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.
Rebecca Stephens Dr.TCM, R.Ac.
Healing Cedar Wellness
“Sooth Digestion Tea”:
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.
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