Bowel health is a serious and important concern as bowel cancer and diseases such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome are on the rise.
Recently in the clinic I have had a run of patients with bowel problems, some quite serious. A frequent question I am asked is what is normal and what can we do to improve bowel functioning.
Bowel health is just one of those topics that is never discussed, not in ‘polite conversation’ and often not even between patient and doctor. Many suffer in silent embarrassment, worry and discomfort over the rumbling and gurgling – the cramps, bloating and the wind and gas. With either constipation or diarrhea as an end result.
But improving and maintaining your bowel health should be a daily priority. Having a healthy bowel can dramatically improve your overall health with better digestion, reduced allergies, more energy as well as reduce your cancer risk.
It is important to remember that the bowel is only the end point of a long and complex digestive system stretching from your mouth to your anus.
How the food you eat is processed and broken down into the basic nutrients determines your overall health and energy. While the main part of the digestive system (stomach, small and large intestine) is extracting the nutrients from food, the bowel deals with the leftovers or waste part. The mostly undigested food, dead cells, indigestible fibre, bacteria, mucus, pigments and dietary fats are concentrated and stored in the bowel as faecal matter.
One of the main functions of the bowel is to extract most of the water from this matter for the body to use. It is often noticeable that lack of water or dehydration makes a real difference to the functioning of the whole system.
So what’s normal?
While it does vary from person to person, there are some guidelines for a healthy bowel.
* How often? Normal can be between 3 times a day to 3 times a week. More often with watery diarrhoea like stools usually means that food is undigested because it is passing through the digestive system too quickly. But less frequent motions mean that they are usually hard, difficult to pass (constipation) and with an increased risk of haemorrhoids or diverticulitis.
* Colour Normal colour is usually mid to light brown but can vary according to what has been eaten. Eating a lot of beetroot or spinach will change the colour to red or green. Alcohol can also affect the colour and make it dark brown. But if you have black, sticky, tarry stools (a sign of bleeding in the upper digestive tract) or they are pale or clay coloured (liver or gall bladder problems), then you must investigate further.
*Shape or form Should be formed but not hard, fairly bulky but not too messy, easy to pass and not too offensive in smell.
The role of living bacteria in bowel health
Good bacteria in your gut have a profound influence on your general wellbeing. Despite many people not wanting to think about the millions of bugs living in their gut, it is actually those bacteria in your intestines that make all the difference to your health.
When your good-to-bad intestinal bacteria ratio (ideally 85:15) is brought into balance:
1. Digestive symptoms diminish or disappear, leaving you comfortable and free to enjoy every day to the fullest.
2. Your body begins to absorb and obtain the benefits from the nutrients in the good food and nutritional supplements you feed it.
3. Your immune system is better equipped to fight off disease, contributing to a longer and healthier life. When the ratio of good to bad gut bacteria is out of balance not only is your digestion and feeling of well-being affected, so is the immune system — and therefore your ability to defend against serious illness and disease. As about 80 percent of the cells of your immune system are located in the digestive tract, it’s easy to see why the health of your colon dictates your overall health.
What we can do to improve bowel health?
As the bacterial imbalance in your gut can be worsened by processed foods (especially processed meats), sugary and sweetened foods and foods that have been pasteurized or sterilized, then just by changing what you eat can make a big difference to how you feel.
Increase your bowel flora by:
- increasing fibre rich foods in the diet with more fruit, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds and wholegrain.
- replacing some red meat meals with more fish.
- including regular consumption of fermented foods such as yoghurt, kefir, kimchee, miso, saurkraut, pickles.
- taking probiotic supplements. Polybac 8 is one we recommend as it is a broad-spectrum multi-strain living bacteria supplement and we have received very positive feedback from clients
- limiting alcohol, junk food, processed food, smoking as these negatively affect the good bacteria.
Know what’s happening in your bowel.
By paying more attention to what is happening in your bowel and noting any changes that may occur, you can make appropriate changes, catch health problems and get them treated.
So if you have any of the following Gut-related issues, then now is the time to make changes to what you put in your mouth.
1. Infectious diarrhea
2. Intestinal infection caused by the Clostridium difficile bacterium
3. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
4. Inflammatory Bowel Disease (ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s Disease)
5. Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacterial infection which causes ulcers and chronic stomach inflammation
6. Leaky gut (a compromised intestinal wall that allows undigested foods and toxins to pass into the bloodstream, triggering an inappropriate immune system response)
7. Lactose intolerance
1. Stomach and respiratory infections in children in daycare settings
2. Urinary and female genital tract infections
1. Skin infections
2. Atopic dermatitis (eczema)
• Premenstrual syndrome
• Bladder cancer
• Tooth decay and gum disease
Making simple changes to what you eat could make all the difference in your energy levels, your feeling of well being and indeed your happiness.