Constipation is a condition in which the bowels are evacuated at long intervals or with difficulty. The body will do this for several reasons: because the bowel does not contract well enough; because the bowel is moving more slowly to allow longer for food and water absorption; because the stool lacks bulk; because the stool is too large or hard to pass through the anus without pain.

There is no ideal number of times to evacuate the bowels. Everyone has a rhythm and it is important to keep that stable. A change in bowel habit that persists needs to be reviewed by a GP. Everybody will go through constipation and other bowel changes on occasions, and treatment should only be considered if the problem persists or is uncomfortable.

A lack of fibre in the foods we eat causes stool to become soft so that when peristaltic waves in the colon try to flush the faeces towards the anus, some of the stool will pass in the opposite direction. If the body is deficient it may slow down the movement of food through the small intestine to allow more time for absorption to take place. This can appear to be constipation simply because there is nothing to pass out. The colon , which makes up the last four feet of the bowel is where most of the water is absorbed from our food and drink. If we are dehydrated, and I think most of us spend our lives in a state of partial dehydration, the colon will move more slowly to allow more time for water absorption.

Because constipation may be due to body deficiencies or dehydration and involve soft stool or hard stool there is no single treatment that will benefit all patients. It is important to know the cause of the constipation so that correct treatment can be chosen. Problems not relieved by the following recommendations should be taken to a nutritionist or herbal medicine practitioner. Ayurvedic and Tibetan practitioners have a very good grasp of this matter.

A change in bowel habit that persists must be referred to a GP for assessment.

Ensure that you are drinking 2-3 pints of water per day away from food.

Avoid dehydrating conditions, such as exercising without fluid intake, alcohol, caffeine and an excess of spicy or sweet foods. The latter pulls water into the bowel and prevents the tissues from receiving it.

Ensure that you have adequate fibre in your diet .

Gut bacteria are essential to the digestive process. Poor diet and the use of antibiotics, directly from pills or indirectly through eating foods containing such drugs, can alter the bowel flora and lead to constipation. Correct this with a good quality Acidophilus for at least one month. ‘Natural’ laxatives are available at healthfood stores and may be used if constipation is infrequent but having to use a natural laxative more than three times in any month requires investigation with your complementary medical practitioner.

Stool softeners and stool bulk-formers should be used only as a last resort.

Do your best to avoid regular laxatives, which can have a long-term debilitating effect on the colon and its musculature. Long-term laxative abuse is treatable under the care of a nutritionist, herbalist or homeopath.

Colonic irrigations are fine on occasions but they should not be considered as a treatment for constipation.

Please establish by having a consultation with a nutritionist/dietician, that your diet is satisfactory.

Three finger-widths below the navel is the Sea of Energy acupuncture point, which if you gradually apply more pressure on it for 2min whilst you are in a lying down position may be beneficial if practised twice a day.

Try six drops of rosemary oil in half a cup of olive oil, rubbed in a clockwise motion around the abdomen twice a day.

Constipation following cessation of smoking is treatable by herbalists, who will replace the nicotine effect on the bowel contraction with a healthier herb, which they will reduce over a period of time. You may try taking one teaspoonful of Cascara sagrada lhr before going to bed.

Two apples freshly squeezed in combination with a teaspoonful of fresh ginger juice diluted with a little water, taken three times a day before meals, can be effective.

Two grams of vitamin C with each meal can act as a natural laxative and can be used for short periods if a problem persists. Children below the age of 14 years need to take half that amount.