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Medicine 101 – Dr. Tara Macart


When it comes to the private subject of bowel movements, many people either don’t want to talk about it or just don’t know what normal is supposed to be.  To further complicate things, there is a lot of misinformation about what is considered healthy defecation.

When a person reports to me that their bowel movement requires straining or might miss a day, I consider that constipation.  The way I look at it, elimination of toxins should happen on a daily basis, preferably with one decent bowel movement per day.  The healthy bowel movement should be formed, brown, easy to pass and usually happen sometime in the morning.  That way, your body is ready to take on the new food intake of the day and can process it until tomorrow.

Some people argue that a bowel movement should happen after every meal.  I disagree with this philosophy.  I believe the transit time of 20 – 24 hours is preferable to a rapid transit of 4 – 6 hours. The body needs to have enough time to access and absorb the nutrients from the meals.  If the transit time is too fast, one must be constantly feeding.  One may in fact be dealing with nutrient deficiencies from malabsorption if the bowel movements are too frequent.   Slowing down the bowel movement to one a day can actually give people more energy.

There are a handful of diseases that are associated with or at least exacerbated by constipation. Depression is one of them.   It is amazing to see a depressed person’s spirits lift just by improving their bowel regularity.  Waste products that do not leave the body readily just get reabsorbed only to hamper neighboring organs.   Eventually, these toxins may enter the blood stream and affect the whole body, including the brain.

Reproductive organs tend to reside nearby the exit route and are particularly vulnerable to toxic build up.  Back pain, prostate irritation, fibroids and irritable bowel disease, all can be influenced by the state of the bowels.

Now, how to fix it?  Most people turn to fibre as a solution for constipation.  Between bran buds and bran muffins, regularity can come for a while, but in the long run, this strategy may back fire.  Bran may help, but the moist vegetative fibre of fruits and vegetables is perhaps more important.  Eating enough fruits and vegetables can be a challenge, but it pays off.

When it comes to fibre supplements, some are better than others.   Look for something that has a balance of soluble and insoluble fibres with some additional ingredients designed to soothe the gut.  Getting the right blend will normalize the bowel movement to that perfect “one a day” that you are looking for.

Laxatives stimulate peristalsis and some can be quite aggressive.   Senna and Cascara, though natural, are powerful irritant laxatives.   Repetitive use of these tools can have some negative long term effects, like bowel weakness.   Osmotic laxatives, on the other hand, tend to gently stimulate peristalsis. For example, the right amount of vitamin C will attract water into the bowel, and thereby soften the stool – a more gentle approach.

Ultimately, the best way to deal with constipation is to prevent it.   By eating right and getting enough exercise, the digestive system can keep itself balanced.   Gastric disturbances that do not respond to diet and exercise may need a healing program in order to recover.   You can see your naturopathic physician for help in this department.   Didn’t someone once say, “A bowel movement a day keeps the doctor away!”