We are not what we eat but what we digest. Poor digestion is essentially a factor in all chronic diseases such as colon cancer, allergies, asthma, headaches, skin diseases, and arthritis. A combination of poor food choices, over-prescribed medications and/or stress upsets the bowel ‘ecosystem’ causing imbalance and disrepair.

There are 5 cardinal signs of poor bowel ecosystems: 1) Poorly formed stools. A healthy first morning stool is about six inches long and one inch wide. A stool should be compact enough that it does not fall apart on contact with water and will rarely leave any residue on toilet paper; 2) Poor transit time. With a good diet and sufficient activity, most people should have 2-3 bowel movements a day. If you are constipated, food is putrefying in the bowels, nourishing undesirable bacteria and producing toxins that tax your immune system and promote flatulence. Since your bowels should be a primary organ of detoxification, other elimination organs such as your liver, kidneys and skin will need to compensate and ultimately will suffer. If your bowel movements are too frequent, you likely have inflammation and spasms, as your body is trying to rid itself of toxic irritants and/or your nervous system is erratic; 3) Frequent gas, pain and/or bloating. While these issues may be common, they are not normal and are signs of such things as indigestion and excessive amounts of bad bacteria inhabiting the bowels; 4) The presence of diagnosed bowel pathologies such as haemorrhoids, polyps, ulcers and colitis. These preventable pathologies often represent the end stage of poor bowel health; 5) straining and/or pain during a bowel movement. Upon experiencing the urge to defecate, one should experience a painless and fairly quick bowel movement within a minute. Other indicators of poor bowel health are sinking or over- buoyant stools, foul smelling stools (they should have little to no odour), and stools which are not predominantly light brown in colour.

These problems indicate a disrupted bowel ecosystem. Frequently, dysbiosis is present. This means that harmful bacteria are over-populating the gut at the expense of good bacteria. Poor diet, high caffeine and coffee intake, as well as frequent use of antibiotics, antihistamines and sulfa drugs are common causal factors. Good bacteria produce enzymes to help digest remaining food residues, they also ferment some undigested carbohydrates in the large intestines, metabolize components of the diet, and more. Dysbiosis commonly results in an overgrowth of yeast called Candida which can result in chronic yeast infections or urinary tract infections as well as a large range of symptoms such as chronic fatigue, brain fog, allergies and eczema. Inflammation is often an underlying process in poor bowels. Sometimes this can result in ulcers or diseases such as ulcerative colitis. A condition commonly referred to as ‘leaky gut’ may be present. This means the integrity of the bowel walls is so disrupted that large undigested particles make their way into the bloodstream. This is thought to be one underlying trigger for autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis or for chronic conditions such as arthritis, allergies, eczema and more. The Gut immune system is functioning sub-optimally. Unbeknownst to many of us, a large portion of our immune system is in the gastrointestinal system. Proper production of acid in our stomachs is a first line of defence against unwanted bacteria that may be present in foods. But more importantly, an area called ‘Peyer’s Patches’ in our small intestines, like your tonsils, is an important immune tissue.

An underlying emotional link to poor bowel health is quite common. The ancients called the bowels “the seat of emotions”. You do not get ulcers from what you eat but rather from what is eating you. If you have been diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome and have anxiety this is likely a causal factor. This is no surprise since the bowels are intimately connected to the nervous system. In fact, when the brain perceives you are in a state of emergency it shuts down functions such as digestion.

What basic habits are important to maintain good bowel health? Make sure you chew your food adequately. An enormous amount of digestion can occur right in the mouth. Chewing can relieve stress from your overtaxed pancreas. Ensure you consume adequate fibre to produce well formed stools. Fibre provides an essential scraping action to remove unwanted toxins, waste and faeces from the bowels. It also helps excrete hormones, cholesterol and the like. A minimum of 30 grams fibre daily is important although most people do not even consume 10. Experience regular bowel movements without the use of laxatives. Laxatives damage and weaken the bowels over time. Drink 1 ounce of water for every kilogram of body weight. Avoid drinking ice cold drinks with your meals and substitute with small amounts of warm fluids. Drink the majority of fluids between meals. If you consume diuretics such as coffee, black tea and/or pop on a regular basis you may require more water. Eat red meat in small portions (3oz) and only occasionally (maximum 3 times a week). Avoid meat all together if you are constipated. The by-products of red meats are particularly damaging to the bowels and their consumption is directly correlated with colon cancer. Foul breath odour or faeces is a primary sign that you are producing toxic by-products from too much protein. Eat small amounts of unpasteurized fermented foods daily to maintain your good bacteria. Include fresh fruits and vegetables in your daily diet. Overcooked and processed foods are inadequate for feeding friendly bacteria.

The ‘bottom line’ is that poor bowel health is not just an inconvenience or irritation; it is detrimental to your long term health. If you have chronic bowel problems you need to address them.

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