So…..constipation. Charming word, Charming problem.
Few people will casually bring up constipation as a conversational topic over coffee or at a social dinner party – unless of course you happen to have someone like myself present who doesn’t mind talking crap. Then it’s all out there about not being able to get it outta there.
So, lets pause and just clarify – constipation is a condition (which can either be acute or chronic) where you move your number 2’s less often than ‘usual’ and/or when these stools are hard, dry, pebbly and often painful and tricky to get out. There are so many reasons why you can become constipated including drugs, supplements, medications or dehydration. Other common factors include ignoring the urge to go or a sudden change in diet or even in timezone – an especially problematic combination during travel!
Trouble is that what is ‘usual’ for somebody is unusual for somebody else, so it’s difficult to put a timeframe in this definition – but on average it’s when your number twos are taking more than 2-3 days to get out (or 3-4 for kids) – then you are perhaps constipated. Being very constipated can make you feel very blergh – including being nauseous, loss of appetite, abdominal pain and it is linked to increased risk of urinary tract infection.
Acute, severe constipation can be serious – so please don’t ignore it. If left untreated it can result in hernia, bowel obstruction or septicaemia – all of which can be very detrimental to your health. If you have blood in your stools or acute, severe pain in the abdomen – seek immediate medical attention.
Chronic constipation which does not respond to improvements in your diet – primarily including plenty of water and fibre (naturally from fruit, vegetables, legumes and wholegrains – not relying on fibre supplements or laxatives) and despite being reasonably active may be indicative of further health issues. These could include colorectal cancer, diabetes, low thyroid function, diverticulosis, kidney failure, hypercalcemia (high levels of calcium in the blood) and Parkinson’s. If you believe you have chronic constipation – please don’t delay seeking further medical advice.
There are many products out there to treat constipation – some which add bulk and soften the stool (bran, psyllium), others which are designed to draw water into the bowel, others which work on the action of the bowel etc! But in this article I’m going to discuss Magnesium sulphate in particular as it’s a ‘oldie but a goodie’ and for most – it’ll have very few side effects and has a much lower risk of dependency than some of the other solutions.
Magnesium sulphate is a mineral more commonly known as Epson salt – usually used to relax muscles in a bath after a hard workout! However, taking anywhere between a teaspoon to a tablespoon of this with 300ml of water 1-3 times a day (depending on the severity of what you’re dealing with!) – is generally a very successful approach for dealing with occasional constipation. Many believe that the standard Epson salts are fine to consume orally though you can buy Epsom salts that have been specifically manufactured for oral administration and these supposedly manufactured under more regulated hygiene conditions and with fewer impurities (they are of course more expensive) – it’s your choice at the end of the day, but ask your pharmacist for help and for guidance with your appropriate dosage – especially if it’s for your children, noting that it is not appropriate to administer this to kids under 2years.
Hot tip: Epsom salts can be hard to dissolve – so stir a bit into 50ml hot water until dissolved, then add 250-300ml cold water and ice. You may find you need to add a bit of juice or cordial as it tastes pretty awful – sink it all down in one go! Generally your bowel movement will occur between 30mins-5 hours after administration.
Magnesium Sulphate draws water into your intestines while at the same time replacing magnesium in the body which can be low depending on your diet, alcoholism or when your blood calcium levels are particularly high – added bonus! Low magnesium levels are associated with fatigue, cramping, convulsions, low concentration and irritability and magnesium also plays a role in carbohydrate metabolism. A whole swag of mental and physical functions need magnesium so correcting any deficiency is certainly important.
However, magnesium sulphate may not be the solution for everybody – especially those who are breastfeeding, pregnant (do not take this without medical supervision and guidance if pregnant!), under 2 years old, those with a kidney or other digestive organ disorder, those who have a bowel obstruction or perforated bowel or heart disease/irregular heartbeat. If this is you – ask your doctor or pharmacist for a more appropriate approach and let them know if you are on medication or supplements (especially antibiotics) in case there are any potential harmful interactions. Similarly, if you are undergoing any medical procedure or starting any new medications – advise your medical team if you are regularly taking magnesium sulphate.
Common side effects may include diarrhoea, upset stomach and rare but potential more serious side effects can include allergic reaction, dizziness/sweating or fatigue and muscle weakness.
So, hopefully you will not need this advice much – or better still – ever, but it’s certainly one of the better solutions out there to deal with acute or chronic constipation if the need ever arises.