I’m finally getting back to writing and I can’t believe we are into November already! Our house was a flutter of activity over the past few months – kids coming, going, coming back again….even though we live in a relatively COVID-safe part of North America, it continues to affect our lives in one way or another. With the start of fall and the new school year, my attention was being pulled in other directions, but now that things are starting to settle out a bit, I’m back at it!
I’m jumping back into the blog to talk about the importance of the good ol’ #2! I’m shocked by how many of my clients don’t have daily bowel movements and think nothing of it. The medical community considers it all good as long as you’re going 3 times a week, so I suppose that’s why many of us don’t think it’s a big deal if we’re not “dumping” daily (sorry, I couldn’t resist!). I dealt with constipation growing up and into my adult life, but other than how uncomfortable it made me feel, I certainly never worried about it. I look at it very differently now, however, as I believe it played a role in my developing RA by adding to my body’s toxic load. It most certainly didn’t help! Bowel movements play a more significant role in overall health than most of us realize. Think about it – stool is made up of toxins and waste from the body, so it’s not surprising that it can cause health problems if left to linger inside the body.
Quite literally, we gotta get that sh*t out!
If you struggle with constipation (or don’t have a #2 every day), you’re not alone. Up to 28% of people in North America are affected by constipation and with that, over $725 million are spent on laxatives every year! From a functional nutrition standpoint, it’s super important to be eliminating at least once a day – and more is even better! Bowel transit time is the time it takes for food to move through your digestive tract, from when it’s first put into your mouth to the time it comes out the other end, and optimal bowel transit time is 12-24 hours. If you’re only moving your bowels every few days, the toxins and waste generated from detoxification and other processes are kept in your body too long. I recently heard a great quote on this topic: “If you’re not detoxing daily, you’re retoxing daily”(Dr. Jeffery S. Bland). Toxins left in the large intestine can be reabsorbed into the bloodstream and recirculated throughout the body and waste products that sit in the colon feed bad bacteria. Both scenarios lead to increased inflammation in the body and in case you missed it all the other times I’ve said it…
Inflammation leads to serious health issues!
Simply put, if you’re not moving your bowels at least daily, your health can be affected. It might not seem like a big deal because it won’t happen instantly, but over time it can be a catalyst for some real problems in your body. Fatigue, leaky gut, joint pain, autoimmune conditions (Hello!), hormone imbalances, poor nutrient absorption, mood disorders, tissue damage, bacteria imbalance, and even things like blockage or perforation (with more consistent constipation) are all very real possibilities. Because the reactions aren’t immediate, we tend not to associate these problems with insufficient bowel activity. It’s a good habit for everyone to get into keeping better track of those trips to the bathroom, but especially if you’re struggling with any of these issues.
Daily bowel movements are particularly important for women because excess estrogen is excreted in the stool. After estrogen is metabolized in the liver, the estrogen byproducts are “packaged” to be eliminated from the body via the stool. If not eliminated daily, these “packages” can be broken apart and allowed to recirculate in the body. This not only increases estrogen levels in the body (which is not a good thing), but this excess estrogen is far more potent and dangerous when allowed to go back through the body a second time. This could be an entire blog post all on its own, but just know that as a women, it’s extra important to make sure you’re eliminating regularly, ideally at least once every day.
Unfortunately, the typical diet and lifestyles these days contribute greatly to bowel function (or lack thereof). Diets high in processed foods and sugar, chronically stressful lives, and lack of movement are quite a normal way of living for many folks, but are not good for bowel health. Medications like pain killers, antidepressants, iron supplements, and antacids can slow bowel function and lead to less frequent bowel movements and eventually, constipation. Genetics is also a factor.
Easy ways to get things moving…
The great thing about all of this is that it’s quite easy to improve your bowel habits and eliminate constipation through diet and lifestyle modifications. The added bonus is that these recommendations aren’t just going to improve bowel health and function, but they’re also going to improve your overall health and leave you feeling so much better. I promise! These are my top recommendations for getting those bowels moving more:
- Water! Water! Water! This has become my mantra to anyone around me who will listen. Increasing your daily water intake will make a huge difference in the regularity of your bowel function and therefore increasing toxin removal from your body. With more water in your body, stools will be softer and move more freely and easily through your system. My recommendation is to drink half your weight, in ounces, everyday (increase that amount if exercising and/or doing a lot of sweating). Think of it as an ongoing challenge, understanding that it may take a little while to get there. A water tracker app is a great help for keeping track of your water intake until you’re in the habit of drinking that much water daily. Be sure to only count water and herbal tea – it’s fine to drink other liquids, but only unsweetened, non-caffeinated beverages count for the water goal.
- Use Food as Medicine! Often, the go-to when dealing with constipation is to use a laxative or other bowel softening aid, but choosing to eat more of the right foods and eliminating the wrong ones will help encourage bowel regularity, drug free (and can be much gentler on the body). Simply increasing your fruit and vegetable intake to four to five servings everyday will work wonders for getting things moving. Adding in other fiber options such as chia, flax, hemp and psyllium will also do the trick nicely. Not only will these fibers help move things along, they also act as a bit of a “brush” for the inside of the bowel, ensuring things don’t get let behind in there. One important note when adding more fiber to your diet it to be sure to also follow #1 above – you need to be drinking A LOT of water with increased fiber to keep everything soft and make sure they don’t end up like cement in your digestive tract. Besides increasing these nutrient dense foods in your diet, it’s also a good idea to cut back (or cut out entirely) on sugar and processed foods. These foods can actually pull water from the body, further worsening slow bowel function and constipation.
- Get a Handle on your Stress! Did you know that stress can be a significant contributor to constipation?? But really, what doesn’t stress affect? When we are stressed, our sympathetic nervous system is activated and the body goes into survival (fight or flight) mode. In this state, the body directs all resources to those systems needed for immediate survival – heart, lungs, muscles. Digestion is not considered to be necessary for immediate survival and is slowed significantly (if you’re being chased by a tiger, good digestion doesn’t really matter!). If you’re not having daily bowel movements or constipation is an issue for you, learning to better manage your stress is super important. Meditation is an excellent place to start – I was a huge skeptic at first, but am now a full believer in how amazing meditation can be for managing stress. I strongly recommend you give it a try. And believe it or not, there are even specific meditations to help with constipation – here’s one to try!
- When Nature Calls, You Gotta Answer! Every get the urge for a #2, but you weren’t at home, or it wasn’t convenient to go at that moment? We’ve all been there – putting off that trip to the bathroom because it wasn’t the right time or place. This is so bad, particularly for anyone struggling with regularity or constipation! If we don’t listen to our bodies and go when the need strikes, the rectum can get used to being in that stretched state and will eventually stop responding to it. Teach your mind and body that regardless of where you are, you need to go you feel the need. And teach your kids the same!
- Move Your Body! Your bowels will move better if you’re moving your whole body more often – it’s a simple as that. Just like water, start tracking your activity (even just your steps) and plan to move your body 15-20 minutes every day. This doesn’t have to be running a marathon or climbing a mountain – even just a short walk or a yoga class (this is one of my favourites) will do the trick. Incorporating this into your daily routine will not only have your bowels moving more, but is also amazing for your mind and go a long way in helping to manage stress.
These recommendations work wonders, so prepare to be amazed! It’s important to point out though that these changes should be done gradually. This is especially important when adding fiber to your diet in order to minimize any gas or bloating. Slowly increase your fiber intake, while also drinking more water, your body will adjust and the side effects will be mild and subside more quickly. Remember that this is not an overnight fix..be consistent and patient and you’ll start to feel better before you know it.
I’m all about using food as medicine, but sometimes a laxative or other medical intervention is necessary. When this is the case, be sure to follow the recommendations of your doctor closely because overuse of these interventions can actually make the situation worse. The adage “use it or lose it applies here” in that if your bowels don’t have to work on their own for extended periods, they can lose muscle and nerve response, making it difficult to function without help. If you incorporate my recommendations along with any necessary medical interventions, your body will become more regular and likely not need the medications for very long.
Pay close attention to how often your bowels are moving. The more you go, the better you’ll feel, so if it’s not at least a daily thing occurrence, start to slowly incorporate these recommendations. It won’t take long before you notice a difference in both your bathroom activity and in how you feel.
If you need some help coming up with a plan to get started, let’s chat!