When we consider how to create a healthy lifestyle, we mostly talk about what goes into our bodies. Food, exercise, positive media, and a supportive home and work environment are all important for sustaining our health and wellbeing. But an equally important aspect of our health is what comes out of our bodies.
For optimal health, we need to be frequently releasing the food waste and accumulated toxins that find their way into our digestive tract. Like overripe fruit in the bottom of a compost bin that was once luscious but is now a noxious moldy mess, waste that does not exit the body completely in a timely fashion continues to decay and ferment and can cause harm. The by-products of digestion such as estrogen and toxins like pesticides and heavy metals can even be reabsorbed into the bloodstream if we do not fully clear them out.
Over time, this buildup of waste products and toxins can contribute to the development of cancer, especially the colon cancer that is so prevalent in industrialized nations, along with breast cancer and autoimmune diseases.
While the exact optimal number of daily bowel movements varies from person to person, most health experts agree that at least one complete movement per day is ideal. A little less frequently is still okay for most individuals, but having fewer than three movements per week is usually a cause for concern. People who have a lot of fiber and fluid in their diets may have as many as three or four bowel movements per day.
While pooping at any time is acceptable, for optimal health it is important to be evacuating the bowels in the morning before 10am. This corresponds with the Ayurvedic time of Kapha, when the heavy, wet, qualities of nature are primary. It is also when our digestive fire tends to be lowest after a night of sleep, and so clearing the pipes can help everything get moving in a good way.
In addition to frequency, the quality and ease of one’s bowel movements is very important. Elimination should be as easy as other physical functions such as passing gas and urinating. The need to push or strain is a sign that you may be constipated, dehydrated, or have some sort of bowel constriction. At the same time, stool should be well-formed, semi-solid but neither hard nor liquid, cylindrical, brown, bulky, with a mildly textured consistency and some smell, but a terrible stench.
Stools that are completely liquid or come with smell that makes you seek a gas mask are a sign of digestive disorder, and can be caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites, toxins, medications, stress, or allergens. Green stools are usually a sign of eating an abundance of leafy greens and not a cause for concern, but grey stools are caused by liver dysfunctions and should be reported to a health provider. And while certain foods like beets can turn stool reddish, stools that are thick, gooey, and black or dark red may indicate intestinal bleeding and should also be reported to a health care provider.
But by far the most common elimination trouble is constipation. Constipation is when people find it challenging to poop, and it is symptomized by dry, hard, small, and infrequent bowel movement that may be painful and/or difficult to pass.
Chronic constipation affects millions of people, and is both a contributing factor to and symptom of our stressful modern lives. An inability to let go, both physically and metaphorically, is a serious health challenge that can hamper us in a variety of ways. While many things can contribute to constipation, such as medications, travel, diet changes, stress, hormonal balance, exercise levels, sleep and rest cycles, pregnancy, and aging, we have a lot of power over our bowel health. Here are some ways to make your elimination more regular and improve your overall health and wellbeing.
Eat Real Food
A great idea for health anyway, eating whole, organic, freshly prepared food in its natural state is a way to support your bowel health and ensure complete and regular pooping. Opt for food with lots of naturally occurring fiber, like vegetables, fruit, soaked raw nuts, and seeds. Apples (with the skin) are an especially great source of the soluble fiber pectin, which both helps move things along and supports colon bacterial health. Vegetables are better for colon health than grains, though some non-glutinous whole grains (that have been properly prepared through soaking and/or fermentation) can be helpful.
Healthy fats are also important to help keep everything moving, so be sure to include avocados, organic extra virgin coconut and olive oil, and soaked nuts and seeds. And don’t try to cheat by taking laxatives instead of eating whole foods. Laxative use can create dependency, making it impossible for you to poop on your own.
Avoid Artificial Sweeteners
Artificial sweeteners are like poison for the colon. They throw off the digestive enzyme and bacteria balance, feeding the little critters we don’t want and starving the ones that would help us. They are exitotoxins, causing the entire digestive system to freak out. Artificial sweeteners have been directly linked to constipation, fecal compaction, and other digestive disorders.
Stay Away from Processed Pseudo Food
Just like fake sugars, fake food in general can contribute to constipation. Processed food has been stripped of the beneficial fiber needed for regular elimination and colon health. Processed “white” foods like bread, cookies, baked goods, pasta, rice, and chips turn into paste by the time they reach the colon, stopping up the pipes like nobody’s business. Processed food also usually contains chemical additives, MSG, artificial flavors and colors, and other culprits of elimination woes. Once again, your best bet for easeful elimination is eating fiber-rich, unprocessed vegetables and fruit.
Watch Your Allergens and Sensitivities
Constipation can be caused by foods that might be healthy for some people but are allergens for you. Common allergens such as dairy, eggs, peanut, fish, and wheat can all cause constipation and other digestive troubles in sensitive people. If you are uncertain what is causing you to stay in the bathroom way too long, try taking all glutinous grains such as wheat, barley, rye, and spelt, as well as dairy out of your diet for a while and see if your symptoms improve.
Medications can cause constipation as well, especially painkillers, calcium channel-blockers, antidepressants, antihypertensive drugs, and drugs used to treat Parkinson’s disease. If you have to take those drugs make sure you are drinking extra water, exercising regularly, and eating a fiber-rich whole foods diet.
Get Plenty of Exercise
Just like the rest of the body, the colon needs frequent exercise for optimal functioning. Sitting for hours a day is a leading cause of constipation. Even a vigorous 20 minute walk every day can make a huge difference. Do your best to get at least a little movement in between each meal, and a moderate or vigorous exercise session in at least a few times a week to maintain regularity.
Drink More Water
Insufficient water intake is another prime factor in constipation. The colon needs water to form proper stools in the right part of the intestines, and pass them out of the body. It is the combination of fiber and water that helps stools form and move. Healthy elimination is supporting by drinking a very large glass of water first thing in the morning and sipping water throughout the day.
Take Enzymes and Probiotics
Helping food break down and supporting the stomach’s enzymes is important for healthy elimination. And inviting a balance of beneficial bacteria is essential for calming inflammation and promoting colon health. A multi-strain probiotic that contains bifidus and acidophilus is great for normalizing digestion. Look for one that is kept refrigerated, and is measured in cluster forming units (CFUS) for highest potency.
Go When You Need to Go
The longer poo stays in the colon, the more water and toxins are absorbed into the body from it. This increases the likelihood of being constipated and recirculating substances through the bloodstream that would be better to pass out. Release any shame you might have about bodily functions, or the idea that you have to “wait until…” to use the bathroom. When you need to go, go.
Get Enough Magnesium
Sometimes constipation is caused by chronic magnesium deficiency. Magnesium is what your body uses to move your bowels, so if your levels are low supplementation can restore regularity. Magnesium supplements do not create dependency like laxatives because they are just providing what your body needs to do the job, not doing it for you. Look for magnesium in citrate form for best results, and take it in the evening a couple hours after dinner.
Find a Better Poosition
One more important factor in easeful elimination is the position. While in developed countries we like to “sit on the throne,” in countries where people still squat in the traditional way there are significantly fewer instances of digestive disorders and colon cancer. We are not meant to hang out on toilets with a good book – if we need reading material because it takes that long to poo, something is amiss.
Sitting on a toilet like a chair places the knees at a 90 degree angle to the abdomen, which actually closes off the intestinal organs and makes defecation more challenging. This makes it more likely that people have to strain to eliminate, which temporarily disrupts cardiac flow and raises blood pressure, and contributes to hemorrhoids and other pelvic problems. Squatting with the knees closer to the torso creates a more optimal spatial relationship within the organs and muscles involved in elimination and can help prevent fecal stagnation.
Like what we bring into our bodies, how we eliminate plays a huge role in our health and wellbeing. A sign of health is passing at least one well-formed, semi-solid brown bowel movement each day. If you are constipated or having other digestive challenges, improving your diet to include fiber-rich foods, increasing your water intake, getting plenty of exercise and potentially supplementing with magnesium, probiotics, and even more exercise can help you have a better time inside, and outside, the bathroom.