Almost everyone suffers from constipation at some point in their lives, some of the classic symptoms including hard stools, missing a day or days at a time, difficulty going to the toilet or a feeling that your bowel motion isn’t quite ‘complete’. For up to 20% of the population this becomes chronic, and is a significant cause of abdominal pain and inconvenience.
Apart from the pain and impacts on daily life, chronic constipation can also disrupt the gut bacterial environment (microbiome) and impair the detoxification of waste by-products. This can in turn lead to disturbed cross talk between gut bacteria and the immune and hormonal systems, and increase the potential for intestinal permeability. Added to this, waste products that are destined to be ‘pooped’ out sit around the large bowel, some of which are reabsorbed into the system creating a greater systemic toxic burden. So the important message here is to keep the bowel moving and have regular bowel motions.
Some of the common contributors to irregular motions are:
- Changes in routine – normal bowel motions are driven by the body’s internal rhythms and can be easily upset by changes in routine – at earlier than normal start to the day, travel, and shift work are just come of the common examples.
- Inadequate water intake – this one is common, particularly in the elderly. Add insufficient water to high fibre intake and constipation can be exacerbated further.
- Low-fibre intake – fibre has several roles in the bowel; insoluble fibre adds bulk to the stool and soluble fibre attracts water, helping to soften the stool. Legumes, fruit, vegetables provide soluble fibre and wheat bran and whole grains add bulk in the form of insoluble fibre.
- Lack of exercise – movement gets you moving! A sedentary lifestyle can slow down colonic movement. Periods of illness can also result in constipation, which may be related to lack of movement.
- Medications – narcotics (codeine), some antacids (non-magnesium based versions), anti-depressants and some types of iron supplementation will commonly impact on regularity.
Other significant causes of constipation including advancing age and pregnancy, both of which can be exacerbated by the factors above.
When it comes to treatment it is important where possible to address any of the above factors first. The most commonly used treatment options are fibre supplements or over the counter laxatives, which have varying success. Excitingly a new research paper has shown that eating figs is a safe, effective way to treat functional constipation and are potentially as effective as over the counter laxatives. Figs are well known for the ability to get digestion moving and have long been used for managing constipation. In this study, fig paste (equivalent to 3 dry or fresh figs) was taken on a daily basis for 8 weeks and the functional aspects of constipation were measured compared to placebo (a non-treatment group). Researchers found that consuming fig paste significantly reduced colon transit time (how long it takes for food to be digested and move through the digestive tract), improvement in stool type (less hard and pebble like – improving from 1 to 3 on the Bristol Stool Chart) and reduced abdominal discomfort.
Researchers propose that figs improve the rhythmic movements of the bowel moving waste through more effectively and also increased bowel lubrication. The result is more regular motions that are softer and easier to pass.
If you have tried the approaches above and seen no or little improvement, there may be other factors impacting on bowel regularity and it is important to determine and manage these on an individual basis. I offer in-person and Skype naturopathic consultations to address the individual causes of chronic or IBS-related constipation.
So how does this lead to Figgy Pudding? Well in the lead up to the Christmas, I thought this an appropriately festive fig based recipe, consumption of which may or may not lead to improved bowel motions…but it will certainly taste good! This healthier pudding recipe comes from https://theprimepursuit.com.
Figgy Pudding Mixture
- 1 1/2 cups dried figs, chopped
- 1/2 cup pitted dates, chopped
- 2 cups water
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 8 Tbsp grass fed butter, softened
- 6 eggs
- 1/2 cup coconut flour
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 apple, peeled and diced
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- pinch of allspice or nutmeg
- 1 tsp orange zest
- 1/8 cup orange juice
- 1/2 cup honey – optional. I suggest tasting the batter before adding and then add a little at a time until the mixture is sweet enough for your liking. Remember also, the glaze will sweeten the cake. Having made the recipe without honey, I find it sweet enough.
- 1/4 cup grass fed butter
- 1/4 cup almond butter
- 2 Tbsp honey
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- Place chopped figs, and dates in small saucepan with the 2 cups water. Bring to a low boil, remove from heat and mix in baking soda. Set aside while you prepare the rest of the batter.
- Preheat oven to 180. In food processor, add butter and honey. Pulse until nicely creamed. Add remainder of ingredients and combine, scraping down the sides at least once. Add fig/date/water mixture and pulse until the batter is smooth.
- Grease a cake tin or a large oven safe mixing bowl. Add batter and smooth top. Bake for 40-50 minutes depending on tin size.
- For glaze, in small sauce pan melt butter, whisk in almond butter and remaining ingredients. Continue to stir over low heat until smooth. Set aside for a few minutes and pour over cake as desired.
I hope you enjoy this festive fare.
Chae, S.W., Randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of Ficus carica paste for the management of functional constipation. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2016;25(3):487-96.