Posted on by Paula Gallagher
Optimal digestive health depends on waste and toxins continually moving out through the bowels. Providing your digestive system with healthy food and good microbes will enhance your ability to properly digest all the foods you eat. In addition, good bowel habits can help prevent many common bowel conditions and keep other body systems working properly.
It's important to stay regular. A fine balance exists between the bacteria found in the bowels and the ability of the intestines to defend against disease. Prebiotics such as inulin and fructooligosaccharides (found in bananas, leeks, garlic and onions) increase the effectiveness of the microbes in the intestines, giving a natural boost to your immune system. Unfortunately, imbalances can occur, sometimes leading to painful and embarrassing symptoms.
Common Bowel Conditions
The following information may help pinpoint common bowel conditions.
Constipation itself is not a disease; it is an indicator of another issue relating to your digestive system. It is defined as fewer than three bowel movements per week and is a common and temporary health concern. Stools that are hard and dry or that cause straining are a common sign of constipation. Some tips to prevent constipation are to increase your fiber intake to 21 to 38 grams per day, stay hydrated, do not ignore your body’s urge for a bowel movement, and keep active.
Diverticulosis is a bowel condition that occurs when small pockets of the intestinal lining bulge through the intestinal or colon wall. If these pockets of lining become inflamed, it is called diverticulitis. The symptoms of diverticulosis include abdominal discomfort, bloating and constipation. These are vague symptoms that may relate to one of many digestive concerns.
Diverticulitis symptoms, on the other hand, come on suddenly and severely. They include abdominal pain in the lower left side, nausea, vomiting and fever. To prevent diverticulosis (and, therefore, diverticulitis) a high-fiber diet is often the first recommendation, as it is thought that straining for stool may lead to pressure on the colon walls, making them susceptible to weak spots.
Fecal incontinence is a condition characterized by an inability to hold the bowel movement. Fecal incontinence is often caused by weak pelvic floor muscles, hemorrhoids, diarrhea, or muscle or nerve damage to the sphincters. A proper diet full of fiber and whole grains can often correct the underlying issue if it relates to improper digestion or improper bowel habits. “Bowel training” is often helpful to re-train the body to have a bowel movement at specific times during the day. Pelvic floor exercises, characterized by squeezing and relaxing the pelvic floor 50 to 100 times daily, may also be beneficial.
Inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs)
Inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs) cause inflammation and irritation to the intestines. The most common IBDs include Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, and symptoms include severe or chronic abdominal pain and frequent diarrhea. Other symptoms include rectal bleeding, weight loss and fevers. Often IBDs are genetically inherited, and those who smoke have a higher risk of developing Crohn’s disease, in particular, than those who don’t.
The true cause of IBDs is not fully understood; however, the current hypothesis is that the immune system overreacts to harmless bacteria or food, thereby increasing the white blood cells in the intestinal lining, which leads to chronic inflammation and injury to the intestines.
Colorectal cancer occurs in either the colon or the rectum and begins as a polyp that forms along the lining. A polyp is often noncancerous in the beginning stages, but over time the cells change and the resulting cancer can spread to the wall of the colon or rectum and then onto the blood and lymph systems. In the early stages, the polyp may provide no symptoms. However, when symptoms do appear, they include bloody stool, fatigue, abdominal cramps, constipation, stool that is narrow, gas and bloating. A colonoscopy can detect polyps and greatly minimize the likelihood of colorectal cancer development.
Diet & Lifestyle Tips for a Healthy Bowel
Diet and lifestyle can play a significant role in preventing the conditions above. Every individual is different and may require more personalized care. However, for many the following tips will help maintain bowel regularity.
1. Increase Fiber
Nuts and seeds, whole grains, and fruits and vegetables contain fiber, which helps to move waste products and toxins out of the intestines. If you haven’t been eating a lot of fiber, then start adding fiber slowly and drink plenty of water.
Cardiovascular exercise is a great way to lose weight and to keep your digestive system working efficiently by keeping food moving and stimulating natural contraction of the bowels.
3. Stay Hydrated
By sipping water throughout the day, the colon stays well hydrated and is able to move waste products and toxins along without drawing water from them. This minimizes the risk for dry, hard stool and constipation due to dehydration.
4. Review Your Medications
Some medications may cause constipation, including diuretics, antidepressants, and some iron supplements. Discuss proper dosages and side-effect management with your pharmacist and health care practitioner.
If you are still experiencing bowel issues, supplements may help. Consider the following to help support good bowel health
- Probiotics: If you are still having trouble staying regular, a supplement may be of benefit. These beneficial bacteria balance intestinal microbes and improve immunity.
- Digestive Enzymes: Enzymes break down food for our bodies to absorb its nutrients
- L-glutamine: This important amino acid nourishes the intestinal mucosa, helps in nutrient metabolism, and benefits the immune system.
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