Today we will discuss a subject that can sometimes make people feel a little uncomfortable (in more ways than one!). And that is constipation.
All kidding aside, having a healthy digestive system is critical for health. Constipation is not only uncomfortable, it can also cause significant health issues. And it seems like more and more people are suffering from this problem. I get emails from people all the time asking for tips on how to relieve their constipation.
What is Constipation?
The definition of constipation varies widely depending on whom you ask. Some doctors define it as less than three bowel movements per week, while others say less than one bowl movement per day. Now, if you ask a holistic nutrition practitioner like myself, the definition is having less than two to three bowel movements per day.
Yes, you read that correctly. If you have less than two to three bowel movements per day, you are constipated!
How Does It Happen?
Constipation occurs when the stool in your colon gets dehydrated. Water is withdrawn from the large intestine to hydrate the body. When there is too little water available, the stool becomes dry, hard and difficult to move through the colon.
This happens when we fail to drink enough fluids, eat enough fruits and veggies or eat too many processed foods, which are generally stripped of fiber.
What About Laxatives?
Most people pick up a box of laxatives when they are constipated, but this is not the best idea. Laxatives are like little bombs that go off in your colon! Laxatives cause bowel movements by irritating the colon. This causes the muscles in the colon to spasm, artificially ejecting the stool.
This is not a good thing because it trains the colon to rely on outside help to go "number two." Essentially, laxatives make the muscles in the colon become "lazy." This will lead to chronic constipation and a dependence on laxatives. Unless a doctor has prescribed laxatives to you, you should stop taking them. They are not the answer and will only make your constipation worse.
How Can I Fix It?
Most of the time, constipation can be corrected pretty easily with the following five simple strategies:
1. Drink plenty of water. Since constipation is related to dehydration in the colon, you need to make sure you are drinking lots of water. When your body is properly hydrated, less water will be withdrawn from the colon. This will keep your stool soft and easy to pass.
2. Get your fiber through fruits and veggies. There are two types of fiber, soluble and insoluble. Both are important for maintaining normal bowel movements. Soluble fiber absorbs and binds to toxins and cholesterol so they can be excreted when you go number two. Soluble fiber also keeps stool soft because it absorbs water. Insoluble fiber adds bulk to stool and also acts like a broom, helping to sweep things out of the intestines.
I do not recommend taking fiber supplements. The best sources of both soluble and insoluble fiber are fruits and vegetables. Also, please don't believe the bread and cereal commercials you see on TV. Many of them claim to be great sources of fiber. Well, they aren't. At the end of the day, they are just prepackaged, processed garbage, so just stick to fruits and vegetables.
3. Supplement your diet with Omega-3s. Omega-3 oils will help lubricate your intestines so things can move through the colon with ease. Fish oil is by far the best source of omega-3, however, flax oil and hemp oil are pretty good as well.
[Read: Value of Omega-3s: Not Up for Debate.]
4 Exercise. When it comes to constipation, aerobic exercise is key. While any type of movement will help, exercises that have a slight impact are best. Think running or rebounding. This type of exercise will get things moving simply because of the force it puts on the intestines.
5. Stop Stressing Out. Stress plays a big role in constipation. I mean, they don't call it anal retentive for nothing! Relax, forgive people, focus on the positive and let things go. If you do these things, it's not only good for your digestion but also for your mind and spirit.
What is a Normal Bowel Movement?
Since so many people live in a constipated state, many have forgotten what a normal bowel movement should be like. Here are some guidelines:
• You shouldn't have to strain. Your poo should come out nice and easy. Straining is a sign of constipation.
• It should be in one solid piece and shaped similarly to a hotdog.
• It should sink. If it floats, the fats in your diet are not being digested properly.
• It should have a natural brownish color.
• It shouldn't be excessively foul-smelling.
[Read: What Your Poo Says About You.]
I believe keeping track of your bowel movements is important. Having regular bowel movements is actually one of the best indicators for health. If you find you are not going at least three times per day or your poo doesn't meet the five specifications above, you know something is wrong.
When this happens, it is time to go back to the basics. Make sure you are getting enough water, fiber, omega-3s and exercise and that you are not stressing out.
If you do these five things, you will be good to go (pun intended!).
[Read: IBS? Could be the FODMAPs.]
Hungry for more? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org with your questions, concerns and feedback.
Yuri Elkaim, BPHE, CK, RHN is a registered holistic nutritionist, fitness expert and highly sought-after high-performance health coach. He's also a former professional soccer player and served as the head strength and conditioning and nutrition coach for men's soccer at the University of Toronto for seven seasons. For more than 13 years, he's empowered more than 86,000 people to greater health with his no-nonsense approach to health, fitness, and nutrition. He's made it his mission to empower at least 10 million people to greater health and fitness by 2018. Get Yuri's free "Y-Factor" at www.yurielkaim.com.