By Anne Keehn
This brief paper will give an overview of chronic constipation (CC) and its link to serious diseases (allopathic medicine considers constipation to be a symptom, rather than a disease), and will look at clinical studies that test the efficacy of yoga in inducing healthy bowel movements.
Studies have found that rates of CC in the U.S. may be as high as 27%[i]. According to the Rome Foundation (an organization that developed a system to classify gastrointestinal disorders) a person is suffering from CC when the following symptoms persist for at least three months: less than three bowel movements a week; straining, and/or “manual maneuvers” to facilitate bowel movements; sensations of anorectal obstruction and/or incomplete evacuation; and lumpy or hard stools[ii],[iii]. In short: a person is chronically constipated if they are unable to fully expel waste from their bodies for prolonged periods of time.
While allopathic medicine seems hesitant to explore the possibility that CC may lead to serious disease, it is a fact that constipation is a frequent accompanier to Parkinson’s disease[iv], heart disease[v], various forms of cancer[vi], and obesity[vii]. Harmful bacteria and parasites can thrive in impacted fecal matter in the colon[viii]; hardened stools put pressure on the walls of the colon, causing bulging pockets of tissue that can trap fecal matter, and even become infected[ix].
The first prospective stud to find a clear link between constipation and colorectal cancer was published in 2004[x]. The study found the more infrequent a person’s bowel movements were, the more likely they were to have cancer. Alternative healthcare specialist Dr. Richard Schulze—who specializes in producing herbal medicine to detox and cleanse the bowels—claims that many of his patients have been cured of cancer by undergoing colon cleanses to alleviate chronic constipation[xi]. Dr. Bernard Jensen (who Schulze studied under), a thought leader in natural healing techniques has said, “Constipation is often referred to by those who have studied the situation as the ‘modern plague.’ Indeed, it is the greatest present-day danger to health.”[xii]
Two studies within the last decade shed light on how yoga can help promote regularity of bowel movements. It must be noted that neither study targeted constipation specifically—one explored colonoscopy preparation procedures, and the other explored diarrhea-predominant irritable bowel syndrome (IBS-D). However, both focus on yoga as a potential method for promoting healthy bowel movements.
The first of these studies was done in India in 2004. To alleviate symptoms of IBS-D, subjects either took loperamide—a drug to control diarrhea—or were taught a set of 12 asanas to be practiced twice a day. The 12 asanas were:Vajrasana, Shashankasana in two variations, Ushtrasana, Marjariasana, Bhujangasana, Padhastasana, Dhanurasana, Trikonasana in two variations, Pawanmuktasana, and Paschimottanasana. The study found that the yogic intervention showed better overall results, in part because subjects were able to regulate anxiety and stress, which are triggers for IBS-D.[xiii]
The second study was done in the U.S. in 2010. Patients preparing for colonoscopies were either asked to drink NuLytely®—a strong laxative solution designed to clear out bowels—or to drink a salt-water solution while practicing the shankha prakshalana yoga postures. The study found that subjects who did the yoga had successful bowel movements sooner and found the procedure more tolerable than the subjects who drank NuLytely®.[xiv]
While the causes of CC—or any gastro-intestinal disturbance—are varied and complex, it is generally agreed that exercise, diets high in fiber, and frequent intake of water contribute to healthy bowel movements. It can be construed that activating the muscles in and around the digestive tract—through proper diet an exercise—is an antidote to constipation. Practicing asanas targeted at activating the GI tract seem to be a gentle and effective way to help alleviate CC.
[i] Jennifer Drost, MMSc, PA-C et al, “Diagnosis and Management of Chronic Constipation,” Journal of the American Academy of Physician Assistants, November 2006, Vol. 19, No. 11, p 24—29.
[ii] MD Drossman A Douglass (Editor), Rome III: The Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders, Degnon Associates Inc., McLean, October 2006. Also available athttp://www.romecriteria.org/assets/pdf/19_RomeIII_apA_885-898.pdf (last visited April 23, 2012).
[iii] Jennifer Drost, MMSc, PA-C et al, “Diagnosis and Management of Chronic Constipation,” Journal of the American Academy of Physician Assistants, November 2006, Vol. 19, No. 11, p 25.
[iv] R. F. Quigley, E.M.M., “Gastrointestinal Motility Problems in Patients with Parkinson’s Disease: Epidemiology, Pathophysiology and Guidelines for Management,” CNS Drugs, 1999, Vol. 11, Issue 6, p 435—448.
[v] See Clare Shefchick, “Heart Disease Linked to Chronic Constipation, Study Finds,” Third Age, June 23, 2011, available athttp://www.thirdage.com/news/heart-disease-linked-to-chronic-constipation-study-finds_06-23-2011 (last visited April 23, 2012).
[vi] Katherine Clark et al., “Current Approaches to Diagnosing and Managing Constipation in Advanced Cancer and Palliative Care,” Journal of Palliative Medicine, April 2010, Vol. 13, Issue 4, p 473—476.
[vii] Mohamad Amin Pourhoseingholi et al., “Obesity and Functional Constipation; a Community-Based Study in Iran,” Research Center of Gastroenterology and Liver Disease, Shahid Beheshti University (M.C.), Tehran, Iran, 2009.
[viii] See Kimberly Pryor, “Obesity and Functional Constipation, Candida and Parasites,” Worldwidehealthcenter.net, June 5, 2006, available athttp://www.worldwidehealthcenter.net/articles-419.html (last seen April 23, 2012).
[ix] See Jay W. Marks, MD, “Diverticulitis (Diverticulosis), MedNet, available athttp://www.medicinenet.com/diverticulosis/article.htm (last seen April 23, 2012).
[x] M. Kojima et al., “Bowel Movement Frequency and Risk of Colorectal Cancer in Large Cohort Study of Japanese Men and Women,” British Journal of Cancer(2004)90(7), p 1397—401.
[xi] See Dr. Richard Schulze, “colon Cancer ‘All Clear’ Breast Cancer Gone,” April 18, 2012, Dr. Richard Schulze Blog, available athttps://herbdocblog.com/article/Answer/colon-cancer-all-clear-breast-cancer-gone/ (last seen April 23, 2012).
[xii] Dr. Bernard Jensen, Dr. Jensen’s Guide to Better Bowel Care: A Complete Program for Tissue Cleansing Through Bowel Management, Avery Trade, New York, 1998, p 46.
[xiii] Indu Taneja et al., “Yogic Versus Conventional Treatment in Diarrhea-Predominant Irritable Bowel Syndrome: a Randomized Control Study,” Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, Vol. 29, No. 1, March 2004, p 19—33.
[xiv] Vjaypal Arya, MD et al, “Efficacy of Bolus Lukewarm Saline and Yoga Postures as Colonoscopy Preparation: A Pilot Study,” The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, Vol. 16, Number 12, 2010, p 1269—1277.