When we haven’t visited the loo in a while, we often turn to laxatives for bowel relief. But be careful, when misused or overused, laxatives can cause problems including chronic constipation, says Khayelitsha GP, Dr Manduleli Bikitsha.
Over the years, the people of Mzansi have been relying on many ways to alleviate constipation – some turns to natural ways while others seek help from medication such as laxatives.
Tea, with no sugar, always seems to work whenever Khayelitsha teacher Sibongisile Dalasile has problems with constipation.
“I’ve found that drinking green tea increases my thirst, which in turn, will lead me to drink enough water throughout the day. Water on its own helps with the bowel movement, especially if you drink enough of it,” she says.
Activist and author, Siphokazi Mpofu from East London, believes that patience and real food trump any medication found in the pharmacy. Her diet consists of mostly clean, green, and lean foods.
“I rarely get constipated since I started eating more nutrient-dense foods. Most greens are highly recommended because they are high in fibre and low in carbs,” she explains.
A good, green smoothie always does the trick whenever she is feeling constipated.
“I only get constipation when I eat a lot of gas-producing meals and drink minimal water,” she says.
Which method is best?
Bikitsha explains that laxatives work by removing a lot of water from the body, which softens the faeces and makes it easier to pass. This causes the body to lose important nutrients like sodium and potassium.
“Sodium helps bring water back into the body, which is very important. Potassium, on the other hand, keeps your heartbeat steady.”
According to Bikitsha, laxatives may be taken under medical supervision, and they are very likely to induce side effects.
“I always prefer an enema with lukewarm pure water since there are no side effects, unlike medications used to assist bowel movements. And the best part is that enemas are fast so people don’t have to wait for it to work.”
What to do at home in the event of dehydration
When dehydration strikes in the comfort of one’s own home, Bikitsha says the best cure is one litre of lukewarm water mixed with eight teaspoons of sugar and one teaspoon of salt. He says this works perfectly by also drinking a cup of ORS (oral rehydration solution), every hour until you regain your energy, or until you are attended to by medical professionals.
Bikitsha adds that we get sodium from the salt and that we need all the energy that is produced by carbohydrates from the sugar.
On a medical front, the excessive use of laxatives and intestinal stimulation can cause the loss of contraction which could end up in renal or urinary incontinence. This happens when the nerves which are supposed to report the process, are dead, explains Bikitsha.
What to eat for constipation
Bikitsha suggests eating foods that are high in fibre. He says that all foods with skins, like avocados, pears, bananas, and peaches, aid in bowel movement.
“For example, prunes are laxatives by nature,” he says. “But the greatest thing about taking them is that they may also provide you with vitamins and minerals while assisting bowel movement.”
According to Bikitsha, white bread, processed meals, and gas-based foods should be avoided in this regard, since they might trigger constipation.
Organic is vital
Rita Ngobo is a Rastafarian by faith and artist from Ilitha Park in Khayelitsha. She agrees with Bikitsha and says that her Ital lifestyle allows her to only eat mostly organic foods instead of using over-the-counter medicines for health conditions.
“Eating organic foods is important, not just for Rastafarian beliefs but also for health reasons and to prevent common illnesses caused by foods,” she says. “I feel that most store-bought foods and medication include substances that are poisonous to our health.”
Ngobo also has another trick up her sleeve to aid her occasional constipation – cannabis. Ngobo prepares what she calls a cannabis-based cleanser at home. She grinds cannabis and then adds it to boiling water with mountain garlic and honey.
“I urge safe cannabis usage, however, especially for younger people since it makes you high, regardless of the health benefits.”