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Can We Talk About…Constipation?

We will all suffer from it occasionally and it’s not pleasant.

Constipation occurs when bowel movements become difficult or less frequent. How often people poop varies from person to person. Some go three times a day while others three times a week is normal. But going more than three days without having one is too long.

How can you avoid this malady? 

Eat enough fiber. Most Americans consume only 15 grams a day on average but The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends consuming 20 to 35 grams of fiber a day. Processed foods that have had the fiber removed or other foods with little to no fiber like meat, and large amounts of dairy should be avoided by those prone to constipation.

Low fiber intake may be one cause but inadequate fluid intake is another so make sure to be drinking enough water as you are increasing your fiber intake. The fluid makes the fiber work better. A change in routine like traveling may temporarily cause constipation as will stress, lack of exercise, or postponing your trip to the bathroom when you feel the urge coming on. Some medications can also cause constipation. There are other medical causes so if constipation is a chronic condition for you, see your doctor to rule out any serious conditions.

There are two types of fiber and one type is better for preventing constipation. INSOLUBLE fiber is the one to consume to get things moving along your digestive system. They have a laxative effect and add bulk to the diet, helping prevent constipation. This type of fiber passes through the GI tract fairly intact, and speed up food and waste passage through your gut. Insoluble fibers are mainly found in whole grains and vegetables. If a food seems like it has a tough skin, is stringy, has a hull, seeds or pod, chances are it’s a source of insoluble fiber. Sources of insoluble fiber: whole wheat, whole grains, beans, wheat bran, corn bran, seeds, nuts, wheat bran, popcorn, green beans, corn, cauliflower, tomatoes, zucchini, celery, broccoli, cabbage, onions, tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, green beans, dark leafy vegetables, raisins, grapes, fruit, and root vegetable skins.

The other type of fiber SOLUBLE fiber, however, slows digestion because attracts water and turns to gel during digestion. It is found in psyllium, a common fiber supplement. Soluble fiber is beneficial because it may help lower cholesterol by binding to it and removing it through the digestive system.

If you decide you need a little help getting things moving along there are several over the counter and prescription oral or enema products for occasional use. But be careful about over-relying on laxatives. Some people over-rely on laxatives which over time weakens the bowel muscles.

And what about more… ahem… “invasive” therapies called colon cleansing, colon therapy, high colonics or colonic irrigation? These include a type of therapy performed by a colon hydrotherapist. The therapist inserts a tube into the anus to inject water sometimes mixed with herbs into the colon. The water and waste is then pushed out through the hose to be disposed in a closed waste system. The intent is to remove feces and “toxins”. Proponents of colon cleansing believe that toxins from your gastrointestinal tract can cause a variety of health problems. They believe that colon cleansing improves health by removing toxins, promoting healthy intestinal bacteria, boosting your energy and enhancing your immune system. The colonic obviously removes accumulated waste from the colon. However, there's little evidence that colon cleansing produces the other stated effects.

The truth is we already have a built-in system the naturally regulates “toxin removal”. Bacteria in the colon naturally metabolize and thereby detoxify food wastes, mucous membranes lining the intestinal wall block unwanted substances from entering the body's other tissues and our liver works to neutralize toxins. The colon sheds old cells about every 3 days, preventing a buildup of harmful material.

In addition to be unnecessary, colon cleansing can potentially be harmful and lead to bowel perforations, risk of infection, removal of useful bacteria from the intestine, or changes in electrolyte and mineral balance.

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