Thursday, December 06, 2007

Dr. Julie on Natural Constipation Relief

Here is another article in Dr. Julie Thurston's question and answer series posted on our main site, This one discusses natural approaches to constipation and is a question from one of our readers. We hope that you find it informative.


Q: I have a normal bowel movement a couple of times a week and my doctor has said this is normal, is it? How can I become more regular?

A: Your medical doctor is partly right, this frequency of bowel movements is common in North America because of our diet and lifestyle, but not optimal by any means. The body is an input/output type system. In goes food and out goes stool. This means that our body was designed to have about 3 bowel movements daily. So, is a couple of times a week good enough?

I don’t believe so. The longer the stool stays in the colon the more likely it is that processed toxins and waste material, processed by the liver and put into the bile, will be reabsorbed. The colon also becomes a stagnant area for the growth of unfriendly bacteria which create gas and irritating chemicals. The stool becomes drier and more difficult to pass, which can lead to diverticulae, hemorrhoids and fissures. Like any muscle that isn’t exercised, the intestinal walls become flaccid, nerve stimulation decreases and, as we age, further constipation is likely.

For the average healthy adult who is experiencing less than optimal stool frequency there are several factors I consider when addressing bowel function.

1) Stool consistency, quantity and ease of movements
2) Fibre intake
3) Essential Fatty acid intake
4) Water intake
5) Bowel bacteria balance

By discussing stool habits and quality I address lifestyle factors and learned behaviours which may be leading to decreased BMs. Stress, lack of exercise, irregular food and water intake are a few of the things that can affect the bowels.

Fibre increases the bulk and water content of stool. Psyllium, bran, flaxseeds, apple pectin and chicory root are examples of natural bulk formers. They are the only supplemental laxatives that are safe to use every day. To increase fibre in your diet purchase bread and grain products made of 100% whole grains.

Have you ever consumed a lot of fatty food and had a urgent loose movements afterwards? Excess fats act as lubricants in the intestinal tract. A healthy way to take in more fats is by consuming essential fatty acids (flaxseed oil, fish oils, olive oil, evening primrose oil, etc.). This benefits the body both by regulating BMs and by giving the body fatty acids that are used to quell inflammation, support the cardiovascular system and enhance mood and energy.

Dehydration is a common problem in our society. We are more likely to reach for a coffee, soda pop or juice than a glass of water. Dehydration affects the bowels by making the stool drier and more compact. The longer the stool stays in the intestines the more water is drawn from it, compounding the problem. Drinking 2L of water daily will help to normalize bowel function. Adding lemon to the water will further enhance bowel function by stimulating the release of digestive juices, some of which help to lubricate the bowel.

The Obermeyer test for intestinal toxicity is an in-office laboratory test that I use to assess bowel bacteria levels. Other signs of imbalanced bowel bacteria are gas, bloating, cramping and irregular BMs. If there are harmful bacteria, fungi and other organisms contributing to your irregular BMs you should consider bowel support with beneficial bacteria. These probiotic organisms will out-compete the harmful bacteria and also contribute to optimal bowel pH and vitamin manufacturing.

Other therapies you may consider to optimize bowel function are colon hydrotherapy, abdominal massage, bowel and liver cleansing and homeopathic drainage therapy. Consult your Naturopathic Doctor to obtain more information on these treatments.


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