Wow, if you’re looking for a controversial health subject you need look no further than bowel movements! How frequently should we be going to the toilet? What is the best type of poo, or stool if you prefer, to be passing?
In Naturopathic philosophy the health of the gut, is closely related to our overall health. An unhealthy colon or bowel will show in the skin, the eyes, immune function, brain function and even reproductive health. One of the simplest and easiest ways we can start to take care of the health of our gut is to empty the wastes regularly!
Let me explain how we got started on this topic….
We were recently talking with a client about bowel movements and the importance of regular bowel movements. We were both on the same page, until I decided to take the plunge and clarify the issue of frequency. Let’s just say that, while one bowel movement a week at 9am on Sunday’s is regular! It is certainly not the type of regularity we believe in.
The problem with bowel habits, is that it is somewhat of a taboo subject in our society. We tend to acquire the bowel habits of our family based on sharing a similar lifestyle and diet, these then form our only real comparison for assessing our own habits.
How Frequently Should I Go?
The research is divided on what constitutes an ideal bowel movement frequency to reduce the risk of bowel and colon cancer. In part, this is due to increased risk of bowel cancer occurring at both ends of the spectrum. There are a number of reasons for this:
- Inflammatory bowel disease and other gastrointestinal disorders are on the increase. In addition to being characterised by inflammation of the bowel, and hence often irritation to the bowel wall and an increase in frequency, these conditions also increase the risk of bowel cancer;
- Diagnosis of bowel or colon problems will often result in improved dietary habits that will improve bowel movement frequency;
As Naturopaths, we believe daily bowel movements are vital for overall health and wellbeing. Often, when explaining this to our clients, we use the analogy of a garbage chute in an apartment building. Our bowel, in many ways is similar to this garbage chute. A blockage, problems with emptying, or even just delays will not make the tenants on the top floor very happy!
Bernard Jenson, widely regarded as a leader in the field of Naturopathy, once wrote that “when the bowel is under-active, toxic wastes are more likely to be absorbed through the bowel wall and into the blood stream. The blood then circulates these toxins to every part of the body and deposits some of them in tissues, with the greatest amount retained in the constitutionally weakest tissues.”
One of the best ways to prevent this accumulation of toxic wastes is through the regular and frequent movement of our bowels.
What Should It Look Like?
The importance of our bowel movements to health can be seen in the almost subconscious look that most of us take after we have been to the toilet. It’s clear that even we might not really be aware of it, at some level most of us acknowledge that there is a connection between what comes out, and how we feel.
Research has found a range of different stool formations. These have been divided into six different categories that are frequently listed in what is commonly referred to as the Bristol Stool Chart. A copy of the Bristol Stool Chart is shown to right.
Using the Bristol Stool Chart as a guide, ideal stool formation is shown in categories 3 & 4. These are showing sufficient fibre for proper formation and sufficient water intake to allow them to be passed easily.
How to Improve the Plumbing?
So if things are a little slow, or, not really formed the way they should be what can we do to get the plumbing back on track?
Increase Fibre Intake
Fibre and water intake are commonly discussed as ideal ways to improve bowel movement frequency. Most people involved in nutritional medicine typically recommend between 20-30 grams of fibre per day and at least 2L of pure, fresh, water. A typical western diet however is sadly lacking in both fibre and water. The best sources of fibre are those derived from vegetables rather than relying on fibre from grains and cereals. The fibre found in vegetables has higher concentrations of soluble fibre, compared to the insoluble fibre common in grains.
If you’ve been reading our articles regularly you will know we are strong believes in regular exercise. Exercise benefits our bowel health just as much as our cardiovascular system and musculoskeletal system. In fact, research has consistently shown that exercise is a highly effective method to improve peristalsis, the pumping motion of the bowel, and to improve the frequency of our bowel movements.
Take a Probiotic
Maybe you’ve thought that probiotics are only for IBS or diarrhoea?
The maintenance of beneficial bacteria in our bowel has a major impact on our bowel movements. In another of our bodies imbalance dilemmas, constipation, slow transit time, and infrequent bowel movements all contribute to a bacterial imbalance and lead to a spiral of ever slowing bowel function.
In these cases, supplementation with a high quality, probiotic supplement can allow our body to re-colonise leading to improvements in our bowel movement frequency and overall bowel health.
Use Herbs to Promote Peristalsis
Peristalsis is the gentle, pumping movement of our bowel and colon that moves bowel contents through the colon. We regularly find that our modern, busy, stressful lives can lead to a condition we refer to as spastic colon. This is where nervous system innervation to the colon has been interrupted, due to stress, anxiety, trauma and injury, resulting in peristalsis ceasing, or being reduced. Restoring normal bowel frequency requires that peristalsis be resumed.
Herbs with anti-spasmodic actions are used to reduce the spasm in the colon and allow peristalsis to resume. Some good anti-spasmodic herbs include:
Aren’t we suggesting laxatives you might ask? Well, yes and well, no.
Unlike many pharmaceutical laxatives that purely liquify the contents of the colon, herbal supplements will work to re-stimulate peristaltic motion. Yes, they will both produce a bowel movement, however herbal formulations like cascara and rhubarb are working to remove the underlying muscular contraction that has created problems.
Are you concerned about your bowel health?
If you are concerned about your bowel health, or have a family history of bowel problems, talk to our Naturopath today. We can help you with dietary and lifestyle advice to improve bowel function.
We also offer non-invasive tests, including urine and stool analysis, that help in giving a thorough understanding of your bowel health.