Updated: Dec 13, 2017
Faeces, stool, number two's, poo, whatever you like to call it, we all do it and it's a necessary part of the digestive process. So for this write up, let's go with poo as I think we're all familiar with that term (and kids find it a funny word).
A common issue I often see in clinic across all ages is one which most people have experienced at some point in their lives and can cause a great deal of grief for those if it becomes chronic.
Now, when it comes to poo, everyone is different, someone may go every three days, another person may go three times a day, and this may be normal for both of them. It is when it is causing daily discomfort, pain, distress or other symptoms, that something may need to be done.
Constipation is a symptom not a disease. While for some it may come from eating certain foods or taking particular medications or supplements such as the wrong type iron, there are however some people who suffer constipation due to underlying health issues. This may include poor thyroid function, metabolic disorders or it may even become learned behaviour. Learned behaviour is common especially in children as often the times they do try to 'go' there is associated pain and discomfort which in turn causes more tightening of the intestinal muscles and reduces peristaltic movement even further. This creates a vicious circle of then 'holding on' which in turn causes more water to be absorbed causing the poo to become even harder and causing more pain again.
The formation of poo has a lot to do with diet and what goes in at the top, so it is always important to start there. Our poo tells us a lot about our health status and it's a good habit to start looking at what has come out as many things can be noticed in our poo and its formation. Below is good chart to refer to for comparison and is a good way to describe our poo status.
Let's look at seven simple steps to help relieve constipation and its occurrence:
1.) Quality fibre. Soluble fibre (chia seeds, oats, rice bran, fruits which contain pectin, ground flaxseeds, legumes) is essential as it softens and bulks the poo, while insoluble fibre (whole grains, fibrous fruit and vegetables, psyllium,) provides faecal bulk while quickening the transit time through the digestive tract. The likelihood of constipation increases with diets low in complex carbohydrates which are necessary for vital metabolic functions, vitamins and minerals.
2.) Elimination of some foods from an individuals diet may also help if there is an intolerance to certain products, for example; dairy, fatty/processed foods and refined carbohydrates. As there is often an inflammatory reaction which affects the muscle motility in the digestive system to these foods, they are best avoided in some people to avoid any constipation issues.
3.) Water, water, water! This enable the bowel to move properly and if you are adequately hydrated, the body is less likely to draw on water from the colon (resulting in drier poo) to meet other cellular needs throughout the body. This is especially important when more fibre is consumed as it is highly absorbent and what makes up the bulk of the poo requiring water to help move things (such as toxins) through and out.
4.) Natural laxatives include leafy greens, olive oil, whole oatmeal porridge, fruits with fibrous seeds (guava/kiwifruit), aloe vera, rhubarb, senna, honey (fructose), tamarinds, figs, prunes (contain sorbitol), raspberries, strawberries, and stewed apples/pears. Relying on these over the long term though may cause further constipation and other issues, so use them more as a gentle 'nudge' to get things going.
5.) When going to the toilet it is important not to rush and relax so that intestinal muscles and nerves are able to send messages to the large intestine to begin peristalsis (muscle contractions). Never repress an urge to poo.
6.) With small children (and adults) sometimes providing a small step to raise the feet off the ground, helps to relax the anorectal angle allowing poo to be passed more easily.
7.) Exercise gets things moving, so if you find yourself constipated, try some exercise to kick the peristaltic motions into gear and increase intestinal motility. Studies (1) show that a lack of physical activity contributes to constipation, so it's important to keep moving, you will also feel better for it. Even gentle exercise such as walking can be of benefit.
So by taking a few simple steps to keep your digestive factory working well and put a spring in your step try some of the above, because if our digestive tract is not functioning correctly and the result is constipation there is no avenue for much of the toxins accumulated in our body to be excreted. Therefore, as more and more research shows, maintaining a happy and well functioning digestive system is fundamental to feeling well.
1. Huang, R., Ho, S., Lo, W., & Lam, T. (2014). Physical Activity and Constipation in Hong Kong Adolescents. Plos ONE, 9(2), e90193. http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0090193