As you may know, constipation is a common health problem. Consuming low-quality foods contributes to a rise in digestive issues like IBS, gas/bloating and constipation.
For optimal health and to prevent colon cancer, it’s important to have at least one bowel movement per day. Some health experts say 3 bowel movements per day is ideal.
If you struggle with uncomfortable straining, partial elimination and dry stools, a lack of water and insufficient fibre may be to blame.
A lack of fibre can lead to a build-up of undigested foods in our intestines, putrefying and becoming toxic over time.
Sadly, most Canadians fall short of the 30-40 grams of daily fibre that they need. They also consume too much coffee and dehydrating beverages due to a high-stress lifestyle.
To prevent constipation, stay hydrated and choose foods that provide both soluble and insoluble fibre.
Soluble fibre absorbs excess cholesterol and toxins. On the other hand, insoluble fibre scours the intestinal tract to keep it clean.
In my clinical practice, I encourage a variety of fibre-rich foods in the diet such as:
- kidney beans
- avocados (13 grams of fibre)
- pears (5 grams of fibre)
- lentils (6 grams of fibre in ½ cup)
Naturopathic doctors seek ways to heal the digestive system without the use of harsh laxatives.
Though herbs like Senna and Cascara Sagrada stimulate the bowels, they can harm the digestive system. These harsh laxatives can be dangerous and consequently may result in a lazy colon. Other possible side-effects with the use of harsh laxatives includes abdominal cramping, intense diarrhea, electrolyte depletion, and in rare cases, dehydration.
A gentler alternative are herbal teas, like peppermint and ginger.
These teas may be helpful for gut issues like constipation and are kinder to the digestive system.
Gut flora is another important factor when treating constipation.
Probiotic bacteria helps with cases of constipation since they produce short chain fatty acids which reduces gut transit time.
It is normal for gut flora to decline with age. While it is not clear whether the natural decline in the gut bacteria bifidobacteria is a cause or effect of constipation, we know that the composition of intestinal flora can impact intestinal motility.
One triple-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial published in the Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology in 2011 showed that probiotic supplementation helped relieve constipation. This study used Bifidobacterium animalis subspecies lactis to assess the impact on gut transit time in adults aged 25-65 years old. The probiotic also improved gastrointestinal symptoms such as flatulence (gas).
With such strong scientific evidence available, I recommend a daily dose of probiotics to my patients suffering from digestive issues.
A variety of strains – Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium – are necessary to encourage diversity and replenish the “friendly” bacteria in the small and large intestine.
In addition to probiotic supplementation, I encourage my patients to add fermented foods/beverages to their diet which are rich in friendly bacteria, such as:
- pickled vegetables
Your digestive health plays a big role in your overall health and well-being.
It’s important to listen to your body as it communicates with you. Remember, the most obvious signs of an unhealthy gut include:
- loose stool (e.g. diarrhea)
- undigested food in stool
Especially relevant are uncomfortable symptoms which may indicate something is wrong. If you want to take care of your gut, try your best to drink lots of water, consume adequate amounts of fibre and re-balance gut flora with probiotics.