Conventional medicine defines normal motility as one bowel movement every 2-3 days. Natural health practitioners believe that 2-3 bowel movements per day are necessary for optimal health, not only for the bowel but for the entire body. Clearly, constipation is a much greater health problem than current estimates show.
But constipation is more than a daily number. Those who suffer from it often describe their complaints in other terms:
- dry, hard and lumpy stools
- straining to have a movement
- incomplete evacuation or feeling like you still need to go
- stress over the difficulty in passing a stool
Constipation slows down the time it takes food to pass through the body, from eating to elimination. When this time is less than 24 hours, putrefied material stays in the colon too long, allowing toxins to enter the bloodstream through the intestinal walls. This buildup also reduces the absorption of desirable nutrients needed for energy and vitality. This is why so many constipated people complain of fatigue and depression.
Studies have shown that constipation may create more risks to your health than how you feel on a given day. Certain types of cancer, especially colon cancer and in some cases breast cancer, may be linked to improper elimination. Stress, anxiety, sleep disruption, and sexual dysfunction are often reported. Depression and serious skin problems have been linked to “autointoxication” which occurs when toxic substances leak from the bowel into the bloodstream.
The School of Stool:
Color – Walnut brown is best. You may experience temporary discoloration if you eat certain foods such as beets (blood red!) or dark green vegetables (dense green).
Length and consistency – Stools should have the consistency of toothpaste, and the length of a banana. Pellet-like stools may indicate dehydration or insufficient fiber in the diet.
Frequency – At a minimum, one good bowel movement per day, but 2-3 is ideal.
Gas and odor – Gas is the natural by-product of digestion. Nevertheless, excessive or extremely foul-smelling gas indicates a problem.
Sink or float – Think submarine: leaves port with ease, settles in the water and gently submerges. And be sure to look before you flush! If it sinks like a rock – get more fiber into your daily diet. Floats like a boat – too much-undigested fat.
Creating a Movement, or How to get the C.R.A.P. Out
Change your Diet
Our North American diet is where the C.R.A.P. begins: Coffee, Refined sugars and starch, Alcohol, Processed foods. You are likely already feeling guilty over too much C and A in your diet and we won’t be talking about them here, but eliminating or cutting way back on fast and processed foods – with their overabundance of refined sugar and starch – is the best first start towards your goal of 2-4 bowel movements a day. Fill the newfound space on your plate with more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
Consume more Fiber
Think of fiber as the janitor of your digestive tract. Your colon needs both types to be healthy – soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber soaks stuff up like a sponge, and insoluble fiber scrubs things out like a scrub brush. Some dietary sources of soluble fiber include apples, carrots, barley, legumes, oranges, and peas; sources of insoluble fiber include wheat bran, fruit and vegetable skins, flaxseed, and oatmeal. Most food sources of fiber contain both soluble and insoluble fiber.
Drink more Water
Constipation is often caused by dehydration. If you don’t drink enough fluids, the little water you receive from food will be absorbed quickly into your body. So how much fluid do you need in a day? The answer is a simple formula: one-half of your body weight (lbs.) in ounces of water. So, for example, if you weigh 140 pounds you would require 70 ounces of fluid. Increased physical activity or a hotter climate would increase your requirements.
NOTE: alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it dehydrates your body. Coffee and tea are also diuretics, but they don’t have a significant effect.
Add Essential Fatty Acids
The body uses essential fatty acids (EFAs) to build soft and healthy skin, and to lubricate the colon, giving you smoother and gentler bowel movements. EFAs can be found in raw nuts, seeds, and cold-water fish. If those things are not part of your daily diet, consider supplements.
Now you have another reason to finally start exercising. Exercise stimulates lymphatic flow which helps keep you regular and avoid constipation. Aim to exercise at least three times a week for ½ hour each. Walking counts!
Keep to a Routine
Changing when and how much you eat, and when and how much you sleep, can lead to constipation. Try to stick to a schedule as much as possible, even when you travel. And don’t be in a rush! Allow for enough throne time, even if it means waking up a little earlier in the morning. Over time, ignoring the urge can stall the purge.
Watch Your Medications
Many medications can cause constipation: anti-depressants, pain medications, antacids, diuretics, cholesterol-lowering drugs, and antibiotics. Check the information included with the drug’s packaging for side effects or consult your pharmacist or doctor.