Digestive issues are becoming more and more prevalent these days. Up to 40% of people have Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and that's not even counting average discomfort, heartburn or indigestion. With bowel movements being a personal and unfortunately common part of our daily life, it's worth looking into healthy solutions.
Let's dispel a myth first - Going to the bathroom at the same time every day is not as normal as TV and Facebook friends make it out to be.
Some fear mongering out there is if you don't defecate daily, "toxins" will build up in your body. If you go farther into this theory trying to find out what the exact toxins are, you hit dead ends. That's because your digestive tract is a straight shot out. It absorbs what it needs to and moves everything else along until your body is ready to get rid of it. If you don't need to go, it's because your body isn't through with what's in your intestine.
Gastroenterologists agree that anything three times daily to three times weekly is normal, so long as everything looks and feels okay. So just because you're not going every day doesn't mean you're constipated and going multiple times doesn't mean it's diarrhea. It's just your natural rhythm.
When There's A Problem
You start to identify problems if you go a week between bowel movements, stool is too hard or you have cramping, bloating and general discomfort between movements. These are signs of constipation
. Likewise, if you're going too frequently and stool is too soft or not solid at all, it's an issue of diarrhea
There could be several reasons. The older we get, the harder our colon works and it's not always at peak condition. Sedentary lifestyles, like working at a desk all day, result in poor muscle action in the colon and digestive tract. Stress, our old friend, also factors into our bowel movements. So can diet.
You can add exercise to your routine to help move things along. But today we'll focus on diet. We're getting better at identifying what's in our food but changing how and what we eat can be hard. It's harder still when the culprit to our problems isn't always obvious.
Building the Best Diet For Digestive Issues
Overall, diets are hard to decide on. (We're talking lifelong diets here.) Unless you went to school for nutrition, there's a lot of conflicting opinion out there about what to eat, when to eat it and how it's prepared. If you've started a new diet for the New Year, give your body time to adjust and digest but it could be why you're suddenly having bathroom issues. It might be time to adjust a few things. We've got some pointers.
Worst Foods For Digestion
If you're having problems visiting the bathroom, look and see how much fat you're consuming. High fat diets are all the rage right now and being pushed for weight loss. However, it's hard for us to digest fat and it slows our system down, causing constipation. Your stool could also be pale from the undigested fat.
Dairy is another problem people can be surprised by. Lactose intolerance can actually occur over time. You may become more sensitive to the dairy you're consuming so while your three glasses of milk a day were fine last year, it could be what's got you unwell. Some people experience diarrhea while others suffer from constipation. Talk to your doctor or cut out dairy products for two weeks and see if you improve.
Too much sugar and too many refined grains may be causing diarrhea. Certain sugars, like fructose and sugar alternatives have laxative effects when eaten in excess. Refined grains lack the fiber in other wheat and grain products that normally aid digestion. By consuming them instead of fiber-rich foods, it can throw off the balance of your digestive system.
Caffeine and alcohol are chemicals that also cause issues with your intestines. Caffeine, to no one's surprise, can be a laxative and is probably the reason you're regular at work. If it's getting uncomfortable, try swapping out your coffee for tea
or something less caffeinated. Watch out for soft drinks too, which causes the same effect. Alcohol reduces stomach enzymes that help break down carbohydrates and fats. People with IBS may suffer from diarrhea if they drink too much at a time so moderation is key.
Best Foods For Digestion
The first thing people hear when talking about bowel movements is fiber
. It's not the best tasting thing which is why it comes in flavored drink powder or chocolate snack bars but in reality, fiber is pretty easy to get from regular food. And there's simple explanation why it helps with your digestion.
The point of digestion is to absorb all the nutrients, vitamins and yes, even calories from the food we eat. That's how we gain our energy and all the elements our body needs to work. Fiber can't be digested by our body. Instead, it moves through our digestive system without being absorbed and pushes everything else along. This is important to keep our system moving.
Not everyone reacts well to a high-fiber diet so you don't need to jump head first to eating cardboard cereal for all your meals. Insoluble fiber comes from whole-wheat flour, bran, nuts, beans and vegetables and can sometimes cause bloating and gas. This kind of fiber adds bulk to our stools. Soluble fiber can partially dissolve in water and turns into a gel-like substance that works its way through our system. You can get it from legumes, fruits, flax seed and grains. Make sure you're getting enough of your vegetables and whole-grains in your diet and add them in if you aren't. You'll start to notice a difference in your stool and movements.
You may hear a lot about probiotics
lately, but it's important to know what they are before jumping on and taking one. Probiotics contain live microorganisms like those found in your intestinal tract. While bad microbes exist, like the germs that make us sick, the bacteria that live inside us play an important role in keeping us healthy. We're learning more and more about the part they play in our immune system as new studies focus on our intestinal flora. Probiotics are designed to supplement the loss of our natural bacteria through poor diet and other natural means.
Don't get these mixed up with "prebiotics". Prebiotics are supplements containing nutrients thought to help the growth of good bacteria. They don't contain live bacteria cultures like probiotics do. Think of them as the food for our gut.
Because probiotics do affect the balance of good bacteria in our bodies, they shouldn't be taken by anyone with an immune disease. I strongly suggest and encourage speaking to a healthcare professional before starting a probiotic to make sure you get the right one for you.
When In Doubt, FODMAPs
If you think you have more than just occasional problems or you've been diagnosed with IBS, the solution could be more than just cutting back on sugar and dairy. Allow me to introduce you to FODMAP
s. This stands for "F
Fermented - Food broken down by bacteria in the large bowel
Oligosaccharides - A short-chain sugar molecule
Disaccharide - A double sugar molecule
Monosaccharides - Single sugar molecule
Polyols - Sugar alcohols
So this is basically a fancy way to identify certain groups of food that contain these molecules that aren't well-digested in people with IBS. A clinical trial
published in 2016 found a low FODMAP diet improves the quality of life for IBS-suffers.
This diet can be hard to follow because it cuts out common foods like apples, milk and ice cream, rye, wheat, garlic and other great-tasting food. Because these foods are so ingrained in our diets, some people find it hard to avoid them completely.
However, if IBS or your bowel movements are disrupting your life, talk to your doctor about an 8-week low-FODMAP trial diet to see if this is a solution for you. There are plenty of helpful sources online about what you can and can't eat and support groups going through the same transition.
About The AuthorDr. Matt Marturano, ND is a licensed naturopathic physician and received his Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine and also has a dual Bachelor of Science in Biology and Philosophy from the University of Michigan. In addition, Dr. Marturano currently is a member of the Michigan Association of Naturopathic Physicians and is the Director of Recruitment - Integrative Medicine for Orchid Holistic Search.
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