How Regular Are You?
You are undoubtedly unique, but are you also regular? This isn’t for the faint of heart but it may be a long overdue conversation. Let’s cut to the chase. Are you having a bowel movement every… single… day? You should be if you care about your health. Your bowel movements should be easy to pass, medium brown in colour (or more specifically a shade of the Belgium walnut toffee crunch paint offered by Benjamin Moore), and it should release into the toilet bowl with the precision of an Olympic diver. It should have a slight ‘S’ shape – assuming the form of your sigmoid colon – and slowly, but surely, sink to the bottom of the bowl. It’s quite normal to see the occasional corn niblet. It will never smell like roses, but the odour shouldn’t be unbearably foul. If it floats, it means your diet is too high in fat and if it sinks like a ton of bricks you’re low in fiber and probably dehydrated. Your BM shouldn’t require more than a few squares of toilet paper to wipe up with. In the end, the entire process shouldn’t take you much longer than a minute.
Having ventured this far into the taboo topic of poop, let’s go to the next level. You’re going to want to peek at what the perfect poo ought to look like by checking out the Bristol Stool Chart. Then, you’ll want to regularly compare it to what you leave behind in the toilet bowl. ‘Cmon, do it. Grab your smartphone and google that right now. As you will see, you should be type 3 or 4.
Stool colour, quality, form, and consistency are all paramount but just as important for colon health and your overall health is being able to maintain regularity. Who knew that the word constipation came from the Latin word constipare meaning "to press, or crowd together". That makes sense. But in the end, who really cares? When you’re not regular, you feel horrible. Technically, you’re sick.
Chronic constipation, and hard, small stools can cause lower abdominal discomfort, force straining to have a bowel movement, cause hemorrhoids to form, rectal bleeding, anal fissures, diverticuli (little out-pouches in the intestinal wall), and physiological distress or even obsession with having bowel movements, as well as irritable bowel syndrome of the constipation type (IBS-C). That is a long and crappy list! In fact, the incidence of IBS-C affects more of us in Canada than anywhere else in the world. But, we don’t know why. Five million Canadians currently suffer and women are affected more frequently than men. The economic and health-care related costs exceed $6.5 billion annually in Canada alone. That is serious waste!
Luckily there are many natural, no BS options for those who are affected by IBS and constipation - ranging from lifestyle modifications to dietary supplementation. Only about 40% of folks with IBS-C and constipation ever seek medical attention. Patients with milder symptoms typically try to self-treat their condition using dietary modifications and non-prescription over the counter remedies. The problem is that these solutions are often short lived - if they even work. As stimulants or laxatives, they don’t address the underlying problem of constipation or IBS-C.
With the right treatment however, as many as one-third of IBS-C patients and those with chronic constipation will eventually become symptom-free. This often includes ruling out food sensitivities and supplementing with probiotics.
We hear a lot of buzz around probiotics and the importance of taking them for overall health. In my clinical practice, I routinely test patients to determine what, if any, probiotic imbalance they may have and work to identify specific strains that are deficient. By replacing missing strains, my patients’ outcomes are very positive. But what my clinical observation has taught me over the years is that probiotic treatment – even with the right type and dose – is often limited due to the inability for the live bacterial cells to flourish. It turns out that they need to eat too! Their favourite food? Soluble fiber. Insoluble fiber - like psyllium husk and wheat bran – doesn’t get absorbed and adds ‘bulk’ to your stool. Soluble fiber – found in figs, prunes, and sweet potatoes – is like fertilizer for probiotic friendly bacteria.
My favourite natural ingredient that solves this is called “Sunfiber”. You can find it in natural health products like Flora’s IBS Relief. It confidently carries a Health Canada approved claim that it treats IBS, improves regularity, and provides a gentle relief of constipation in adults and children. The ingredient is made from partially hydrolyzed guar bean (not to be confused with hydrogenated). The manufacturer, Taiyo, is located in Yokkaichi, Japan. I recently had the opportunity to personally visit their manufacturing facility. I was quite impressed with what I saw.
Sunfiber helps to reduce the frequency of bowel irregularity and abdominal discomfort in people with IBS, including flatulence, bloating, and altered bowel habits. Until now, only prunes had the claim to be able to help improve intestinal regularity in children and provide them gentle relief of constipation. Think I’m full of if? A recent publication in the World Journal of Gastroenterology concluded that the Sunfiber was safe and effective at reducing the clinical symptoms of IBS, reduced the intensity of abdominal pain, and helped to normalize bowel habits by reducing instances of constipation and diarrhea in children.
If that wasn’t impressive enough, the addition of Sunfiber to your glass of water, salad dressing, or morning shake results in more than 20% reduction in blood sugar levels following meals as well as improve mineral absorption!
Don’t worry, achieving the perfect poo doesn’t have to taste bad or cause embarrassing side effects like gas. This soluble fiber is completely tasteless, totally odorless, all natural and completely dissolvable in water. This helps in particular when it comes to compliance - especially in children.
The bottom line is, the average North American gets only half of the approximately 35 grams of fiber needed daily from their diet. Besides getting backed up, when you are fiber deficient, there are negative consequences on the heart and overall immune health.
Whether you suffer from constipation or IBS-C or you are simply looking to be the healthiest you, the need to increase your daily fiber is essential. Eat a rainbow of fruits and veggies every day, take your fish oil and vitamin D too. But I urge you to add to that list a fiber that will get you the perfect poo!