I once had an instructor at school declare: “If you aren’t having a bowel movement every day, you might as well be smoking a pack of cigarettes a day!”. An overly dramatic statement to be sure, and there is always argument to what the “perfect regularity” might be, but what he was trying to convey was the extreme importance of regular bowel movements to the maintenance of overall health.
You can make the association with the exhaust system of a car: if the exhaust pipe was to be plugged up at all with the engine running, serious repercussions occur. As our amazing human engines run and process all day, some pretty significant waste products are produced. A back-up of these wastes can potentially “grind the gears” of a vast spectrum of other body functions. This is why you may notice your health care providers are so darn interested in your number two’s!
In treating many cases of constipation, I have noticed a common factor in a significant number of them: people who suffer from habitual constipation often lead very rushed lives! Not all of them, of course, but a considerable number are the go-go-go people who wake up, slam coffee, stuff or skip breakfast, perhaps frantically get kids ready for school, and rush out the door to work as a normal morning. Sound at all familiar? To complicate things further, some of them also have jobs that require quick shifting from being awake during the day, to being unnaturally awake at night. It’s not a wonder that concerns about regularity affect so many!
If you think about it, many of the body systems are designed to run on a set schedule. Hormone production, menstrual cycles, etc. Bowel movements are supposed to run on a schedule as well, associated with digestion. In the natural world, free from the burdens of humanity, this is usually an easy transition from production to elimination. Are you ever jealous of the regularity of your household pet?
One major piece of advice I have for the sufferers of irregularity, one that seems so simple but has huge potential for positive results, is to implement a routine that will help train your body to be regular. As always, the best health solutions are always the ones your body can accomplish on its own.
The individual routines that are found to work for people may all look a bit different, but they all have adequate time and consistency of cues in common. You must give your body time to go, and a series of set events can actually act as cues to trigger a bowel movement. Yes, it is possible to train your body into being an all-star eliminator!
Your GI tract works all night to prep you for a BM, so let’s tap into that potential. Here is a suggestion of a simple routine that includes some items to help get things moving:
• A few hours before bedtime, hydrate yourself. Try 2-3 cups of warm “Sooth Digestion Tea” (recipe below). This decoction will help your body process the food you have taken in during the day, hydrate the bowel, and provide the background to hopefully get things moving the next morning. Be sure to do this early enough to avoid waking to urinate.
• Wake up at the same time every day if possible, and make this time 2 hours before any major obligations of the day start. If I’ve lost you already, remember this is training! We need to commit to get results!!
• Drink 3 cups of warm water soon after waking. Even better, drink 3 cups of warm “Sooth Digestion Tea”. You have just gone hours without water, and it is time to rehydrate! Sit down for at least 15 minutes to sip this water and give yourself a chance to properly “come to”.
• Make your breakfast food and beverage as usual, but develop a ritual about it. To really hit home a few more body cues, make relatively the same food/drink every morning, in the same series of steps, however long it takes you. Do some of the prep the night before if it can help.
• Choose this breakfast wisely, and never skip it. Steer clear of the foods that have more potential to cause inflammation or blockage. For instance, a lot of people have trouble with wheat, so maybe a slice of toast or bagel isn’t really the best food to start your stomach off on. If you find eggs make you really gassy, you likely don’t digest them very well, making them inappropriate for breakfast. Heavy meats are hard to digest and should be avoided. An easy breakfast suggestion could be oatmeal. Although oatmeal does contain gluten, it’s not as much as wheat and it can be both a great place to get fibre as well as tasty vessel for adding other movement-helpers such as fruit and cinnamon.
• Sit down, eat slowly, and enjoy this breakfast! Make this your time, and it should be at least 30 minutes. This process of adding healthy, friendly food to the top of the gastrointestinal tract can help stimulate movement at the bottom of said tract, it just needs time and a state of relaxation to do so. Relax and try not to think about the day, distract the brain by reading something enjoyable. State of mind is very important to the process. Remember that peristalsis (intestinal movement) happens primarily in a parasympathetic state, which is the relaxed side of the nervous system operating platform. On the tense, stressed, sympathetic side, peristalsis virtually halts!
• Try to keep this relaxed orderly state of mind, and go about the rest of your waking routine, whatever that may be for you. If you have ordered things so you have some time to remain sitting and relaxing after breakfast until you feel things start to move, excellent! If not, moving about but keeping the relaxed state of mind is almost as good.
Give this simple system a good 2-4 week trial, and modify it to suit your needs. If necessary, use a white board posted in your kitchen to lay it all out for you with time allotments that work. I find this works well for my patients. Remember that like all good training, this will take some time. Good luck!
If you find you need more help, or require something to provide relief during your “training period”, there are many options available to support you. Diet changes, supplements, herbal formulas, and acupuncture can all be of great assistance. Of course maintaining a proper diet and exercise routine are central to digestive success. Try to steer clear of the laxatives if at all possible. Laxative drugs are often overused and may cause dependence. It is important to note that a lengthy period of constipation can be dangerous to your health, so pay attention to your body and seek medical help (which may include laxatives) if necessary.
3 cups warm water – warm water is the most acceptable to the body for hydration. 1⁄4-1⁄2 tsp cinnamon – warming and soothing to digestive system, regulates blood sugar, relieves pain. 1⁄4-1⁄2 tsp dry ginger, or knob of fresh grated - #1 digestive system soother, relieves various digestive discomforts. Sprig of muddled peppermint, or a peppermint tea bag – calms stomach, relaxes spasms and bloating, calms the mind and relieves stress. Squeeze of lemon – acts as an astringent to help loosen material off the lining of the colon, and stimulates the liver for detoxification. Note - It can be helpful to make this decoction ahead of time to give the spices more time to dissolve, and just warm up before consuming.
Hormones are chemical messengers that communicate between different parts of the body. They are produced by glands and organs, and are secreted into the bloodstream to circulate. Hormones travel in the blood to specific organs and tissues to communicate their message. Only tissues that have receptors for the hormone in question will respond to that hormone. Hormones are one of the main tools our body uses to create balance or ‘homeostasis’ in the body. So, as you can imagine, if we have imbalances in our hormones, this stable environment will be shaken up, and we will not feel well.
The most common hormone imbalances I see in my practice are stress hormone imbalances, thyroid imbalances, and sex hormone imbalances (estrogen, progesterone, testosterone). This blog will specifically be focused on stress hormone imbalance, or what is known as ‘adrenal fatigue.’ In subsequent blogs I will address the issues of thyroid and sex hormone imbalances, so stay tuned!
What is adrenal fatigue? Adrenal fatigue occurs when our adrenal glands cannot keep up with the demands placed on them by the total amount of stress in our lives. The primary role of our adrenal glands is to produce and regulate our stress hormone cortisol. They also produce sex hormones (estrogen, progesterone and testosterone), neurotransmitters (adrenaline and noradrenaline), and a blood pressure regulating hormone (aldosterone). With acute or chronic stress cortisol imbalances are first to be seen. Over time adrenal stress can lead to other hormone imbalances including imbalances in insulin, sex hormones, blood pressure hormones, and even thyroid hormone.
We live in a very busy, stressful, on-the-go society. We work long hours while juggling the demands of family life, we sacrifice sleep, we rely on coffee to keep us awake, and reach for sugary foods for an extra energy boost. Over time these habits affect us physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
When we engage in stressful activities our bodies enter into a ‘fight or flight’ response. Cortisol is released from our adrenal glands to provide us with a burst of energy in order to ‘survive.’ It does so by breaking down our carbohydrate and protein stores, increasing blood sugar, and suppressing the immune system to conserve energy. Over time high cortisol can lead to insulin resistance, weaken our immune system, and lead to muscle wasting, if not properly addressed. It can also impact our thyroid and sex hormone balance. Eventually our adrenal glands may not be able to keep up with the stress in our lives, and cortisol levels will drop, leading to chronic mental and physical fatigue.
What are the symptoms of adrenal fatigue? Symptoms of adrenal fatigue will depend on what type of cortisol imbalance you have, ie. whether you have high or low cortisol levels.
Weight gain around waist
Tired and wired feeling
Loss of muscle mass
High blood pressure
Shaky or lightheaded if a meal is missed
Loss of scalp hair
Aches and pains
Cold/low body temperature
Low blood pressure
Dizziness upon standing
Naturally we have the highest levels of cortisol in the morning, and throughout the day our levels will slowly decline, with cortisol being lowest at night. If we have low cortisol in the morning we’ll have problems waking and will generally feel sluggish. If we have high cortisol at night on the other hand, we may have problems falling or staying asleep.
How do you test for adrenal fatigue? In this stressed out world, I generally assume that most of my patients have some amount of adrenal fatigue. I listen to the symptoms and assess the lifestyle of my patients in order to determine whether or not they have an adrenal imbalance. In some cases I use salivary hormone testing to determine baseline levels of cortisol, and track treatment progress.
How do you treat adrenal fatigue? The best way to treat adrenal fatigue is to address the underlying cause: STRESS. I encourage you to examine your personal daily stressors, slow down, and take your health back into your own hands. If you suffer from adrenal fatigue, the most important thing you can do is to establish a routine. Below are some of my suggestions for establishing an adrenal friendly routine.
Go to bed at the same time every night, and get at least 8 hours of sleep.
Do something relaxing every day (deep breathing, warm bath, nature walk, yoga, meditation, massage, acupuncture, etc.)
Learn to say NO when you’ve reached your limit.
Eat protein with every meal.
Don’t over-exercise. If you feel fatigued, scale down the intensity, or take a day or two off to recover.
Avoid processed foods, simple carbohydrates (cookies, muffins, cakes, white bread, pasta) and sugar.
Decrease or eliminate caffeine.
Consider supplementation with adaptogenic herbs, a vitamin B complex, or intravenous nutrient therapy.
Adaptogenic herbs help the body adapt and cope with stress. My favourite adaptogenic herbs are Licorice Root, Ginseng, Rhodiola, and Withania.
Intravenous nutrient therapy (ie. the Myer’s Cocktail) is a solution of B vitamins, vitamin C and magnesium that is infused directly into a vein. These vitamins nourish the adrenal glands, boost energy and help the body cope and manage stress. For more information on the Myer’s Cocktailclick here.
If you’ve enjoyed this blog remember to SHARE it, LIKE it, and post any comments below! Dr. Meghan Stobbs ND Healing Cedar Wellness
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