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Published September 6, 2008

Dear Pharmacist,
I have had a problem with constipation for as long as I can remember. I would so love to be normal. What can I do? J.G., Lodi, CA

Answer: Constipation will make your life miserable and uncomfortable and cause painful hemorrhoids. Unless you are a sloth (which goes weekly), regular bowel function is needed at least several times a week (preferably more often) in order to remove toxins and prevent serious disease. We really need to get to the bottom of this, so go look in your medicine cabinet: Antihistamines, pain killers, tri-cyclic antidepressants and Parkinson’s medication can interfere with your body’s natural elimination process.

Here are some natural solutions:

1. Eat more fiber, like oatmeal for example. This is where it gets sticky though, because the type of oatmeal matters. You want to get steel-cut oatmeal (not the quick-cooking kind) because the steel-cut type has more fiber and nutrition. Other healthy sources of fiber include fresh, organic fruits and vegetables. Key word “fresh,” not canned! Ground-up flaxseed is another great source of fiber because it also protects against the dangerous effects of estrogen in men and women.

2. Do I need to tell you to cut out foods that have no fiber? I hate to dash your dreams, but frozen dinners, ice cream, cheeseburgers and pizza only clog the pipes. The right kind of fiber works like a plunger.

3. Drink water. Most people are dehydrated and if your lips get dry or cracked, you’re already dehydrated. As Bill Engvall would say, “Heeere’s your sign!”

4. Think in terms of bugs. The good ones, like healthy microorganisms that should always inhabit your gut. Studies show that a healthy camp of gut bacteria can relieve cons tipation and boost immune function. Don’t eat the bugs; take a “probiotic” supplement like Pearls IC, Pro-Bio, Kyo-Dophilus or Dr. Ohhira’s. Digestive enzymes and acids play a huge role in GI function too.

5. Magnesium: Deficiencies can cause constipation. Think about it—magnesium helps your muscles contract. Your intestines have muscles, too, even though you don’t have the six-pack of abs to show for it. Your intestinal muscles propel globs of digested food through your colon. Green leafy veggies contain magnesium and fiber, so eat those before taking laxatives (which often contain magnesium).

6. Aloe vera: Aloe may relieve joint pain, improve diabetes, cholesterol, constipation and lower your risk for cancer. All that from a creepy-looking desert plant! The outstanding benefits appear to come from various compounds such as anthraquinones, acemannan and lectins. You can filet a leaf and put it in your smoothie, or just buy aloe vera juice at any health food store.

7. Some people are allergic to soy, dairy or gluten-containing foods, so eliminating these items may ultimately be the means to the end.

Did You Know? Diabetic medications are drug-muggers of Coenzyme Q10, so supplement in order to prevent leg cramps, fatigue and memory loss.

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