Over the course of my 50 years, I've ingested quite a few different products to try to get things moving in my digestive tract. Several of these experiences stick with me to this day because they were so extremely unpleasant.
For example, there was this one time....
...in college, that I returned from a weekend workshop with my sorority. Two full days of eating catered hotel food had led to a whole lot of nothing in the bathroom. In fact, I didn't go #2 the entire weekend. Me and my fellow sorority sister, who was also constipated, decided to try Ex-Lax, an oral laxative. The chocolate squares looked innocent enough, and actually kinda yummy. While they didn't taste much like a Hershey bar, they weren't terrible. However, after ingesting the recommended dose, it didn't seem like much was happening down there. The marketing copy on the package promised that it would work gently and effectively overnight. My friend and I decided we could not wait that long and that having multiple of the recommended servings couldn't hurt. That was a far more effective strategy, but 100% not gentle. For a good 24 hours, I did not want to be more than half a second from a toilet. My girlfriend and I commiserated - on the toilet and on the phone together - alternating between tears and hysterical laughter over our shared situation. Thankful though that it was just the runs that we got. Apparently, five years after our little episode with Ex-Lax, versions of the product were removed from store shelves as a main ingredient was linked to cancer in rats and mice. Good to know!
Then, there was this other time....
...in business school, when I was away with my then-boyfriend. At b-school, I had been subsisting on Diet Cokes, coffee, pasta, popcorn, blow pops, burritos, and booze. Not a recipe for a healthy digestive system. As luck would have it, my diet and lifestyle caught up with me on this trip. While I constantly felt like I needed to go poo, no amount of squeezing, pressing, pushing, or wincing was helping. When I got up in the middle of the night to try again, I ended up pushing so hard that I had a vasovagal response - a stimulation of the vagus nerve, the longest nerve of the autonomic nervous system that interfaces with the heart, lung, and digestive tract.
In human-speak, this means that my blood pressure and heart rate dropped, I got super dizzy, I wobbled back into the bedroom where we were sleeping, and collapsed at the foot of the bed. Needless to say, the boyfriend was totally freaked out. I had to confess to him that I thought it had to do with a system back-up. Extremely humiliating, yes, but thankfully he seemed far more concerned about my condition than disgusted. He took the initiative to phone a medical hotline which advised that I drink a bottle of magnesium citrate - or at least that was the message he heard. Given the outcome, I have a feeling that this might not have been quite accurate.
Within the hour, I had commissioned the bathroom for the night and went through an experience that to this day I have no words to describe. The only thing that has racked my body so violently since then is childbirth. I honestly do not know how my body contained what came out of it. I could not agree more with this anonymous statement from another victim of a bottle of magnesium citrate: "Unless told by your doctor, do not ever take a whole bottle of this stuff. It's been one of the worst experiences of all my years.” I hear ya my friend, and wish I could give you a hug because I know the physical and emotional trauma you have been through!
And then there was this other time....
....when I worked in marketing for Coca-Cola in Atlanta, Georgia, and was experiencing periodic bouts of excruciating stomach pains. The way I would describe the painful sensations to my family and friends was, "someone is inside my belly trying to stab their way out with a knife." The pain would buckle me at the most inconvenient times - at work, out with friends, traveling on a plane. I went to a variety of traditional doctors. One diagnosed me with Irritable Bowel Syndrome and gave me some pills to take - not only did they not relieve my issues, they caused extreme lethargy and coincidentally/ironically made me feel like crap. I also took a lactose intolerance test and was diagnosed with a mild case. This sure was helpful information because I was downing a venti Starbuck's skim milk hot chocolate once a day and at least a couple of yogurts. However, even after minimizing my dairy intake, my issues were not resolved.
I then got a recommendation from a guy I was dating to try acupuncture. This was my introduction to Traditional Chinese Medicine and perhaps one of the first experiences that triggered a lifelong interest in holistic medicine. (Hey, the guy may not have been the right one, but, as they say, people come into your life for a reason.)
In addition to undergoing weekly acupuncture sessions, I was prescribed some herbal treatments. The two that I distinctly remember were*:
(1) Black licorice root extract. I absolutely hated black licorice (and black jelly beans!) when I was a kid. No different as an adult. So, taking these drops every day was an exercise in self-torture. However, the expected benefits outweighed my disgust with the taste. Black licorice root extract is considered to have strong anti-inflammatory properties and is often used as a natural laxative, helping with constipation and as an aid for digestive problems.
(2) Slippery elm bark powder. I'm honestly gagging just writing about this elixir. A spoonful mixed with water becomes a thick glob of sticky material known as mucilage. Appealing, right? Hardly! Unfortunately for me, it is the slimy, red inner bark of the slippery elm that is thought to be a demulcent, which means it's capable of soothing the lining of the stomach and intestines and reducing irritation.
*Please note that you should never take herbal medicine unless prescribed by a licensed practitioner of acupuncture (an L.Ac.) or other equally qualified medical professional.
It took several weeks of acupuncture sessions before I started to feel the positive impact of this protocol. I would leave a treatment feeling cleansed and not wanting to put anything in my system that would disrupt my peaceful tummy feeling. Only problem was that not eating was not an option, nor was not going back to the stress of my work and personal life. While I absolutely believe in the healing benefits of acupuncture and herbal medicines, they didn't have a shot at permanently relieving my pain if I wasn't also willing to change the underlying issues that were exasperating my digestive and butt health....
Stay tuned for Part II of this blog in which I will discuss more longterm "movement" solutions that I've tried.