Things tend to get backed up. We get stuck in congested traffic, fall behind on e-mail, and fret over mounting paperwork, but the bowels are no place for a backup.
Constipation is the most common gastrointestinal complaint in the United States. About 4.5 million Americans report being constipated most or all of the time.
Women, pregnant women, children, and adults age 65 and over most often complain about difficulty eliminating, resulting in around two million visits to the doctor annually.
While experts disagree on what defines constipation, Adina Niemerow, a Sausalito-based holistic chef and author of Super Cleanse: Detox Your Body for Long-Lasting Health and Beauty (HarperCollins) believes that a bowel movement after each meal-that's up to three a day-is essential. Surprised? It makes sense. After all, you'd be concerned if your dog didn't poop for a week, wouldn't you?
So why do we have such trouble staying regular? Niemerow suggests that it's all in what we eat.
"Our bodies have a hard time digesting processed flours and refined sugars, oils, and salts, so that food ends up clogging our intestines, severely impairing our bodies' ability to efficiently absorb nutrients and void waste," Niemerow says. "This toxic food weighs down the body in dis-ease."
So it's not surprising that Americans spend $725 million on laxatives annually in an effort to try to ‘unclog' our plumbing. Others turn to stool softeners, stimulants, and bulk formers.
While increasing fiber intake from plant foods-whole grains, beans, vegetables, and fruit-to 35 grams or more is critical for regularity, some of us need more help.
Niemerow says that there are "several options out there to help you stay regular." Doing an intestinal cleanse is a great first step.
She also suggests drinking plenty of water and taking your favorite fiber supplement. Stool bulking agents like Benefibre, Metamucil, Fiber-Sure, and FiberSMART are widely available and easy to incorporate. Take caution, however. When introducing a fiber supplement, begin with half the amount recommended on the label and increase your intake of water; otherwise, you may experience a worsening in bloating and abdominal pain.
For a more thorough scrub, Niemerow recommends periodically using an intestinal cleansing formula, such as Cleanse Smart and Cleanse Move from Renew Life or Swiss Kriss, all of which are available at local health food stores.
"At bedtime, take a natural laxative such as magnesium oxide or drink a laxative tea," Niemerow recommends. "Products containing pure aloe, aloe leaf, slippery elm, flax seeds, marshmallow root, triphala, yellow dock, and psyllium husks all help move the bowels."
For stubborn cases, Niemerow suggests a more immediate fix. "Go the enema or colonic route. They're the quickest way to move the toxins out of the body and they can also provide fast relief from detox symptoms, such as headaches, throbbing joints, constipation, and body aches."
"You can find do-it-yourself formulas at your local health food store, or go to a licensed colon hydrotherapist. Ask your physician or naturopath for a referral if you don't know of a therapist in your area."
While these remedies are appropriate during a cleanse, Niemerow cautions against becoming dependent on them to ensure regularity. "On an ongoing basis, a balanced, healthy diet should be what you rely on to avoid constipation."
More Ways to Reduce Bowel Backlog
Studies show that a healthy balance of intestinal microflora (probiotics) can help move the bowels. Probiotics are available in supplement form and from fermented foods like natural yogurt and sauerkraut.
Add extra fiber from psyllium, ground flax seed, chia seeds (Salvia Hispanica L.), inulin, or bran to food you eat on a regular basis such as cereals, yogurt, and salads.
In an emergency, try a vitamin C flush. Take 1,000 mg of vitamin C or one teaspoon of vitamin C crystals every 30 to 60 minutes until you experience loose stools.
Dairy, meat, refined grains, and sugar lack fiber and encourage constipation. Reducing these foods and increasing your intake of steamed vegetables, fresh fruit, and whole grains, as well as drinking an adequate amount of water will help get the bowels back on track.
More on Intestinal Health from Naturally Savvy:
Constipation Prevention & Treatment
Irritable Bowel Syndrome