4 big lies about constipation-and 4 REAL solutions
There are more myths concerning constipation than any other medical condition I know of (with the possible exception of hiccups). I have said loudly and often, for example, that fiber is greatly overrated. Researchers have claimed that a high-fiber diet cures everything from colon cancer to obesity to diabetes, and none of it is proven. But fiber only accomplishes two things: (1) It takes up space in your stomach, leaving less room for real food-ham and eggs, steak, chicken fat, and butter. (2) It gives you big stool.
One of the other great myths is that constipation causes toxins to build up in the blood ("autointoxication") which makes you sick. "Death begins in the colon" has been one of the great neuroses of the 20th century, and it has led to many millions of dollars wasted on colon cleansing. Even the ancient Egyptians, 4,000 years ago, believed in autointoxication. But there is no evidence to support it.
Yet another myth is that a lack of fluids causes constipation. Now I know why so many young women walk through life with plastic water bottles strapped to their belts-they must all be constipated. But they would be better served by carrying flasks of olive oil in their holsters. (More on that later.) Drinking more water won't solve the problem: The intestinal tract will absorb the excess water, and the kidneys will immediately dump it into your urine.
Trotting around your neighborhood, risking mugging, rape, and dog bites will not relieve constipation either, unless, of course, the mugger, rapist, or dog literally scares it out of you. A sedentary lifestyle has nothing to do with constipation, so stay off the streets and out of the gym.
Actions to take:
For 40 years, I have recommended a trifecta of remedies for relief of constipation. One or some combination of these simple remedies works most of the time.
(1) Olive oil. This is the first line of defense or offense against constipation. Drink 4 ounces of extra virgin olive oil and chase it with a little orange juice. Do this twice a day. If this is not successful by the third day, add
(2) Vitamin C. Take 1 gram every three hours while awake.
You can combine (1) and (2) if you are anxious. If you still don't have any luck, try
(3) Magnesium. Take 1 gram three times a day.
For years, those were my standbys for treating constipation in my patients. But now I have added another excellent remedy to the above: a large, high-quality, ABC (meaning "anywhere but Cuba") cigar-puffed, not inhaled-with your morning coffee and another after dinner with a little sherry or port wine. The ingredients of the tobacco smoke will be absorbed into the intestinal mucosa and move things right along.
If you think you may have an intestinal obstruction--i.e., no bowel movement in over a week--get yourself off to a hospital emergency department for treatment. You'll get a flat plate X-ray of your abdomen to confirm your complaint. (Sorry, they can't just take your word for it: You see a lot of freaks in the emergency ward; it's not unheard of for abdominal X-rays to show everything from gerbils to screwdrivers to Barbie dolls and an occasional bust of Napoleon. Proctology is not for the faint of heart.) If you are lucky, the doctor will give you a tiny IV dose (2 mg) of Valium before attempting excavation. IV Valium is marvelously relaxing and makes the procedure easier on the evacuator and the evacuee. When it's all said and done, you'll be ready-and more than willing-to take the above recommendations.
"Myths and misconceptions about chronic constipation," American Journal of Gastroenterology 2005; 100(1): 232
"New report clears up myths about constipation," Reuters Health, 1/10/05