Healthy Bowel Habits
When it comes to bowel habits, what is normal? Different people have different patterns. How often do you go to pass stool? Remember, what's normal for you, may not be normal for others.
The first step is to clear up any confusion about what's healthy and what's abnormal. Everyone’s digestive system is unique and behaves according to their body, habits, and lifestyle. So rather than focusing on a particular frequency, focus on what's regular for you.
When to consider regular and healthy?
The digestive system is very important part of health. It processes the food taken in, absorbing the nutrients and eliminating the waste.
Under normal circumstances, food travels from mouth, down to the stomach, through the small intestine, where essential nutrients are absorbed and the unused moves to the colon, also known as the large intestine or bowel.
As the solid food waste passes through it, your colon gradually soaks up the remaining water in the waste and shapes it into stool. In the colon, gentle muscle contractions slowly push stool downward towards the rectum, signalling the urge to have a bowel movement. If you respond to these signals by passing soft, solid stools without pressure, cramps or pain, you should consider yourself regular, even if you don't have the typical one bowel movement a day.
The digestive system is fairly sensitive, so don't be alarmed, if time to time, you have occasional bouts of constipation. They are quite common. Constipation affects 10% of the population.
In most cases, a lifestyle factor disrupts the body's normal rhythm, slowing the movement of stool. This causes more water to absorb from the stool than would normally occur, and as a result, stool become drier and harder, making them more difficult to pass out of the body.
Try sticking to regular meals, sleep, and bathroom breaks. One of the biggest contributors to constipation is ignoring the urge to go when you have the urge, either because you're too busy or outside your home. Lack of fiber in the today’s diet and a change in dietary habits are other common causes of constipation.
Increasing your intake of dietary fiber and fluids should be your first step to being regular.The extra fiber will help keep things moving because fiber absorbs water , create bulkier stools, which stimulate the contractions in the bowel. If dietary measures alone aren't sufficient, nutritional supplementation, laxatives, and bulk-forming fiber supplements are also effective .
Keeping the bowel regular
• Go when you have to go. When you feel a bowel movement coming on, go to the bathroom as soon as you can.
• Get fibrous diet. Increase the amount of dietary fiber in your meals by adding whole-grain flour and cereals, raw vegetables, and fruit. Aim for at least 25 grams of fiber per day, and minimize your intake of low-fiber foods, such as white bread, cheese, refined sugar and anything made with white flour (Maida)
• Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water or other non-caffeinated drinks. Don’t parch yourself.
• Have regular meals. Eating stimulates the reflex that causes waste to move forward in the bowel. Skipping meals slows this movement. Chew your food properly.
• Keep moving. Moderate physical exercise, such as walking, swimming, or aerobics atleast thrice a week can help you retain regularity.
• Up the “Good” bacteria. Take probiotics each day(curd,yoghurt) . This tops up the friendly bacteria you should have in your large intestine
• Cut down on alcohol. Limit the amount of alcohol you take.
• Sphincter exercises. These are specific exercises that focus on the anal sphincter muscle. These exercises can help to improve bowel control.
When to see a doctor?
If you feel your established bowel pattern suddenly changes without any reason, see your Doctor. Extended spells of constipation may be a symptom of some underlying disease or condition. And chronic constipation may lead to bowel obstruction, enlarged prostate, haemorrhoids, yeast infection, fatigue, irritability, and other health issues.
If you feel uneasy because of your irregularity problem despite taking care, make an appointment with your doctor to find out if you have some serious health concern. Discuss about any physical changes like weight gain or weight loss, stress, your regular diet, medications or supplements you are taking and other health conditions like diabetes or pregnancy if you have any.
Dr. Sharad Malhotra
Senior Consultant & HOD
Gastroenterology Hepatology & Therapeutic Endoscopy