The Joy of Bowel Movements?

What happens here is key to your healthLet’s dive into a topic that almost no one talks about, but everyone thinks about and looks at: our poop. After our fourth birthday, very few of us keep sharing details of our toilet trips with friends and family. But as it turns out, the status of your bowel movements is a powerful reflection of your overall health.

As a health counselor, I ask everyone about their bowel movements. Over the years, this means I have collected a rather amusing bunch of stories. Most typical is the exchange I have with first-time clients about BM frequency…

“So, John, let’s talk about your bowel movements. Are you regular?”

Silence. Throat clearing. Arms cross over his chest.

“Uhhhmmm. Yeah. I’m regular.”

“So what does that mean exactly, John?”

Silence – more fidgety this time.

“Well, you know – I go when I need to.”

“John, how many days a week do you have a regular, formed, complete bowel movement?”

Finally giving up on avoiding this conversation.

“I think my BMs are just fine. I mean I always go at least once a week – and sometimes even twice.”

Because we don’t talk about it, most of us don’t understand what makes up “regular” or “healthy” bowel movements. We should all be having at least one, fully formed, complete bowel movement every single day. Ideally we have 2 or even 3, essentially one for each meal. They should be easy to pass (no reading material required). You shouldn’t have to strain to pass a stool; that pressure can build up inside your colon and cause inflammation in the colon (diverticulosis). Healthy BMs should be light brown in color with no discernible food bits, indicating good strong stomach acid and efficient digestion. You want most of your BMs to be long, log-like pieces (or even the fully-formed letter S that Dr. Oz has made famous), not little marbles and ping pong balls. If these details don’t describe your typical experience, you are not “regular”. If you have to take some kind of over-the-counter medication or fiber-in-a-cannister every day to get these results, you are better off but still not “regular”. Normal, perhaps. But not regular. And your body needs help.

The average American is constipated. Chronically constipated. Early man ate a tremendous amount of fiber each day, drank plenty of water, slept well, exercised all the time, and had a relatively low-stress lifestyle. Compared to the average American today, that sounds a bit like a spa experience. But here’s the truth: if you don’t have regular bowel movements, it is only a matter of time until you get stick.

Not having daily BMs is like not taking out the trash from your kitchen when the can is full. Things start to spill over and get messy and smelly. Harmful bacteria flourish as your stool continues to ferment. Waste products continue to irritate and perhaps poison your gut lining. Worst of all, your body will eventually begin to reabsorb the trash. Yes, it’s like eating the kitchen trash all over again. Sorry to be graphic, but this is a key point. Your stool is the primary exit pathway for waste in your body. I am not just talking about leftover fiber from your salad. A significant part of your body’s waste is toxins, things like pesticides, drugs, chemicals, plastic, heavy metals, and excess estrogen.

Decided you’re not regular after all?    Here are a few tips to consider:

  • Eat plant foods. There is no substitute for real, food-based fiber in our diets, especially fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. Flaxseed and psyllium husks are great natural fiber supplements. Mix them up in a smoothie, stir into yogurt, or blend with a protein shake. Give up the “PseudoFiber” powders you might use as most of them contain artificial colors, flavors, and sweeteners. Be sure to read labels carefully. There are two kinds of fiber in our food:
    • Soluble fiber helps to form a stool (adds bulking). So it’s key for fully-formed BMs and helpful for intermittent loose stools or diarrhea (think of rice, oats, apples in particular)
    • Insoluble fiber helps to move a stool along for easy exit (think of all vegetables, especially leafy greens). This kind of fiber is particularly helpful for constipation.
  • Drink plenty of water. Fiber helps form a stool, but water is what makes soluble fiber work its magic. Think of trying to use a dried out sponge without water. Not very effective. Ideally, sip water throughout the day. Most important, drink a large glass right after rising in the morning. It’s the time of day when we are most dehydrated and most toxic.
  • Eat plenty of healthy fats. Despite common myths otherwise, fat is not bad for you. In fact, a diet relatively high in healthy fat has been shown to be cardio-protective and helpful for body fat loss. Enjoy foods such as olive oil, coconut oil, avocados, wild salmon, walnuts, almond, pumpkin seeds, and eggs daily. Remember that the best lubrication for pipes is grease; the same is true for your GI pipes. Fat helps to move your stool along.
  • Take a daily probiotic supplement. Our guts are teaming with bacteria, good bugs and bad bugs. I talked about this at length in our Dec. 2010 issue. Sometimes our guts get sluggish due to poor digestion or inflammation in our intestines. Beneficial bacteria help to calm inflammation and move things along. A good multi-strain probiotic is normalizing for the body, so it’s a good idea for either diarrhea or constipation.
  • Take magnesium. Many American are deficient in magnesium. We eat few foods high in magnesium (e.g. halibut, almonds, spinach, cashews, seaweed). Even if we do, the magnesium content in many plant foods has plummeted rapidly since the mid-1900s due to over-farming of the same soil. If you’re constipated, try taking 400 mg magnesium citrate each evening after dinner. See this month’s TMTT letter (at right) for another magnesium idea. Unlike medications which force your body to shove out a stool artificially, magnesium works for bowel movements because it’s what your body naturally uses to move them along in the first place. Many times chronic constipation is just chronic magnesium deficiency. Learn more about the amazing power of magnesium; it’s also great for high blood pressure, acid reflux, muscle spasms, and frequent headaches.

With some simple lifestyle changes, you too can experience the daily joy (and wellness) of bowel movements!