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Q. What can I take to fix constipation?

A. Sluggish bowels may be due to insufficient dietary fibre and liquid intake, stress, medications (including the over-use of laxatives and antacids and some high blood pressure drugs and antidepressants), and lack of exercise.

For those times when you need some gentle assistance, try these natural remedies.

* Ground psyllium and flaxseed: Both make the stools larger, softer, and easier to pass; they can be used daily. Be sure to have them with plenty of water to facilitate the passage of extra bulk through the digestive tract.

* Prunes and dandelion tea: You can also try prune juice or dried prunes for their laxative effects; they're gentle enough to use with other supplements. Or, drink dandelion root tea, which has mild laxative and stimulant properties.

* Magnesium: Can't go to the toilet unless you have coffee and/or a cigarette? This signifies a tense bowel, as both caffeine and nicotine relax smooth muscle. Magnesium tablets reduce muscle spasms, and are a healthier option.

* Take a teaspoon of digestive bitters in water before dinner. It contains rhubarb, thistle, and aloe vera which stimulate production of bile, the body’s own laxative.

Lynda Wharton is an acupuncturist and naturopath, and the author of Well-Being – an essential guide to vibrant good health for women (HarperCollins). Contact Lynda at lynda@lyndawharton.com.