What to do about...ahem...constipation?

Dr. Brenda Gill
By Dr. Brenda Gill
February 13th, 2012

One of the topics that few people talk about is bowel habits; however, it is one of the most important keys to health.  Long ago, I stopped asking how many bowel movements a day and now ask “How many bowel movements?” It no longer surprises me when someone says “Oh, once a week or every 3-4 days!” It is essential that people, including children, have at least 1 bowel movement/day, ideally 2 to 3 per day.

By-products, toxins, degraded hormones all sit in the lower bowel ready to be excreted. If this remains for 2-3 days, then they can re-circulate, re-enter the bloodstream and target organs in the body. This can have many effects such as damaging the organs, veins or arteries, over-loading the immune system, liver and kidney, as well as over-influencing the target organs such as the ovaries, uterus and prostate. All these effects can cause long-lasting damage and inevitable health problems.

So, what can we do to improve bowel function?

The first thing I stress is water or herbal tea.  Again, I emphasize the need for generally 3-5 (children)/5-8 glasses (adults)/day. You should be drinking ½ your weight in water, so, if you weigh 150 pounds, you should be drinking 75 oz/day or 7-8 glasses/day. This is like having a shower from the inside; it helps rinse out waste materials/toxins/hormone breakdown products and other by-products from the body.

Many people say they don’t like the taste of water. One of the options you can do is fill a glass gallon jar of water and let it sit out overnight to gas off the chlorine in the water, which is unfortunately present in our water supply.  This will remove a little of the chlorine. Brita filters do the same thing. They remove the taste of the chlorine, but, don’t fully remove it, but you are storing it in plastic, which may leach estrogen-like compounds into the water. These may target the ovaries, uterus and prostate negatively.

A much better idea is to buy a good filter that can be put on the counter or mounted under the sink. There should be a solid porcelain filter, which filters out bacteria, viruses and fungus and a solid carbon block filter, which filters out any heavy metals or other chemicals.  Another idea is to make a pot of herbal tea, such as lemon/orange or raspberry zinger that can be stored in the fridge and drink that for your fluid. Another possibility is to add a small amount of juice (1/4 of the glass) to give it flavour if you need to wean children off of sugary juices.

Secondly, you need to minimize any stimulant drink, such as coffee, black/green tea, herba mate, honeybush, rooibos or soft drinks. These make your bowels lazy because they are a stimulant, so, your body gets used to having something else do the job of moving the materials along the colon. They also acidify the system, which doesn’t allow the body to detoxify and are all diuretics, again solidifying the stools. Many patients talk about pellet like stools and that is usually the reason.   

Thirdly, we need fibre in our diets. We should be eating whole grain cereals, brown rice, whole grain bread and pasta. Many tell me they eat whole grain bread, but tend to eat white pasta, rice and refined cereal. Not only do we need the fibre from these grains, but also, this helps to stabilize our blood sugar, minimize weight gain and prevent cravings. I tend to suggest adding 1-2 tbsp. of oat bran or psyllium husk to morning cereal to increase the fibre content. Of course, we also get some fibre in fruit and vegetables that help contribute to the total. 

Thirdly, we need to minimize cheese. The medicine most widely prescribed in France is laxatives, due to the cheese consumption. Cheese should be used as a condiment–sprinkled on pasta or salad, not as a protein source. Cheese is the most common source of non-useable calories, so causes weight gain. It also causes plaquing on the walls of veins, arteries and other vessels, which can lead to arteriosclerosis, atherosclerosis, and heart attacks.

And if all else fails, there is the tried and true solution of 5-6 prunes/day or a glass of prune juice.

This should give you some hints on improving bowel function. 

Brenda Gill is a naturopath practising in Rossland and Nelson.

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