As a Nutritionist, poop is one of my favorite topics to talk about. We all do it, but many of us shy away from talking about it. And let's face it, articles about ways to make you poop better may not make for the most tantalizing reading list, but when the intestinal tract does not cooperate and constipation is a problem, as it is for up to 27 percent of the population, this type of information can suddenly become especially relevant.
Consistent bowel movements are important for eliminating toxins from the body. Experts generally agree that having fewer than three bowel movements per week or producing hard, small, dry stool is the definition of constipation. With all of this in mind, here are six conventional and not so ordinary ways to make you poop on a regular basis.
Take Probiotics. Whether you choose to take a probiotic supplement, or include fermented foods rich in beneficial bacteria in your diet, or both, these microorganisms are well researched for their ability to prevent and treat gastrointestinal issues by helping restore balance to the microflora in the intestinal tract.
Choose foods with verified live cultures of beneficial bacteria like kefir, sauerkraut, fermented vegetables, tempeh, kimchee, and miso. Probiotic supplements should include a several species and should contain a minimum of 50 billion CFUs (colony forming units, which is how you measure them). I recommend probiotics from our partner Bio-K+ because it has research behind it.
Drink More Water. A general rule regarding drinking water is to consume half your weight in ounces per day; that is 70 ounces if you are 140 pounds. Pure water is preferred, but fruits and vegetables high in water contribute to that total, as do other liquids like tea or soups. Sufficient water intake is essential for preventing constipation. When we are properly hydrated, our stools are soft and easy to eliminate.
Consider Digestive Enzymes. Along with probiotics, digestive enzymes can be an effective way to promote and support a healthy digestive system and intestinal tract and, by association, help prevent constipation. Digestive enzymes are minute proteins that break down specific molecules. If we are deficient in any of the digestive enzymes (e.g., amylases, lipases, proteases, peptidases, among others), our bodies are unable to break down food as it should, contributing to constipation.
Digestive enzymes are produced by the body, but they are also found in raw, unprocessed foods like fruits and vegetables (examples include pineapple which contains bromelain, and papaya which contains papain). Supplements can contain enzymes sourced from plants (pineapple, papaya, probiotics, yeast, fungi) and/or animals (e.g., pancreatin from hogs or oxen). After the age of 35, our bodies start to produce less enzymes so taking a digestive enzyme can help if you are experiencing digestive upset (although you can take it even if you are not experiencing any gas or bloating and you just want some extra help to break down your food). I personally take two digestive enzymes before I eat a cooked meal, and three HCL (hydrochloric acid) capsules after the meal if I'm eating an animal protein (eggs, beef, chicken, etc.).
Exercise. Although exercise in general can help keep your intestinal tract healthy and assist with elimination, some activities are more beneficial than others, such as brisk walking and jumping. Both jumping rope and using a rebounder are especially helpful, and the latter (which is similar to a trampoline) is much kinder to your joints. Exercising on a rebounder helps activate the lymphatic system and stimulate and stretch the walls of the colon. Rebounding for 10 to 15 minutes several times a week may help keep you regular and provide great aerobic exercise as well!
Focus on Fiber. If you are consuming a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and seeds, getting sufficient fiber is typically not an issue. However, many of us fall short in the fiber category. We need 25 to 30 grams of fiber per day and when we fall short, pooping can be a problem.
Tracking your fiber intake for a day or two is a good way to see how much you are really getting. If you are consistently below the recommended amount, gradually increase the amount of fiber-rich foods in your diet. Boosting your fiber intake too quickly can result in bloating, gas, and stomach cramping.
Change Poop Position. Conventional Western toilets are not well designed for bathroom duty because they force us to place pressure on the rectum, which translates into straining when eliminating. Instead, the best posture for pooping is to squat with your knees higher than your hips, which is what using the Squatty Potty allows us to do. Lifting the knees straightens the rectum and can work to help prevent constipation, hemorrhoids, irritable bowel syndrome, and other related conditions.
You can make your own version of the Squatty Potty by finding (or making) a short, sturdy bench that fits under the front of the toilet. When you sit on the toilet and place your feet on the bench, your knees should be elevated comfortably to a level higher than your hips.
Boost Magnesium Levels. Pregnant women are often familiar with taking magnesium to prevent or treat constipation since the symptom is common during pregnancy (I know this too well having had three kids!). However, low magnesium levels, or a deficiency of this mineral, can affect anyone (70% of us are deficient at this very moment). Magnesium attracts water into the feces, which makes them softer and easier to eliminate. The mineral also helps relax muscles, which can be helpful if there is any tension in the intestinal tract walls that can contribute to constipation.
Adding more magnesium-rich foods to your diet (e.g., leafy greens, nuts, legumes, avocados, bananas) is highly recommended to assist better intestinal health. Additional help can come from supplements (e.g., magnesium citrate or bysglycinate). Our partner, Natural Vitality, makes Natural Calm, a magnesium powder that is super easy to take (my mom takes it daily and she said it changed her life). Place one teaspoon in a large glass, add some hot water, stir and allow the fizz to settle, then add more water and enjoy. Take it once in the morning and once before bedtime for a more relaxed sleep.
Check Thyroid Function. This may be a surprise: one of the first signs of a low-functioning thyroid (hypothyroidism) is constipation. Typically, people with hypothyroidism have a low T4 (the main thyroid hormone) and high TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone), resulting in sluggish muscles that line the digestive and intestinal tracts. This leads to stool moving too slowly through the intestines and eventually causing constipation.
If you suspect you may have hypothyroidism (other symptoms include fatigue, mind fog, hair loss, bloating, muscle pain, loss of sex drive), consult a trusted healthcare provider who is familiar with thyroid function and who understands the need for your TSH to be below 2 for it to be functioning properly.
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Dimidi E et al. The effect of probiotics on functional constipation in adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2014 Aug 6
Endocrine Web. Hypothyroidism: too little thyroid hormone
Sanchez MIP, Bercik P. Epidemiology and burden of chronic constipation. Canadian Journal of Gastroenterology 2011 Oct; 25(Suppl B): 11B-15B