The Role of Nutrition and Bach Flower Remedies in Cases of Constipation
by Elizabeth Gray
“A good set of bowels is worth more to a man than a quantity of brains.” (Josh Billings (Henry Wheeler Shaw), 1818 – 1885)
Over sixty years ago Doctor Edward Bach, a medical physician, gave up his Harley Street practice to focus on creating a new system of healing through wild flowers. His remedies work by by addressing an individual’s emotional state rather than simply looking at their symptoms. He discovered that one’s body is a mirror of one’s mental state. So if one is frightened, worried or depressed, progress through the disease toward recovery is slow, but if one is hopeful, happy and determined, recovery will happen more quickly.
Nowadays the thirty-eight flower remedies he developed have become increasingly popular and available to everyone through health shops and pharmacies. As they are completely natural, created by transferring the potency of wild flowers into pure spring water and preserving it in brandy, it can be taken by everyone (though medical practitioners need to be kept informed) – even animals and plants can benefit.
Bach Flower Remedies are not recommended for any physical illness in particular, but rather to alleviate the root cause of the illness which could be brought on by an individual’s state of mind (for example:- fear, depression, worry, lack of confidence and jealousy).
What is Constipation?
Contrary to common belief, constipation is not an illness but a sign that the normal working of the intestine is disturbed in some way. It exhibits itself by way of infrequent and difficult elimination of faeces accompanied by hard dry stools, which means a process that should occur naturally becomes difficult, uncomfortable and embarrassing.
Ask anyone if they have ever been constipated at some time or another and the answer will invariably be “Yes” but for the odd 10% of individuals it happens far more frequently than they would like. It seems to be more common in the elderly, in pregnancy and in the female gender. Constipation can also lead to tiredness, loss of appetite, mental sluggishness, irritability, bad breath, allergies and a bloated feeling.
If left unchecked, constipation accompanied by straining can lead to haemorrhoids, appendicitis, diverticulosis, prolapsed internal organs and even varicose veins. At its very worse faecal impaction and autointoxification can occur. This is a condition where the faeces remains in the large intestine/colon for longer periods giving it time to further decompose and putrefy, so that undesirable bacteria multiply causing toxins to be produced, which are in contact with the colon wall for longer. These can be absorbed into the bloodstream with serious health damaging effects such as general chronic diseases and colo-rectal cancer.
Doctor Bernard Jensen, in his book Guide To Better Bowel Care, states “Constipation indirectly cripples and kills more people in our country than any single condition having to do with deficient function”. Colo-rectal cancer is now one of the leading cancer killers in Western Society (brought about by our over-processed, highly refined food). The incidence of colon cancer is more common in women and rectal cancer more common in men. In less industrialised countries, where they eat more wholesome fibre, constipation is not such a problem.
The causes of constipation are numerous. For example dehydration, poor eating habits, lifestyle, some medicines, alcohol, aperients, physiological and psychological problems, putting off the urge ‘to go’ and as already mentioned poor food choices can all lead to the condition. You may not be aware that well over £50 million a year are spent on over-the-counter remedies for constipation in the United Kingdom alone, that’s not taking into account the many prescription products.
There are two types of constipation:
1) Spastic constipation is the more common type which is characterised by irregular explosive bowel movements with spasms. Antispasmodics are recommended for these individuals for example Lobelia (Lobelia Inflata) and Kava (Piper methysticum) plus soft mucilage fibre for example Oat Bran (Avena sativa) and Slippery Elm (Ulmus rubra).
2) Atonic constipation, produces infrequent bowel movements due to lack of tone and sluggish faecal movement in the colon which has been stretched and lacks the pushing power, often referred to as a ‘lazy bowel’, the faeces becomes thick and stodgy. Plenty of water and coarse fibre such as Bran and Psyllium Husks (Plantago ovata) are recommended for these individuals.
“As long as we continue to assume that the colon will take care of itself, just that long will we remain in complete ignorance of perhaps the most important source of ill health in the whole body”.
Dr. James A. Wiltsie MD
The Importance of Fibre
Fibre (roughage) is a part of food that cannot normally be fully digested (broken down) by the body. Dietary fibre is ‘The Broom’ for cleaning and restoring the colon because it consists of parts of food that are not broken down during digestion. Fibre also adds bulk to faeces and increases its passage through the large intestine and colon, so helping individuals who suffer from constipation.
Fibre consists of two types:
1) Soluble Fibre, such as Pectin, which is partly broken down in the Large Intestine.
2) Insoluble Fibre, such as Cellulose which passes through unchanged.
Fibre is very efficient at binding with minerals such as zinc, magnesium and calcium so it is very beneficial for people to take these supplements in order to increase the effectiveness of the fibre they have in their diet. Eating too much fibre, which is highly unlikely, can make these minerals unavailable for the body to utilise though.
Briefly, the Large Intestine is a long hollow muscular tube approximately 1.5 metres in length. Its main function is to form, store and eliminate faeces. It is made up of three parts:
- It starts with the Caecum, which is a blind-ended pouch, that is joined to the Small Intestine by the Ileocaecal Valve, which is a non-return valve.
- The Colon, which has a puckered appearance, has pouches called Haustra. It extends up the right-hand side of the abdomen, this section is named the Ascending Colon, across the upper abdomen named the Transverse Colon and down the left side named the Descending Colon, then the Sigmoid Colon,.
- This finally connects to the Rectum which should serve as a temporary storage site for faeces until just before defecation, where it continues down the Anal Canal and out of the Anus. Large veins are located around the Anus, if these become engorged and varicosed they are known as Haemorrhoids.
Water (about 1.5 litres a day) and salts are absorbed through the lining of the colon into the bloodstream and lymphatic system from the waste that is formed as it passes by a pattern of smooth muscle contractions. The process of defaecation is based on the activities of both the intestinal flora and the smooth muscle contractions of the colon which propels and mixes the faecal matter towards the anus where it is eliminated. These contractions vary in rate, strength and make up and are called Peristalsis, Haustral Churning, Mass Peristalsis and Reverse Peristalsis. The lining of the colon also secretes mucus which helps lubricate and move the faeces through.
Billions of bacteria, which normally live in the intestinal tract and are harmless to us as long as they stay there, feed on undigested fibre and protein in faecal matter and reduce the amount of faeces we produce. They also produce vitamin B and K along with noxious gases such as hydrogen sulphide.
It is easy to see how constipation can have a detrimental effect on one’s health and general well-being over a period of time, causing unpleasant symptoms as previously stated. To achieve optimum colon health one needs to gradually change to a more wholesome, unrefined diet with plenty of fibre, rehydrate by drinking at least two and a half litres of water a day, plenty of exercise, at least half an hour a day, especially abdominal exercises, good toilet position and routine, answering the urge to go to the toilet don’t put it off, colonic irrigation (for cleansing and rehydration) probiotics and digestive enzymes, internal lubrication with Essential Fatty Acids for example Linseed Oil (Flaxseed) and Starflower Oil (Borage) and other supplements for example vitamins B and C and Magnesium and Calcium minerals, and stress reduction. Stress has an immediate action on digestion, interrupting it, followed by interrupting the pattern of movements in the colon.
It is interesting to know that the appearance of healthy faeces should be about the length of a banana, walnut coloured, have the consistency of toothpaste, be easy to pass with minimal odour, should settle in the toilet water then gently submerge. Food normally spends longer in the colon than anywhere else but the timing of its passage depends on its type and on the individual person’s transit time. Ideally an evacuation once a day is good but three times a day after meals is perfect.
When all said and done it is mainly diet that stands as both the cause and the cure for most cases of constipation. Poor eating habits should be gradually replaced by the unrefined high fibre foods which should be chewed well, three satisfying meals a day, with time taken to sit quietly and digest. Eating on the run and animated conversation during meals should be avoided. It is better to drink fluids in-between meals rather than with food as it is more beneficial to digestion.
How can Bach Flower Remedies help?
When I advise people on what remedies would help them, I first ask them about their lifestyle and attitude. This can often shed light on why they are constipated in the first place. Constipation tends to affect people who cling to old perceptions and ideas, and do not want to let go. They tend towards taking and keeping things and hiding their fears. These types of people are often unable to make up their minds and are insecure.
The Bach Flower Remedies you could use in cases of constipation, depending on the individuals personality and requirements, are:
- Scleranthus (Scleranthus annuus) is useful for individuals who suffer from indecision and are unable to choose between alternatives, they either retain or expel. This remedy works by bringing calm and certainty to their indecisive mind
- Honeysuckle (Lonicera caprifolium) is for individuals whose thoughts are always in the past, they have some painful memories they don’t want to forget. This remedy can be given to help them leave the past and move on
- Star of Bethlehem (Ornithogalum umbellatum) can help people who repress bad news, shock and trauma. Such people hold on to their deep down feelings. This remedy is useful for easing the mind-block caused by the shock
- Impatiens (Impatiens glandulifera) helps impatient individuals, as the name suggests. These people tend to be nervous and impulsive. The remedy relaxes both the body and the mind, making their personality more rounded and well -balanced
- Rock Rose (Helianthemum nummularium) can be used as an emergency remedy. The person in a rock rose state has a fear of the sphincter closing. A sphincter is a circular muscle which normally maintains constriction of a natural body passage or orifice. There are two sphincters at the anus which control the exit of faeces from the body. Rock Rose remedy is used to calm nerves and restore some rationale
- Crab Apple (Malus sylvestris) can be used to help people overcome feelings of despair and despondency bought about by feelings of disgust. This remedy is useful in cleansing the mind and body
- Chicory (Cichorium intybus) is useful for individuals who are normally possessive in their personal relationships and are often lonely and afraid of being left alone. The remedy chosen helps to let the normal flow of love go so that the vicious circle of being both manipulator and manipulated can be broken
- Wild Oat (Bromus ramosus) is good in cases of dissatisfaction, when the individual cannot seem to find their place in life. They are unsure of what path to take. The remedy helps them to take stock of their lives and gives them patience and perseverance
- Centaury (Centaurium umbellatum) can help individuals who are easily influenced by the views and attitudes of others. Such people lack will-power and seem to be weary and exhausted all the time. This remedy helps by boosting their vitality and help them follow their path in life
- Agrimony (Agrimonia eupatoria) is good for people who hide their worries and anxieties behind a cheerful face and feel weary of it. This remedy helps by restoring their ability to cope with the good and bad things in life, allowing them to see their problems more clearly and in perspective
- Larch, (Mimulus) helps fight insecurity and fear
When advising people on how to take their remedies, I tell them to keep things simple and try the remedy on its own (not to use in a mixture of remedies) until they find the ones best suited for their requirements. Some people using other Flower Remedies try to make things more complicated and scientific but I feel they should be used as Doctor Edward Bach intended, as simple and natural as possible. Two drops of the chosen remedy in a glass of water sipped at intervals is normally enough (Four drops of the Rescue Remedy). Replenish as needed. If necessary the Flower Remedies can be dropped onto the tongue, or rubbed onto the lips, behind the ears or on the temples and wrists. The Flower Remedies can be taken as often as needed, especially in times of crisis.
I also advocate relaxation classes and meditation for those suffering from the consequences of hectic lifestyles and stress-related constipation.
Guide To Better Bowel Care by Dr. Bernard Jensen
Handbook of the Bach Flower Remedies by Dr. Philip Chancellor
The Human Body in Health and Disease by Ruth Memmler and Barbara Cohen