When I was in medical school, I used to come across textbooks that said if your patient has three bowel movements a week, that's "normal." Wow -- can you imagine walking around carrying tacos from three nights ago in your belly? How's that considered normal?
Going to the bathroom once every three days allows waste materials to spend far too much time in your digestive tract. As a result, toxins and antigens have the opportunity to invade your body. Not only do you end up feeling bloated, this puts you at risk for developing more serious digestive disorders, headaches, insomnia, and even cancer.
What's considered "normal"?
In a healthy body, the GI tract is constantly at work performing a wave-like motion called "peristalsis." This constant motion of contracting and releasing pushes unwanted materials through your bowel until it's released.
When peristalsis is operating at full steam, you should have at least one to two solid bowel movements per day. Anything less means you're constipated.
When things aren't running smoothly…
When you're constipated, you feel uncomfortable and bloated. You're also more likely to suffer from diverticulitis and/or hemorrhoids.
These two common conditions occur when food moves too slowly through your GI tract. This, in turn, places increased pressure on your bowel walls. Over time, your bowel walls can become weakened, causing a small pocket to form. This is called a diverticuli. If waste gets trapped there, it becomes inflamed and -- voila -- you've got "diverticulitis." The same kind of abnormal pressure -- when it occurs in your rectal area -- is what causes hemorrhoids.
You'll find most people will say don't eat seeds if you've got diverticulitis or don't strain if you've got hemorrhoids. But that's not the answer.
The key to preventing diverticulitis and hemorrhoids is to correct the underlying probl
10 natural ways to curb constipation
You don't have to resort to laxatives or stool softeners to stay regular. There are a few simple steps you can take to make sure your digestive tract is operating smoothly:
STEP 1: Getting the right kind of fiber
Of course you need fiber to stay on track. It's primarily what keeps your GI tract in a state of optimal peristalsis. Your body needs both soluble fiber (dissolves easily in water) and insoluble fiber (passes through your intestines almost unchanged). Aim for at least 35 grams a day.
But choosing the right kind of fiber is where some people unknowingly slip up.
Maybe you eat some fruits and vegetables with every meal. But what kind of grains do you eat? Are they 100 percent whole grain? Check the label. Does your bread say WHOLE WHEAT on the package? Sure, it looks brown, but check the ingredients list.
Is the first ingredient on the list "enriched flour"? If so, it's not 100 percent whole wheat. Opt for breads and cereals made from 100 percent whole grains instead. These help grab and push out unwanted waste materials.
Refined or enriched flour products, on the other hand, have been stripped of their natural fiber. Besides being devoid of nutrition, white rice and white flour turns into glue in your gut. Don't believe me? Squish up a piece of white bread and pour water on it. It turns into a sticky, gloppy mess. That's the last thing you want in your gut if you're prone to constipation!
Of course, you can resort to taking a fiber supplement or a fiber drink. But I wouldn't recommend it on a routine basis. People taking fiber supplements tend to poorly absorb other vitamins and nutrients, as the fiber supplement can flush out the good as well as the bad.
If you must resort to taking a fiber supplement once in a while, be sure to drink plenty of water. This will help break down the supplement and aid in the absorption of other nutrients.
STEP 2: Drink plenty of water
You don't have to drink a gallon of water a day to prevent constipation. A few full glasses a day should do the trick. Just make sure it's from a good source. (To learn more about the only kind of safe drinking water I recommend, read this previous Guide to Good Health.)
Water is especially helpful in preventing a flair-up of diverticulitis. It tends to flush out food trapped in small pockets in your bowel.
STEP 3: Add in probiotics and digestive enzymes
For those of you who follow my Guide to Good Health regularly, you know that I'm a huge proponent of these two digestives aides. Make sure to take a daily probiotic such as acidophilus before meals and at bedtime. Look for a capsule that contains billions of active units of healthy bacteria.
In terms of digestive enzymes, make sure you get a "full spectrum" capsule. This will contain the proteolytic, lipolytic, and amylolytic fractions. Take one capsule immediately after meals. If you can handle this without any stomach upset, you might try increasing it to two capsules after meals.
STEP 4: Listen to your mother
Mom always told us to chew our food. And guess what, she was right! Not only does eating too fast contribute to constipation, it also hinders your body's ability to break down your foods. As a result, you're not absorbing all the nutrients from your food.
In addition, if you're prone to constipation, try eating smaller, more frequent meals. Again, these are easier for your body to digest and may just solve your constipation problem!
Lastly, after a big meal, get up and walk around. Take a stroll around the block. Not only will it keep you fit, it will aid your digestion.
STEP 5: Take a closer look at your medications
You may not realize it, but many prescription medications can cause constipation. Certain pain medications and antidepressants are notable culprits. Be sure to check the packet of information you receive from the pharmacist for likely side effects. If constipation is one of them, make sure to devoutly follow STEPS 1-4! Iron is also a notable culprit. You really shouldn't take an iron supplement unless you're anemic, as it can cause constipation. It also promotes free radicals.
To be continued…
Next week we'll delve a little deeper into the causes of constipation and look at ways to naturally eliminate tougher cases.