dehydration
  • Crohn’s disease
  • an intestinal blockage
  • ulcerative colitis
  • stomach inflammation
  • appendicitis
  • hemorrhoids
  • anal prolapse

It’s also important to know that taking senna in combination with other herbal laxatives such as horsetail, licorice, aloe, buckthorn, and others could cause a big drop in your potassium levels.

When your body doesn’t have enough potassium, you can experience a range of symptoms, including fatigue, muscle cramps, and heart palpitations.

Himalaya Herbolax

This Ayurvedic constipation remedy contains haritaki (Chebulic myrobalan), one of the same herbs in Triphala. It also contains another Ayurvedic plant medicine: trivruth (Ipomoea turpethum/Operculina turpethum), which has laxative, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties.

Although there are no studies on the effectiveness of the Himalaya Herbolax product itself, research does confirm that haritaki and trivruth are effective laxatives.

Caution: Don’t give Himalaya Herbolax to children

It’s important to talk with a pediatrician before giving Himalaya Herbolax to a child. One of the ingredients in Himalaya Herbolax is Cassia occidentalis, an herb used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat constipation and other ailments.

The seeds of the Cassia occidentalis plant are poisonous if consumed in high enough amounts. Research shows that the seeds release anthraquinones that can cause a life threatening condition called hepatomyoencephalopathy (HME) in children.

Healthline

Ayurvedic enemas

Ayurveda includes a health protocol known as Panchakarma, which is a group of five cleansing or purification treatments. The goal of Panchakarma is to eliminate toxins that build up from time to time in the body.

One of the treatments, Panchakarma basti, is cleansing the bowel through the use of medicated enemas (basti).

Basti often contain herbal blends suspended in oil or ghee. The liquid preparation flows through a tube inserted into your rectum. After holding the fluid for a short period of time (usually minutes), you release the liquid into a toilet.

Precautions when using enemas

Although enemas can be used at home, Ayurvedic medicine practitioners usually recommend that Panchakarma basti be prepared and administered in a healthcare setting. A practitioner can help determine which herbs and oils to use according to your individual needs.

Research shows that enemas to relieve constipation are generally safe, but there are risks involved. It’s possible to injure your rectum as you insert the tip of the enema tube. And certain commercially available enemas can cause water intoxication or electrolyte imbalance.

The National Institute on Aging recommends against overusing enemas because it can interfere with your body’s natural ability to remove waste.

In Ayurvedic medicine, Panchakarma basti is usually a seasonal or short-term treatment. In some cases, however, it’s used over a longer period.

For example, one 2018 case study reported that a basti intervention relieved chronic constipation for a child with Hirschsprung disease, a congenital condition involving an absence of ganglion nerve cells in the large intestine. In this case, basti was used off and on for around 14 months.

Ayurvedic massage

Ayurveda includes therapeutic whole-body massage with medicated oils both as a regular health practice and as preparation for Panchakarma cleanses.

Research shows that abdominal massage and deeper colon massage therapies can help relieve constipation effectively. A small 2016 study involving 60 postoperative patients found that abdominal massage decreased constipation and improved people’s overall quality of life following surgery.

Abdominal massage has relieved constipation for people with:

  • multiple sclerosis
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • stroke
  • people taking opioid medications

Ayurvedic yoga

Ayurvedic practitioners recommend a few yoga postures to help move the bowel and relieve constipation. The recommended poses include:

  • bhujanghasana (Cobra)
  • trikonasana (Triangle Stretch)
  • ardha matsyendrasana (Half Spine Twist)
  • supta vajrasana (Sleeping Pelvis)
  • vajrasana (Diamond)
  • dhanurasana (Bow)
  • sarvangasana (Shoulder Stand)
  • mayurasana (Peacock)
  • pavan muktasana (Wind Release)
  • naukasana (Boat)
  • halasana (Plow)
  • shalabhasana (Locust)
  • mandukasana (Frog)
  • paschimottanasana (Head to Knee)
  • katichakrasana (Standing Spine Twist)

Although more research needs to be done to understand how yoga may affect the digestive system, some evidence shows that yoga has helped people with irritable bowel syndrome, a health condition that often causes both constipation and diarrhea.

A 2014 study found that young women with IBS who practiced Iyengar yoga (a yoga practice that emphasizes precise posturing) for an hour several times a week had less constipation after the yoga treatment.

Researchers noted that yoga also helps with the anxiety that sometimes goes along with having IBS.

Holistic prevention of constipation

Ayurvedic medicine emphasizes the importance of a whole-body approach to health and wellness. Combining the following Ayurvedic lifestyle choices with the constipation relief methods described above can help you prevent constipation while achieving a healthier overall digestive system.

Customize your diet to your constitution

What, when, and even how you eat can affect your bowel movements and your overall health in many ways. From an Ayurvedic perspective, your diet will best promote your health when it’s matched to your individual constitution.

Ayurnutrigenomics is a system of personalized nutrition recommendations based on your genetic background, health concerns, and constitution. It’s been the subject of increasing public interest and research.

Using both modern medical assessments and Ayurvedic principles, Ayurnutrigenomics prescribes certain foods, therapies, and eating schedules that proponents say will help you avoid health problems such as constipation. More research needs to be done to understand what benefits this dietary approach may have.

Increase your consumption of fruits and vegetables

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases recommends eating an abundance of fruits and vegetables, along with legumes, nuts, and whole grains.

Eating lots of fiber-rich whole foods promotes good bathroom habits, while processed foods, meats, and fast foods are linked to constipation.

Avoid dehydration

Practitioners of Ayurvedic and allopathic (Western) medicine agree that dehydration causes constipation.

Researchers have long known that even mild dehydration can lead to constipation, so it’s important to drink plenty of water to optimize digestion and keep your waste elimination system flowing smoothly.

Commit to regular physical exercise

The holistic approach of Ayurveda includes regular physical exercise. Inactivity isn’t considered healthy, as it leads to sluggish digestion and an accumulation of the elements of earth and water in the body. For that reason, treating constipation involves physical movement, often through yoga.

One small 2019 study tracked 17 people who practiced yoga as part of a whole-system Ayurvedic weight loss plan. The people in the study lowered their body mass index (BMI) and increased the number of bowel movements they had every day.

Similarly, a 2017 study involving 125 women aged 20 to 40 who were experiencing long-term constipation found that regular physical activity helped relieve constipation, lowered their BMI, and boosted their quality of life.

Consider alternative medications that don’t contribute to constipation

Certain medications are known to cause constipation. These include:

  • opioids
  • antidepressants
  • antacids containing calcium or aluminum
  • iron supplements
  • diuretics and some other medications that treat high blood pressure
  • antihistamines

If you’re taking a medication that constipates you, it’s a good idea to talk to a healthcare provider about alternatives that don’t cause that side effect.

Takeaway

Ayurveda is a medical philosophy that takes a holistic approach to treating health issues such as constipation.

Short-term relief can be achieved using natural Ayurvedic laxatives such as Triphala, senna, and Himalaya Herbolax. These remedies are plant-based, generally safe, and effective.

You may also want to try a medicated enema or a medicated oil massage.

An Ayurvedic approach to good digestive health also involves drinking plenty of water, eating more fruits and vegetables, and getting more physical exercise, especially yoga.

In addition to potentially relieving constipation, yoga can improve your sense of general well-being.

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