What’s considered a “normal” frequency of bowel movements, and what do you recommend if I’m constipated?
Constipation is more common than many people think, and the importance of elimination in overall health is often overlooked. Most naturopathic physicians will tell you that it’s normal to have at least one bowel movement every day; if you do not, you are considered constipated.
To treat constipation, begin by making a few simple changes in your daily habits and your diet.
First, be sure you are drinking enough water. Remember that water is crucial to every living thing. It assists you with digestion and elimination by keeping the mucous membranes of your intestines hydrated. The average person needs at least two or three quarts of water every day, depending on body weight. Use this formula: your body weight divided by two equals the approximate number of ounces of water you should drink daily.
Second, make sure you are getting adequate exercise. Exercise helps keep you regular because it promotes peristalsis, or involuntary intestinal movement. Move your body with some form of exercise every day.
Finally, most people who are constipated have insufficient fiber in their diet. The average American gets about 12 grams of fiber a day, but the human body needs 20 to 35 grams of fiber on a daily basis. There are two kinds of dietary fiber, soluble and insoluble. The latter type – found in bran cereal, pears, spinach, corn, whole wheat bread and beans – helps to shorten the time food remains in your digestive system. Increasing these foods in your diet will most certainly help you with regularity.
Another way to get lots of healthy fiber in your diet is with fruit and vegetable smoothies. I’ve helped many patients cure constipation completely with my “Magic Smoothie.” Here’s the recipe: in a powerful blender, mix an apple, banana, carrot, and a cup of parsley or spinach. You can also add other fruits or vegetables. Add water, soy milk, rice milk, almond milk, or juice, and blend. Drink first thing in the morning, and repeat in the evening if necessary. For those with low blood sugar or who need more protein, add pumpkin seeds, cashews, or tofu. Enjoy!
If you’ve become constipated and you haven’t been prone to this condition in the past – or if you’ve experienced any other unusual changes in your bowel habits – see your doctor to make sure that your symptoms aren’t due to something more serious like colon cancer.
Dr. Laurie Steelsmith is a naturopathic physician and licensed acupuncturist in Honolulu, as well as author of the new #1 best-selling book Natural Choices for Women’s Health, published by Random House. You can reach her and read her past columns at www.drsteelsmith.com This column is for information only. Consult your health provider for medical advice.