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Let's Talk About Irregularity
by Dave Foreman
Why doesn’t anyone ever want to talk about constipation or irregularity? When I get in a room full of adults to start one of my seminars on “Digestion,” I am amazed how many people squirm in their seats when I mention these words. Sometimes I even get a giggle or two from the crowd. Maybe the squirming is due to the reminder that they are constipated and uncomfortable at the time. Whatever the reason, there are millions of people in North America suffering from this problem. It is estimated that about 20% of women and a great majority of the elderly suffer regularly (or should I say irregularly). I am also intrigued at how many people still think they are regular.
What is irregularity? You would think this would be an easy one, but it isn’t. Modern medicine says you are considered constipated if you have two or more of the following for at least three months:
In natural medicine, I preach that you are constipated if you are having only one bowel movement per day (unless it is sizeable). Regretfully, this describes most of the people in America. Sometimes we don’t make time for it, or there can be a host of other reasons why this happens. The following is a quick checklist of why you may be irregular:
Of these, dehydration, lack of fiber, diet, and stress are the biggest contributors. Luckily, there are a few simple solutions. Of course, the “Four Pillars of Great Health” play an important role. Dietary changes like increasing your intake of nuts, fruits, and veggies; and decreasing your consumption of white foods and dairy will be very helpful. Most Americans get about 15 grams of fiber, yet we need 25-40 grams per day. Increasing fiber with whole foods or with a supplement is key in addressing most digestive problems. If you are going to go the route of supplementing with fiber, I recommend flax fiber. Flax fiber provides both soluble and insoluble fiber, as well as other nutrients that are good for general health. You may as well get the biggest bang for your buck if you are going to supplement with fiber.
Increased activity is also important. A morning and evening walk of 20-30 minutes not only will get your legs moving, but it will help get your bowels moving. This may sound crazy, but it doesn’t cost you anything except time - and it will help with your constipation and other health challenges.
When it comes to supplementation, there are several inexpensive ways to attack your irregularity. Magnesium is the easiest and least expensive alternative that will bring you immediate results. I recommend anywhere from 200-1000mg at bedtime (consult your health care provider for the exact amount) to help get things moving. Start with smaller amounts, or you may be in for a reverse surprise (diarrhea). We are a magnesium- deficient society and constipation is another symptom caused by this deficiency. Next, look to probiotics for additional help. Probiotics are especially effective in those who have had multiple antibiotic treatments over the years. Yes, I believe that those antibiotics you took as a child can be contributing to your digestive health today. These friendly bacteria can help your body finish the digestive process and speed elimination. There are several store brands and name brands (Jarrow, Renew Life, Enzymatic Therapy) which are shelf stable (don’t require refrigeration), that when taken once at bedtime can rid you of your constipation issues. Water is the last supplement on my list. Water should be part of the diet, but in this case we are talking about adding two to four additional glasses of water a day to your diet until you return to normal. This is above the amount I recommend for daily consumption (1/2 your body weight in ounces of water… ie. 150 lb person consumes 75 ounces). Water helps loosen your stool, and makes it easier to have a bowel movement. Your stool is basically made up of water, digested foods, and bacteria. Without enough water, your stool becomes hard and difficult to move.
There are other supplements available at your health food store to address irregularity. Many of these contain potentially harmful digestive stimulants such as cascara sagrada and senna. These herbs can lead to more serious problems in those with more severe cases of constipation. Also, regular use of these herbs will also cause dependency (addiction). I never recommend these herbs for constipation because of the potential harm they may cause.
In brief, following a simple diet change, adding more water and fiber, and the use of magnesium will have your constipation problems in check within a few days to a week. The best part of this program is that it is safe to do over long periods of time. And it’s easy! Once you become regular, you will notice changes in your skin health and energy levels, as well as improvements for other digestive woes. You’ll find yourself in better overall health and wellness. Why suffer when you don’t have to? Relief may be easier than you think.