Constipation is probably the beginning of nearly all human ailments. There are a few exceptions but not many. It is a tremendous foe to vitality. Pure blood is absolutely impossible when one is suffering from this complaint. Active functioning of the alimentary canal is absolutely essential if the blood stream is to contain those elements essential to superior vital vigor. The regimen which I suggested in the chapter on Cleansing and Stimulating the Alimentary Canal will undoubtedly be sufficient to overcome any trouble of this character provided there are not dietetic causes that are serious in nature. Where the disorder is chronic, and especially when it has extended over a term of many years, a comprehensive dietetic regimen may be necessary in addition to the adoption of measures previously suggested.
The direct cause of constipation is a relaxed and weakened condition of the muscular walls of the stomach and intestines. A certain degree of strength of these muscular structures is essential properly to facilitate digestion, assimilation and elimination. The lack of tone in these muscles is chiefly due in nearly all cases to what might be termed a concentrated diet. Our foods have been too much refined. As previously stated they are not eaten as they were created, but have been put through a prolonged milling process or other method of preparation which not only eliminates many elements of nourishment but also breaks up the food into the most minute particles, thus eliminating the rough, coarse and fibrous material in the food which ordinarily arouses what is known as the peristaltic activity of the bowels. Our methods of food preparation also materially lessen the necessity for prolonged and thorough mastication. The habit of hurriedly swallowing our food undoubtedly lessens its vitality-building possibilities, besides materially affecting the strength and general hardiness of the teeth.
constipation is also caused in numerous instances by a lack of liquids. Men and women do not use sufficient water. One frequently loses what might be termed the water-drinking habit, usually as a result of sedentary occupations. The method of remedying constipation referred to in Chapter VI pointedly illustrates the amazing value of water in remedying conditions of this kind. It is well, however, to remember the necessity for using at least a reasonable quantity of water throughout the entire day. If you do not drink water quite freely between meals then it is advisable and actually necessary to use a certain quantity with your meals. Those who drink tea and coffee freely seem to recognize the need of this instinctively. The choice of these beverages, however, is distinctly bad. Tea and coffee are destructive to both nerves and health, but aside from these stimulating drinks one can use almost any wholesome beverage at meal-time in order to supply his cravings in this direction. Fruit drinks are excellent. I have referred to this question in a previous chapter.
Diet naturally has a tremendous influence on alimentary activity. White bread and white-flour products constitute the most serious cause of constipation. This defective food is lacking in the elements necessary to give life and vitality to the body, because the valuable covering of the grain has been removed in the milling process, while the life germ of the wheat has also been eliminated. The bran, which consists of several minute layers covering the wheat berry, has a distinct value in stimulating peristaltic action, and when it is removed, the resulting white flour must be a defective food. One of the first dietetic changes required in remedying constipation, therefore, is to eliminate white-flour products from the diet. Graham bread, or that made from the whole wheat, or any of the whole grains, rye, oats, barley, corn, is a satisfactory article of diet, and will often remedy constipation without resort to any other dietetic change.
What might be termed waste products, or fibrous material in food, are found especially valuable in promoting digestion and active functioning of the bowels. The woody fiber found in vegetables is most valuable. It is sometimes suggested that one should simply consume the juice of his foods but not the pulp. This pulp or fibrous matter, however, is especially important. Following this requirement of bulk or waste in our food, we find such remedies as sand, refined coal oil, a mineral product that passes through the alimentary canal without change, and ordinary black dirt, which is usually taken in its dried form. When using sand, it should be sterilized, and the grains should be rounded and worn smooth by the action of waves or running water. Do not use that in which the grains are sharp-edged. One or more of these products are valuable as a laxative and the devitalizing after-effects of a drug cathartic will be absent. They are, however, not by any means as pleasant as food laxatives, and remedies of this sort should not be employed except as a temporary expedient.
Whole grains of various kinds, wheat, rye, oats and barley, simmered in hot water for a long time until properly softened, not only afford a high degree of nourishment, but will be found of special value as a means of remedying constipation. They are best if used in their natural state, just as they come from the farm. They are more valuable when eaten raw with fruit or cream, or in some other palatable form, than when cooked. When flaked or crushed, as in the case of ordinary oatmeal, they may be used with figs, dates, raisins and a little cream, or they may be eaten with a little honey. One bowl of this class of food, either raw or cooked, each day, is very effective in overcoming constipation. Salads of various kinds not only have great value by way of supplying food for the nerves, but they are also worth while for their mild laxative effect. I would recommend all forms of uncooked green food, chiefly to be used in the form of salads, such as lettuce, tomatoes, onions, celery, radishes, cucumbers, cold slaw, water-cress, parsley, and the like. All cooked green vegetables such as spinach, asparagus, string beans, fresh green peas, Brussels sprouts, dandelion leaves, greens, cabbages, mushrooms and other foods of this sort will likewise be helpful.
Fruits are of even greater value for their laxative qualities. One should use them freely for ordinary health building, but especially when suffering from this complaint. Apples, oranges, grapefruit, peaches, plums, grapes, and various berries are exceptionally good for increasing alimentary activity, though all kinds of fruit are valuable. Prunes and figs are particularly recommended. Such acid fruits as lemons, oranges and grapefruit are valuable not only for their stimulating qualities in connection with constipation, but also because of their antiseptic influence.
Cheese is very constipating to those inclined in this direction. All forms of cheese and food combinations containing it should be avoided. Spaghetti and macaroni prepared in this way are especially inadvisable, though it may be said that even when served without cheese spaghetti and macaroni are constipating. Rice in the ordinary polished form, as usually sold, is practically a pure starch and should be avoided. The same applies to tapioca, sago and foods of this character. Needless to say white crackers, cookies and cakes are to be classed with white bread. One should use brown sugar in place of white wherever possible, or use the pure New Orleans molasses. It is often difficult to secure this, however, inasmuch as most of the molasses on the market is made up chiefly of glucose or corn syrup, and often contains harmful chemical preservatives. It is best to avoid sugar altogether and to use honey for all purposes of sweetening, as honey is less inclined to fermentation.
Milk in some cases is inclined to produce constipation when used in connection with the ordinary diet. An exclusive and full diet of milk, is rarely constipating except during the first few days of the diet, but when milk is added to the ordinary foods, it frequently has a tendency in this direction. Buttermilk or fermented milk can often be used to advantage if sweet milk should prove constipating to the patient.
Muscular weakness and defective circulation are prominent causes of constipation in many cases. This accounts for this disorder being found so frequently among sedentary workers. Inactivity, the cause of many ills, is particularly prominent in contributing to this trouble. Therefore muscular exercise is perhaps a most effective means of permanently remedying constipation. Exercise has a direct mechanical influence upon the entire alimentary canal. The contraction of the abdominal muscles and the bending or other movements of the trunk of the body produce a certain amount of movement in and pressure upon the digestive organs in a direct mechanical way. Walking, for instance, is of extraordinary value in remedying this difficulty because of its stimulating influence upon the entire functional system, and the slight jar of each step without doubt has a direct mechanical effect. Walking furthermore is a tremendous factor in the building of vitality and this helps indirectly in remedying constipation.
But there are also various special exercises that particularly affect the alimentary canal. Bending forward and backward and from side to side and also various twisting movements of the trunk have a special influence in this direction. They actually massage the internal organs, and this means a great deal where there is any digestive weakness or lack of activity in the bowels. What I term inner-strength exercises, or as they may also be called, pressure movements, are also of considerable value. An example of this type of exercise will be found in placing the right forearm across the stomach, grasping the right wrist with the left hand, and then with the strength of both arms pressing vigorously inward upon the stomach for a moment. Now relax and repeat. Bringing up the right knee and left knee alternately, with strong pressure, using vigorously the strength of the arms against the abdominal region, is also a good example of this type of exercise, which has proven very effective in numerous cases. Other exercises of this kind ( see Chapter XV) can be applied to all parts of the upper body with great advantage to the inner organs, since such movements are of remarkable value in stimulating alimentary activity.
In line with exercise of this kind, massage and percussion treatment of the abdominal region is likewise effective. The massage should be deep and may be administered by the closed fist. A wide circular movement is advantageous for this purpose, the hand being moved in the direction of the hands of a clock, that is to say, up the right side, across, down the left side and continuing around in that manner. Rolling a baseball around in the same manner, pressing deeply though without strain, will afford an excellent form of massage for this particular purpose. The percussion treatment that I have suggested consists in alternate tapping or striking this region of the body with both hands. A chopping movement, using the outside edge of the hands, is very effective, and if you are very vigorous, the closed fist may be used. Striking repeatedly and alternately with the two fists, go over the entire region of the stomach and abdomen. This can be done gently or vigorously, according to your condition, and it is an invaluable and effective means of stimulating peristalsis and functional vigor. Mechanical vibration may also be suggested.
Cathartics are always to be condemned. The ordinary cathartic or laxative acts by reason of its irritating qualities. As a rule it abstracts the water from the intestinal walls, and the adjacent tissues, and the ultimate effect is to leave one in worse condition than before. Those who have been accustomed to the drug treatment of constipation, usually find the condition growing continuously more stubborn. Larger and larger doses of the cathartic must be taken to secure results until the function is practically paralyzed. There could be no greater mistake. If some laxative is required and sand cannot be used, the best remedy is ordinary table salt. Stir up a level teaspoonful in a glass of water and drink it. This has a mild laxative action. Or take daily two to four tablespoonfuls of ordinary bran in a glass of water. This bran may also be stirred into soups and cereals or mixed with whole-wheat flour when making bread. Olive oil also should be used freely.
As an emergency treatment, however, the enema is most satisfactory, and when employed it is best to do it thoroughly. I do not advocate the regular and continuous use of this measure. One should not come to depend upon it. A natural action is desirable, and this can invariably be brought about by a proper diet, as above suggested, by exercise and by a sufficient amount of water. The enema or colon- flushing should be used only when absolutely necessary, though in case of acute disease, where rapid purification is essential, the enema is imperatively demanded, and no household should be without an outfit for giving this treatment.
To some the continuous use of the colon-flushing treatment is inclined to be debilitating and in rare cases complaints have been made that it dilates the colon and weakens its muscular structures. This is occasionally true in the case of the hot enema. A fairly cool enema is less objectionable, while a cold enema has a decided tonic effect in contracting and strengthening the peristaltic muscles. The cold enema is less effective as a cleansing agent, as it does not have the relaxing effect of the hot enema. In most cases an enema of neutral temperature, or at about that of the body, may be suggested, though if one has been using this treatment very much it would be better to use either a cool or cold enema, if strong enough, in order to secure its contracting and tonic effect. If the cold water causes cramps one should modify the temperature.
Usually it is best to use plain water for the enema. In a case of illness where quick and radical results are required, a hot soap-suds enema may be suggested, but you should remember that this always has the effect of removing the natural oils and is inclined to leave the colon in an irritated condition. A saline solution is to be especially commended where there is a serious catarrhal condition of the intestines, or where there is much inflammation or irritation, such as might be manifested in extreme cases by bloody stools. For a normal saline solution use one teaspoonful of ordinary salt to a quart of water, or four teaspoonfuls to a four-quart enema. Glycerin is frequently suggested, but it is not to be generally recommended. If one follows these methods persistently, constipation, even in its most aggravated forms, can be overcome. In some instances almost any one of the suggestions offered will bring about the results desired, but in a chronic case one should depend not on one but on a combination of all of these various remedial measures. The improvement in the condition of your skin, in the purity of your blood, and in the degree of energy that you will enjoy will more than repay you for your efforts in following the various suggestions made for cleansing, strengthening, and vitalizing the alimentary canal.