A healthy bowel is central to the health of every cell in your body. A sluggish or damaged intestine can only mean one thing; toxins meant to be eliminated from the body are circulating in your blood stream. It is of utmost importance to correct this condition. You can imagine the burden this places on your organs and tissues, being constantly exposed to chemicals, drugs, hormones, and other damaging products. Over time it can be devastating.
Now for the scoop on poop. You should have at least one healthy bowel movement per day which is 12 inches or longer and 1 inch in diameter. It should be the consistency of a ripe peeled banana and hold its shape in the bowl, that is, it should not disintegrate. Colour may range from light to dark brown. If it is black, grey, or you can see blood, tell your doctor.
Anything other than the above description indicates an abnormal situation. Occasional variations will occur due to diet and state of health but anything that is ongoing or chronically recurring should be discussed with a health care professional.
The Three ‘Fs’ of healthy bowel functioning:
Fluid, Fiber and Flora.
Fluid -We must drink enough water for many reasons but as far as digestion is concerned it may be obvious that constipation will result if we become dehydrated. Be sure to drink one to two liters of healthy fluids per day, depending on the weather and your activity level.
Fiber is necessary to absorb fluids, bulk up the stool and give something for the colonic muscles to work on. There are two types of fiber: insoluble and soluble. Most whole foods contain a combination of both. Insoluble fibers are the type that cannot be digested and simply contribute bulk. Foods high in these include wheat bran, psyllium, legumes, and popcorn. Soluble fiber is the type found in apples, oats, flax, and Jerusalem artichokes. This type of fiber has the ability to bind with cholesterol to remove it, mix with dietary carbohydrates to slow their absorption therefore regulate blood sugar levels, facilitate the safe removal of toxins, and feed the good bacteria. Both types contribute to normal pH. It is not necessary to concern yourself with getting the right ratios of these two, just keep in mind that if drinking lots of fluid is a challenge for you, then increase your soluble fiber, as insoluble fiber will aggravate constipation without enough fluid. Health Canada recommends we try to get 30 to 35 grams of fiber per day, the average North American get closer to 10, while our hunter/gatherer ancestors got closer to 100. That’s right, 100 grams of fiber per day! So basically you can’t get too much, however, it is wise to build up gradually so as to retrain the bowel. Otherwise things will get, shall we say, uncomfortable.
Flora – The cells that make up your body add up to around 10 trillion cells (10,000,000,000,000). The bacteria in your gut outnumber these by ten to one! There are between 400 and 1000 different species known while only 40 to 60 of these make up the majority. At least 60% of the fecal matter that makes up a healthy bowel movement should be composed of dead bacteria, which illustrates their importance. A healthy bacterial colony is important for many reasons but as far as motility is concerned, sheer bulk is the main factor, since the largest portion of a healthy bowel movement, 70 to 90%, of fecal matter is dead bacteria!
Now, let’s talk about what exactly a healthy bowel movement is. This is not something we usually discuss, makes us squirm in our chairs, but it is of paramount importance to know what should be happening and take immediate steps to correct any irregularities. So, we need to have at least one large bowel movement per day, ideally 3 believe it or not, one following each meal. This is where the 100 grams of fiber comes in. We want to produce something approximately 12” long and at least 1” in diameter. It should hold more or less together and be medium to dark brown in colour.
Bile salts stimulate the secretion of water into the intestine (and influence motility) so the liver has an important role here.
Fibers come in two categories; soluble and insoluble. They both absorb water to add bulk to the stool which triggers peristalsis (gets the bowel muscles working), but insoluble fiber is digested by intestinal flora, supporting their colonies. Many things trigger peristalsis but an important one is the presence of food in the duodenum. If these urges are ignored and put off habitually, then reduced motility and constipation ensue. The chronic use of laxatives will bring about a dependency on these substances to the end that peristalsis will not occur without such stimulation. If you use laxatives, switch to herbal types then wean yourself off of them slowly, while making other changes in diet and exercise habits. A sedentary lifestyle slows bowel motility considerably. Exercise is required to keep the abdominal and other accessory muscles in shape.
The underlying cause of constipation must first be addressed as in; short term use of laxatives or colonic irrigation, removing constipating influences like certain drugs, beverages, and foods, relieving spasm and inflammation as indicated, and increasing dietary fluids like fruit and vegetable juices, herbal teas, and water. The change most people find the most difficult is dietary. The biggest culprits in constipation are dairy products and bread. Initially, you will have to eliminate or drastically reduce these. When things improve you may be able eat these foods in moderation.
Healing the intestinal mucosa may be necessary before gradual introduction of roughage with a high (80%) level of soluble fiber.
Sometimes constipation is the result of a spastic bowel. This is found in people with anxiety, and is far more common in women. These people will benefit from stool softeners, relaxation exercises, counseling, and herbal nerve relaxants and antispasmodics.
Healthy bowel function starts with healthy digestion. Many people have an insufficient amount of stomach acid and should take a little apple cider vinegar or hydrochloric acid at the beginning of each meal. Digestive enzymes or bitters can be taken at each meal as well.
- Drink 2 liters of pure water every day. This amount can include herb tea and diluted juice.
- Chew food thoroughly! Digestion begins in the mouth, as food gets mechanically broken down, and certain enzymes in saliva are added to get things going. Get dental work done if required and be sure your dentures are properly fitted.
- Eat organic yogurt or other sources of beneficial bacteria like kefir, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, kimchi, etc. Remember that these bacteria are killed by heat so buy unprocessed products. It is best initially to take these in supplement form as well.
There are more bacteria and microbes in our body than actual cells that make up the body.
- Reduce black tea consumption. It has a drying effect on the bowel.
- Gradually increase fiber consumption: fruits, vegetables, oatmeal, oat bran, ground flax, Slippery Elm, small amounts of wheat bran or psyllium. There are several good fiber supplements available so ask at your supplement store.
- Use a small stool or phone book in front of the toilet to elevate your knees above your hips. This works!
- Observe good posture at all times.
- Create a routine to promote a regular time to have a bowel movement, and stick to it even if unsuccessful.
- Get daily exercise. Yoga is great for this.