Millions of packs of laxatives are consumed in Italy every year. These preparations offer a temporary solution to the problem, but aggravate it over time, creating addiction. Peristalsis is the term used to indicate the transit of food through the gastrointestinal tract. This consists in the contraction and relaxation of the circular muscles of the intestine, alternating with the pendular contraction of the longitudinal muscles. In this way the intestines move its contents forward. The slowing of intestinal transit with delay and rarefaction in the excretion of faeces is called constipation. Physiologically, the excretion of faeces varies from 2-3 times a day to once every 2-3 days. Stypsis is defined subjectively as the infrequent or difficult excretion of hard faeces, or objectively as fewer than three excretions a week. Intestinal transit disorders are not limited to constipation but include a plethora of other disorders, such as bloating, irritable bowel, intestinal dysbiosis.
The plants that aid intestinal transit
Disorders of the intestinal transit largely depend on diet and, in particular, the low consumption of fruit, vegetables and plant fibres.
Some medicinal herbs are traditionally known for stimulating intestinal transit. Senna or Cassia, a native shrub of North Africa and the Middle East, arrived in Europe at the time of the Crusades, and is the most commonly used natural laxative that stimulates secretion and intestinal motility. Cascara is a shrub that grows along the Pacific coast of North America. Its bark is used, acting as a bland laxative, restoring the muscle tone of the colon Rhubarb root has been used in China for more than 5000 years for its laxative and bile eliminating action. The flowers and leaves of Mallow have softening properties that aid intestinal transit, without causing irritation. Pythagoras even observed that Mallow has the capacity to ‘reduced the passions and cleansed the stomach and mind’. The condensed juice obtained by cutting Aloe leaves is traditionally used for its bitter-tonic, eupeptic and laxative actions. The high aloin content provides a stimulating action of intestinal peristalsis. Frangula, according to Pietro Crescenzi who introduced it in the 13th century ‘is a small tree that grows in the mountains, its bark can be used as a tea or chewed and is wonderfully laxative.’
Preparations made with highly laxative plants must be avoided during pregnancy, when nursing and when experiencing intestinal inflammation.