Body Talk: Happy Bowels!

We need to talk about constipation because blocked bowels generally mean something’s not right. It’s very important that the bowels stay moving and fluid in order to maintain total body-health as the gut is where all your nutrition comes in and waste material leaves, so this needs to be a quick and efficient process. The good news is that there is a lot that you can do to bring movement and fluidity back into your body.

We ideally want an easy bowel movement every morning, not long after waking, and ideally after every meal. However, the average person should be satisfied with one comfortable, easy and complete bowel movement every morning, or at some point during that day. Any less than this and you may want to experiment with some of my tried and tested techniques.

Water - stay hydrated as your bowels need water to ensure that the stools are also hydrated and soft, so they can pass through your large intestine easily. Water intake depends on your lifestyle and activity levels, but generally the more active and busy you are, the more water you will most likely need. The NHS in the UK suggests 1.5-2 litres of water a day, spaced evenly throughout the day, for continually hydration. A good trick is to always have half a pint of warm water upon waking, then a 1/2-1 pint at least 30mins before a meal, and then 45 mins again after a meal. Then just drink more according to your thirst and activity levels. Carbonated water on ice is a great way to make water more exciting, especially at meal times, or as an alcohol replacement. It is slightly acidic so just be aware if you have a very sensitive gut.

Increase your leafy green intake - fibre is absolutely essential for healthy bowel movements, but it’s important to focus on the right type of fibre, especially if you have gut issues. Fibre from certain plant foods (like starchy root vegetables, oats, psyllium, lentils) can actually worsen constipation as it can slow down the movement of waste through your bowels. Most people report much easier and more frequent bowel movements when they increase their insoluble fibre intake from non-starchy fruit and vegetable, such as leafy greens. This is because insoluble fibre absorbs water in the gut that increases the size of the stool and keeps if soft. Reversely, if you have runny bowel movements, then increase your intake of starchy vegetables.

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Eat more fat - healthy fats are a really great way of lubricating your digestive tract and softening your stools. Lots of people have removed fat from their diet due to various scary health campaigns over the past few years. However, certain fats are absolutely necessary for correct physiological functioning of the body, and can also really help improve the frequency and consistency of your bowel movements. I have fats with every meal, apart from breakfast when I always have a raw beetroot smoothie (also amazing for moving the bowels), as not only do fats keep my energy levels balanced, they also massively improve digestive regularity. My favourite fats are extra virgin olive oil, roasted bone marrow, ghee, tallow and coconut oil. Pick a fat and give it a go. If you start to feel nausea from eating fat then it suggests that your liver is struggling and you may need to speak to your doctor

Increase your gut flora - your gut flora plays a big role in healthy bowel movements as they keep the gut lining happy and help to stimulate peristalsis. You can improve gut flora by eating fermented foods daily or by taking a good quality probiotic. Many gut health specialists recommend taking one with a minimum of 20 billion cfu, which basically means each capsule has 20 billion live bacteria, as supposed to your average probiotic which normally only contains 1-3 billion. This means a higher chance of repopulating your gut with a healthy number of bacteria. Or you could increase your intake of raw, fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha, pickles or whatever else takes your fancy.

Magnesium supplementation - magnesium supplements can be great for getting your bowels moving, as magnesium draws water into your colon helping to keep the stools hydrated and soft. It is not a laxative in the sense that it stimulates the bowel to contract, instead it draws water into the bowel, stimulating the bowels to move as the stools increase in volume from being hydrated. Magnesium citrate is good option but you need to test your dosage as too much can cause an urgent bathroom emergency. It’s also important not to take too many, even if you are still constipated, so start with the recommended amount on the packet and increase slowly but check with your doctor or pharmacist for further guidelines.

Breathe into your belly - this sounds a bit basic but it can really help as so many of us hold emotions, tension and stress in our bellies which causes the muscles to contract. If the gut area is contracted, then it can’t move and peristalsis (the wave like movement of your GI tract muscles) can’t work efficiently. You may not even realise it until you start to actively breath deeply and slowly into your belly, then notice how good it feels to open this area. Your shoulders and chest should stay motionless with all the breath going directly into the stomach. Then just gently let go. This is known as diaphragmatic breathing and is naturally how babies breathe. This breath also helps to relax the pelvic floor that then allows for an easier bowel movement.

Gentle Morning Routine - a simple method for promoting a regular morning bowel movements is to have a daily routine, whereupon rising, you immediately spend 10-15 minutes practicing total relaxation in order to send a message of release to your bowels. Find a quiet cozy spot in the house (like your bed) and drink a large glass of warm/hot water to hydrate and stimulate the bowels, then just breath deeply but gently into your belly to allow the bowel and pelvic floor to let go. This will help to stimulate the bowel and a continued practice of this will reinforce the message that this is a safe time to have a bowel movement. If the hot water doesn’t work then try drinking caffeinated tea or a weak coffee, as caffeine is great at stimulating peristalsis. And I believe that caffeine in moderation is a great medicine. However too much could lead to stress and dehydration making constipation worse, so find your balance.