Digestion, Constipation, Diarrhoea | August 13, 2017 | Author: Naturopath
A well-functioning digestive system is considered vital to optimal health and wellbeing. It is responsible for the digestion, absorption and assimilation of nutrients from the foods we eat. Poor bowel health can lead to diminished health and contribute to other conditions such as acne, psoriasis, allergies, depression and metabolic syndrome. Being ‘regular’ is a phrase used to describe good bowel habits. But how often should we go? And what are the signs of good or unhealthy bowel function?
The bowel comprises of the small and large intestine—long tube-like organs that are part of our digestive system. In the small intestine carbohydrates, proteins and fats are digested by a range of digestive enzymes.
Many nutrients are absorbed including a wide range of vitamins, minerals, fats, amino acids and monosaccharides.
The large intestine, also referred to as the lower bowel consists of the caecum, colon, rectum and anus. Bacteria in the large bowel ferment and break down remaining substances. Extra water is removed and the remaining faeces is temporarily stored in the rectum before it is removed from the body via the anus.
Regularity may differ from one person to the next. Within the range of normal a bowel motion can occur three times a day to three times a week. The most important component of being regular is that the bowel motions are soft but well-formed and easy to pass. The bowel usually wants to empty about 30 minutes following a meal, normally after breakfast. This makes going to the bathroom once a day the most ideal scenario for healthy bowel function.
The Bristol stool chart is a straightforward way to identify what your stool should look like. It is a medical aid designed to classify poo into seven groups. If the stool consists of hard lumps or is sausage-shaped but lumpy and hard to pass it could indicate constipation. On the other hand, watery, mushy stools that are lacking form may indicate diarrhoea and urgency. The ideal poo is like a sausage or snake that can be smooth or have cracks on its surface.
Stools should be medium to light brown in colour.
If you have any of these signs in your stool, seek medical attention as soon as possible.
What we eat plays an important role in the health of our bowels.
For constipation, tweak your diet so that it includes plenty of whole foods, particularly fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans and wholegrains.
Processed foods are usually very low in fibre and high in fat which can considerably alter bowel function in a negative way.
The majority of your fibre should come from fruits and vegetables as they have a faster transit time through the digestive system.
If you’re not reaching the recommended 30g of fibre each day this can easily be supplemented by adding slippery elm, psyllium husks, chia seeds, ground linseeds or inulin to your foods. They work by bulking up the stool and increasing water to improve stool weight.
Start with a small amount and then gradually increase the amount you add to your diet. Be sure you’re drinking adequate water throughout the day too.
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The levels and variety of good bacteria in the gut, also referred to as the gut microbiota, plays a large role in the health of your bowels. Healthy levels of anaerobic bacteria such as Lactobacillus spp. and Bifibacteria spp. are integral to having healthy bowel movements. Levels can naturally be increased by a change in diet to a healthier one, particularly by increasing the amount of fibre. As there is a wide range of probiotics available on the market, choosing the correct one can be tricky. If you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome the strain to look out for is Lactobacillus plantarum. However, people looking for a product for general digestive health, products containing Lactobacillus acidophilus, lactis and rhamnosus are the best choice. If you suffer from looser bowel movements due to infection or antibiotic use, probiotics have been proven to clear this up quickly. Suggested strains in this case include Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Saccharomyces boullardii.
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Ongoing stress can make it difficult for some people to relax and go to the bathroom properly. The brain-gut axis can interfere with how our bowels function and is highly indicated in people with irritable bowel syndrome.
For people who have already addressed healthy diet but are still very stressed it may be a barrier into achieving good digestive health.
Reducing stress may be achieved by getting regular exercise and a good night’s sleep. Magnesium supplements can help in reducing stress and relaxing the muscles in the bowels. In those who are constipated, magnesium may have the additional benefit of drawing water to the bowels and aiding in a bowel movement.
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Hechtman L (2014). Clinical Naturopathic Medicine. Churchill Livingstone, Australia
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McFarland LV. Deciphering meta-analytic results: a mini-review of probiotics for the prevention of paediatric antibiotic-associated diarrhoea and Clostridium difficile infections. Benef Microbes. 2015;6(2):189-94
Camilleri M, Di Lorenzo C. Brain-gut axis: from basic understanding to treatment of IBS and related disorders. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2012 Apr;54(4):446-53