When it comes to bowel movements, “regularity” can have many definitions. Most North Americans would probably consider having one movement per day to be pretty regular, but it could be considered constipated for others. How do we tell the difference?
First, I think it’s important to understand the basic mechanism of our bowels. When we eat, as we chew our food (hopefully very thoroughly) it descends down our esophagus and enters the stomach. Many assume that this is where digestion commences, but the process has actually already begun in our mouth.
After our proteins have been broken down in the stomach, the chyme (or our partially digested food) enters the small intestine where the majority of absorption takes place, with the aid of digestive juices from the liver and pancreas. If either of these organs is compromised, you’ll have trouble with absorption – especially with fats and fat-soluble vitamins if the liver isn’t performing.
The chyme then twists, turns and scurries through the small intestine until it reaches the large intestine. The large intestine mostly absorbs water, and is really just prepping for elimination. After the large intestine, we enter (and exit) the rectum – and we all pretty much know what happens from there. Altogether, this process should take about 12 to 18 hours.
How do we know our “transit time”? There’s a simple way of finding out. Do you like beets? Or corn? I prefer beets because they’re full of antioxidants and they’re so delicious it’s easy to consume a large quantity of them. If none of these foods appeal to you, taking charcoal tablets (available at your local health store) will have the same effect.
Basically, you just eat your chosen food and wait. If you see them in less than twelve hours, it could mean you’re not absorbing all your nutrients. If you see them only after 18 hours, you could be absorbing toxins that were meant for elimination. The longer stool stays in your system, the more that will be absorbed, including water, which makes it even harder to pass.
Although the National Institute for Diabetes, Kidney and Digestive Diseasesstates that it can be perfectly normal for some people to have as few as three bowel movements a week, I think we should all aim for at least one a day. If we’re not eliminating efficiently and consistently, our liver can be taxed due to the excess detoxification. What’s more, constipation can also be a root cause of acne. Of course, at the opposite end of the spectrum, there are those who poop more than three times daily. This could also lead to problems of deficiency, as they may not be absorbing many nutrients because food is passing through them too quickly.
The Bristol Stool Chart states there are seven different types of stool,ranging from the very loose (which is basically just a mode of detoxification), to the very dry and difficult to pass – which is constipation at its most obvious. The difference in this range is basically just water content. All stool contains the remainder of undigested food – mostly indigestible fiber, dead cells, the metabolic waste of cells, cholesterol, salts, protein and fats.
When all this sits for too long, your system continues to absorb wateralong with toxins. This could be why there’s a huge correlation between constipation and colon cancer. According to the Cancer Atlas, countries with the most rampant cases of colon cancer are developed nations that eat the largest amount of refined foods. In other words, North America.
Regular bowel movements are clearly an important part of maintaining health, so how do wemake sure we’re regular? The first thing everybody should do is maintain hydration and exercise. It may sound redundant, but the importance of these two things can’t be stressed enough as hydration truly helps with almost every ailment out there.
Dietary fiber intake is also an important factor. The insoluble kind makes up the bulk of your stool – think of celery, a great insoluble fiber source. So are most plants and some grains. But be wary of products that boast their fiber content, especially if they contain psyllium fiber. Don’t get me wrong – psyllium is great. It’s the hull of the grain and it acts as a sort of scrubber for your intestines and can really clean you out. But it’s crucial to drink a large amount of water with it or it can really clog you up – the exact opposite of what we’re aiming for!
In my opinion, the best source of fiber is eating the skins of fruits and vegetables along with their “meat”. The skin is the often the most nutrient-dense, fiber-rich part of the plant. And when you eat the skins of fruits, you slow down the glucose spike in your blood. With so much goodness coming from the skin of fruits and vegetables, Mother Nature knew what she was doing when she packaged her food.
One of the biggest contributors to bowel health that’s often overlooked isstress. Not only does stress aggravate every health condition, it’s also directly linked to many. For example, many people who suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome say the onset of their condition began during a very stressful or transitional time for them. This is another reason to consider exercise as a major reliever of digestive issues. Movement (not just in your bowels) moves things along while alleviating stress; it’s necessary maintenance.
What do we do when our maintenance system fails us? If you’re eating a mostly whole food diet, rich in plants and whole grains, getting plenty of water and still finding that you’re irregular, there are a couple of natural ways to get the system moving. Fish Oil really helps your body stay lubricated, and it can be used in a pinch in a high dose (3000 – 5000mg) at night. By morning, everything should clear out.
Taking a high quality calcium-magnesium supplement will also aid your bowels, and if taken before bed, it can also relax you and help you sleep. The ratio for calcium to magnesium should be one-to-one if constipation is the issue. Otherwise, two-to-one is the normal recommendation. Also, it’s recently been understood that magnesium gluconate may be the form most easily absorbed by the body. Flax is another greatsource of fiber and the essential fatty acids (Omega 3 and 6).
Meanwhile, some people swear by laxatives. If you need help once in awhile a laxative is perfectly acceptable, but we have to be careful. Overuse of laxatives can create a “lazy bowel” and actually hinder our natural elimination process.
Some people also swear by their morning coffee to get things moving, but it’s been suggested that people who struggle with constipation should actually avoid caffeine, along with dairy products, fried and/or processed foods, sugar and yeast products. These things – especially saturated animal fats – can clog up the digestive process and make elimination more difficult.
Avoiding these things is important, but if you still have a problem despite all your efforts, it’s important to consult your doctor – it could be linked to a blockage or malformation.