A healthy herbal way to unblock the bowels

16:29, November 17, 2010      

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People suffering from serious constipation may get some relief from a Chinese herbal medicine consisting of hemp seeds and other herbs, a new study finds.

Participants who took 7.5 grams of hemp seed pills (HSP) twice a day, consisting of six different herbs, reported some improvements in their symptoms of constipation and fared better than people taking a placebo pill.

"We believe HSP works to alleviate constipation," says study author Dr Bian Zhaoxiang of Hong Kong Baptist University.

HSP is a classic formula in traditional Chinese medicine and has been used to treat constipation for more than 1,000 years. In theory, the herbs work in combination, acting as a purgative and laxative, and also improving the additional problems associated with constipation, such as dry mouth and trouble sleeping, Bian explains.

All of the participants had a form of constipation known in traditional Chinese medicine as the "excessive syndrome," in which qi, or energy, accumulates, causing the bowels to dry out. People with this form of constipation have trouble passing stools, feel as if they have not emptied completely, develop a dry yellow coating on their tongue and have abdominal swelling or pain.

During the study, Bian and colleagues first tested different doses of HSP on 96 people with constipation and found that 7.5 grams twice per day, in the form of granules dissolved in 150 milliliters of hot water, appeared most effective.

They then randomly split 120 people with constipation into two groups - a placebo and treatment group, both of which consumed their assigned regimen twice per day for eight weeks.

Forty-three percent of people who received HSP reported an increase in complete bowel movements, an improvement seen in only 8 percent of those taking the placebo. Those receiving HSP were also more likely to say they felt better, the authors note in the American Journal of Gastroenterology.

However, people taking HSP were also more likely to report potential side effects, such as stomach pain, cramping or bloating. Bian explains that upon investigation, HSP users rated the symptoms as less severe than before beginning treatment and most were just as bad as what the placebo group reported.

The authors also took blood samples from all participants and did not notice any effect on the liver or kidneys. "Thus, we concluded that HSP was safe for alleviating constipation."

The cost for each dose is roughly $1. HSP can be purchased online without a prescription, but just because herbal medicine is "natural" doesn't mean it's always safe, the researcher cautions. Some sellers fail to ensure the medicine contains the right ingredients and lacks contaminants.

As a result, the authors recommend patients only purchase herbal medicine from a reputable seller, and "only under the guidance of registered Chinese medicine practitioners".

Dr John Johanson of the University of Illinois College of Medicine, who did not participate in the study, says he was pleased to see that the researchers tested the therapy "rigorously" by comparing it to a placebo.

However, the patients included in the study were very constipated, and even though they appeared to improve while taking HSP, they were still technically constipated, Johanson notes.

The standard definition of constipation is 3 or fewer complete bowel movements per week, Johanson explains. People who took HSP increased their bowel movements from an average of less than 1 per week to more than 1.5 - an improvement, but not a dramatic one, he notes.

People with constipation are typically advised to first try a high fiber diet, sometimes with fiber supplements, drink more water and exercise, Johanson notes. If these steps don't work, they can try other over-the-counter products such as stool softeners, milk of magnesia, and laxatives.

Source: China Daily


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