A healthy bowel is essential for a healthy life. You can never really achieve optimal health if you have a sluggish or lazy bowel.
Most people eat at least three times a day, therefore it is important to have between one and three thorough bowel movements each day. Having less frequent bowel movements is a sign that your liver and your metabolism in general are not functioning at an optimum level. It also means you will be reabsorbing toxins back into your bloodstream that your body is supposed to be eliminating.
No one feels well when they’re constipated. Apart from bloating and abdominal discomfort, constipation can be a trigger for headaches, irritability and depression, inability to think clearly and concentrate, and it can slow your metabolism, making weight loss impossible.
The good news is there is plenty you can do to correct your bowel habits, and feel a whole lot better in the process.
A normal, healthy stool is a medium brown colour, and a soft log shape. It should hold together in the bowl and not fall apart. The stool should not be small, hard or difficult to pass. It should also not smell overly strong. Bile has a deodorising effect on the stool and people with gallbladder disease usually do not secrete enough bile into their intestines. Therefore they are more prone to having overly offensive smelling stools.
Constipation puts a great strain on your liver and gallbladder
After you have digested the food in your intestines and broken it down into its building blocks, most of the nutrients get absorbed into your bloodstream via a vein called the hepatic portal vein. This vein travels directly to your liver. If you are having regular, thorough bowel movements, the waste in your intestines will be eliminated from your body. However, in a constipated person, the waste remains in the intestines for a much longer period of time, and consequently some of that waste gets reabsorbed back into the bloodstream, and travels straight to your liver.
Constipation also worsens the common hormone imbalance in women known as oestrogen dominance and relative progesterone deficiency. Women are supposed to break down large quantities of oestrogen each day in their liver, and excrete it in bowel motions. Constipated women reabsorb much of that oestrogen and it ends up recirculating back to the liver. This can produce unpleasant symptoms such as PMS, menstrual cramps, heavy periods and tender breasts, but it can also raise the risk of breast or uterine cancer in the future.
Strategies for overcoming constipation
Some people can easily and quickly resolve their constipation just by drinking more water and following a healthy diet. Unfortunately for others the solution is not so simple. A great range of conditions and factors can cause constipation and sometimes fixing the problem is as difficult as solving a murder mystery. Women are more likely to suffer with constipation than men and it is more common in people over the age of 65.
Here are some methods that help most people overcome constipation. Hopefully you’ll find something that works for you:
- Drink approximately 8 to 10 glasses of water or herbal tea each day. Coffee and tea do not count. Tea can make constipation worse because of the tannins it contains.
- Have a blood test to check if you have an under active thyroid. This is an incredibly common cause of constipation in women. Have a blood test for the hormone called TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone). Your blood level should be between 0.3 and 2.5 IU/L. For more information see our book Your Thyroid Problems Solved. We have found there are an enormous amount of women who fall into the gray zone, where their thyroid is not perfect but not yet bad enough for their doctor to pay attention and offer any solutions. This condition is known as subclinical hypothyroidism and it can have a very negative effect on your health and quality of life.
- Make sure you are eating a large volume of fresh vegetables each day. Some can be cooked and some should be raw. Aim for approximately 5 fists full of vegetables each day and one or two pieces of fruit.
- Make sure your liver is producing adequate bile. Bile has a deodorising effect on the stool but the bile salts within it also have a gentle laxative effect on the bowel. Bile is made in the liver and stored in the gallbladder. Your gallbladder secretes bile every time you consume a meal that contains some fat. People with a sluggish liver or fatty liver typically do not make enough bile. Taurine and glycine are two amino acids that your liver uses in order to manufacture bile. The herbs St Mary’s thistle and dandelion root both increase your liver’s ability to produce bile. You can find these amino acids and herbs combined together in supplement form in Fibretone powder.
- Find out if you have a hidden food sensitivity. This is a very common yet under appreciated cause of constipation. The most common culprits are gluten, dairy products, soy, corn, eggs and nuts. It is best to see a naturopath or nutritionist who can help you uncover which foods may be upsetting your digestion. The removal of a problematic food can produce a dramatic improvement in bowel function.
- You might have an overgrowth of bad bacteria, yeast, fungi and Candida in your bowel. This can cause constipation, bloating, flatulence, indigestion and nausea. There are some brilliant herbal products that act as a powerful anti-microbial in the bowel.
- Consider taking a probiotic (good bowel bacteria supplement). A probiotic can mean the difference between healthy bowel habits and chronic constipation. We see that regularly at our clinics.
- Add a gentle source of fibre to your diet such as psyllium, chia seeds, freshly ground flaxseeds or slippery elm. This fibre can be added to smoothies, sprinkled over salad with your lunch or sprinkled over chopped fruit. Psyllium is found in Fibretone powder. A typical dose of Fibretone is one teaspoon twice daily, but some people need more or less. For more information you could call our health advisory line on 02 4655 8855.
- Magnesium promotes healthy bowel function because it relaxes the nerves and muscles of the bowel. In this way it is very helpful for people who hold their stress and tension in their bowel and experience constipation when stressed or travelling. A good dose of magnesium is 400mg per day and this can be achieved with one teaspoon of magnesium powder daily, taken with a meal.
- Exercise is important because it stimulates intestinal contractions, called peristalsis. Getting some kind of movement each day is very important, even if it’s just a walk.