February 27, 2008

You Ask, I Answer: Regularity/Constipation

Sorry if this is a strange question, but how many times a day should we "sit down in the bathroom"?

Is once a day "enough"?

(Name withheld)

San Antonio, TX

Ideal excretion of food shouldn’t solely be measured by the number of times it occurs each day or week.

As with anything else, there is a range of “normal” bowel movement frequency – usually from three times a day to once every other day.

Going an entire day without a bowel movement is not necessarily constipation, nor should it be cause for concern.

This is the kind of topic that needs to be analyzed in the appropriate context.

Two bowel movements a day might sound like good intestinal health, but if they involve straining, or dry and hard stools, it is a sign that something is not working properly.

What steps should you take if bowel movements are difficult or painful for you?

Generally, the first course of action is to increase insoluble fiber -- the kind found entirely in whole wheat products and partially in legumes, vegetables, and the skins of fruits -- and fluid intake (preferrably water).

It is no surprise that constipation is, for the most part, directly related to low fiber consumption.

Another recommendation that often times gets overlooked is exercise.

Physical activity stimulates peristalsis, the muscular contraction that keeps contents moving in waves through the digestive system.

Physical activity is also key because, as a result of making us produce sweat, usually results in higher water intake.

Talk about killing two birds with one stone!

It is worth pointing out that not all causes of constipation are diet-related.

There are often psychological causes as well (i.e.: stress, being in a bathroom other than the one we are accustomed to using, etc).

Some medications – including tranquilizers, antidepressants, and hypertension calcium blockers -- can also cause constipation, so do not be alarmed if your regularity is compromised when consuming them.

I’m actually glad you asked this question because this is a topic many people feel uncomfortable discussing.

However, it’s important to talk about it openly since there are a lot of concerns, myths, and health issues surrounding it.

As a result, too many people erroneously -- and dangerously! -- self-medicate with laxatives, thinking one bowel movement a day isn't enough, causing lots of harm to their digestive tracts.

Hopefully engaging in discourse about it can get the right information out there. After all, as the classic children’s book states – everyone poops!

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