to Have Healthy Bowel Movements
Dr. Ben Kim
healthy bowel movements, it's essential that you support colon and
rectal health with all of your daily choices. Keeping these areas
clean and healthy provides the following benefits:
lowered risk of developing colorectal cancer, one of the most
common types of cancer in industrialized countries.
lowered risk of experiencing irritable bowel syndrome, chronic
constipation, and chronic diarrhea.
lowered risk of developing hemorrhoids.
efficient absorption of water and minerals.
feeling of lightness, comfort, and well-being in your abdominal
we discuss specific choices that you can make to keep your colorectal
region healthy and to have comfortable bowel movements, let's review
some basic anatomy and physiology of this area.
colon and rectum are collectively referred to as your large intestine,
which is the last part of your digestive tract.
A Journey Through
Your Large Intestine
food passes through your stomach and small intestine, the remaining
material, mostly waste products in liquid form, move on to the your
colon, which is the first part of your large intestine.
colon is approximately six feet long and serves primarily to dehydrate
liquid waste material.
colon begins at the lower right hand corner of your abdomen, where
it's called your cecum. Attached to your cecum is a twisted, worm-shaped
tube called your appendix.
your cecum, your colon travels up the right side of your abdomen,
where it's called your ascending colon. When it reaches your lower
right ribs (just below your liver), it turns to travel across your
abdomen to just below your lower left ribs; here, it's called your
below your lower left ribs, it makes another turn and travels down
the left side of your abdomen - this portion is called your descending
colon then makes one last turn toward the middle of your lower abdomen,
forming an "S" shaped segment that's called your sigmoid colon.
sigmoid colon empties waste materials into your rectum, which is like
a storage pouch that retains your feces until contractions in your
large intestine stimulate a bowel movement.
how to keep your colorectal region clean and healthy, let's go over
a few key details on how your large intestine works.
of Waste Material
you eat a substantial meal, your stomach expands enough to trigger
a reflex that causes a contractile wave (called a peristaltic wave)
to travel through your small intestine and push any liquid waste material
(chyme) that is sitting in the last part of your small intestine into
your large intestine.
enough liquid waste material accumulates in your cecum (the first
part of your large intestine), the waste material begins to move up
your ascending colon.
of waste material through your colon is facilitated by something called
"haustral churning." Your colon is divided along its length into small
pouches called haustra. When a haustrum is filled with substantial
waste material, its muscular walls contract and push the waste material
into the next haustrum. The contractile reflex that allows haustral
churning is regulated by your enteric nervous system, which is a division
of your autonomic nervous system.
autonomic nervous system is regulated involuntarily (without regular
conscious input on your part), and is intertwined with your emotional
health. This is why bowel movements and colon health are intricately
tied to emotional states like feeling calm or anxious.
your colon experiences anywhere from three to twelve moderate waves
of contractions every minute. After every substantial meal, your colon
experiences a much larger contractile wave, called "mass peristalsis."
Mass peristalsis serves to push waste materials from your transverse
colon all the way to your rectum. In most people, mass peristalsis
occurs about three times a day.
and Nutrient Absorption
lining of your large intestine is lined with tiny pits that open into
long, tube-like intestinal glands; these glands are lined with specialized
cells that absorb water, and other specialized cells (goblet cells)
that release mucous into your large intestine to lubricate your stools
and to protect the lining of your large intestine against acidic substances
and potentially harmful gases.
cells that absorb water from your waste materials are responsible
for about 10 percent of the water that you absorb from the foods and
beverages that you ingest; the remaining 90 percent is absorbed by
cells that line your small intestine.
10 percent of water absorption in your large intestine amounts to
anywhere between a pint and a quart of water, and represents a significant
portion of your body's daily intake of water. As water is absorbed
from the waste material in your colon, so are some nutrients, mainly
minerals like sodium and chloride.
anywhere between three to ten hours for your large intestine to absorb
enough water from waste material to turn it into solid or partially
solid stools. Your stools consist mainly of water, mucous, fiber,
old cells from your intestinal lining, millions of microorganisms,
and small amounts of inorganic salts.
your rectal pouch is distended with enough feces to trigger a contractile
reflex, your feces are pushed out through your anus. When you consciously
contract your abdominal wall, your diaphragm moves downward and helps
open up muscles that line your anal sphincter.
rectum is lined with three horizontal folds, called your rectal valves;
these valves are what prevent stools from passing through your anal
sphincter when you pass gas.
choose not to release stools when you experience the urge to do so,
your reflex contractions may stop, in which case you likely won't
have a significant bowel movement until the next mass peristalsis
waste material travels through your digestive tract too quickly for
sufficient water absorption to occur, your stools will be runny and
more frequent than normal.
main causes of diarrhea are:
the first two cases listed above, it makes sense that your body
would want things to move quickly through your system; your body
doesn't want to spend time digesting foods that it can't properly
extract nutrients from or that are laced with disease-causing microbes.
can cause transit time to shorten by messing with your enteric nervous
system; please recall that your enteric nervous system controls
the reflex contractions that mark "haustral churning." Your enteric
nervous system is a part of your autonomic nervous system, and your
autonomic nervous system regulates your physiological responses
to emotional and physical stress.
waste material travels through your colon more slowly than it should,
enough water is extracted from your waste material to cause your stools
to become uncomfortably hard.
main causes of constipation are:
sporadically, or eating meals that are too small to elicit mass
going when you feel an urge to go.
of a healthy intestinal lining that is capable of producing
enough mucous to properly lubricate your stools (vitamin A deficiency
is a potential cause of this situation).
intake of water, water-rich foods, and/or fiber-rich foods.
Steps You Can
Take To Have Healthy Bowel Movements
substantial meals; don't nibble on small amounts throughout the day.
time you eat a substantial meal, you stimulate stretch receptors in
your stomach that are responsible for triggering normal and mass peristaltic
waves throughout your small and large intestines. These natural contractile
waves promote regular movement of waste material through your colon
eating substantial meals allows significant boluses (roundish masses)
of waste materials to travel together through your colon, turn into
well formed stools, and get eliminated from your body in an efficient
suppress the desire to go.
regularly suppress the urge to have a bowel movement, waste materials
spend more time than is optimal in your colon, causing excessive dehydration
of these materials and formation of hard stools.
anal intercourse if possible.
anus is designed to be an exit, and your anal sphincter is not naturally
inclined to comfortably allow external objects to enter your rectal
pouch. Your anal sphincter is designed to stretch to allow passing
of stools when your rectal pouch accumulates enough waste materials
to illicit contraction of its walls.
anal intercourse can lead to a loss in anal sphincter tone, which
may lead to incontinence issues, if not now, then in the future.
anal intercourse can also lead to regular injury of the mucosal lining
in your rectal pouch, anal canal, and in some cases, the distal region
of your sigmoid colon. Repeated injury and healing of these areas
may increase your risk of developing polyps, which can increase your
risk of developing colorectal cancer.
adequate intake of water and/or water-rich foods.
helps to move waste materials along, and is absorbed throughout the
entire length of your colon. Insufficient water intake can cause stools
to form far before waste materials reach your rectal pouch, which
can cause constipation.
doesn't necessarily mean that you need to drink several glasses of
water per day. If you eat plenty of water-rich plant foods, then you
can rely on your sense of thirst to dictate how much water to drink.
For more guidance on this issue, please view:
Drinking Too Much Water Is Dangerous
fiber-rich foods regularly.
adds bulk to the boluses of waste material that travel through your
large intestine, and this bulk is essential to your colon's ability
to turn waste materials into well formed stools.
that is rich in vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains ensures
high fiber intake.
optimal vitamin D status.
vitamin D status significantly lowers your risk of developing all
types of cancer, including colorectal cancer.
more about how to make sure your body is getting enough vitamin D,
have a look at the following:
to Make Sure that You Are Getting Enough Vitamin D for Your Best Health
adequate vitamin A status.
earlier, glands that line the mucosal lining of your colon are responsible
for releasing mucous that is needed to lubricate your feces; vitamin
A is needed to maintain the health of these specialized cells that
best to ensure adequate vitamin A status by eating healthy
foods that contain vitamin A.
adequate intake of healthy fats.
your cells, including those of your large intestine and nervous system,
require a constant influx of undamaged fatty acids and cholesterol
to remain fully functional. If you don't ensure adequate intake of
healthy fats, your nervous system and the smooth muscles that surround
your digestive passageway - both of which are responsible for creating
peristaltic waves throughout your digestive tract - may deteriorate
intake of healthy fats is necessary for optimal absorption of fat-soluble
vitamin A, which, as mentioned above, is critical to building and
maintaining the mucosal lining of your colon.
foods that are rich in healthy fats include: avocados, organic eggs,
olives, extra-virgin olive oil, coconut
raw nuts, raw seeds, and cold-water fish.
and maintain a population of friendly bacteria in your digestive tract.
populations of friendly
bacteria can keep your digestive tract clean and healthy by:
optimal digestion, thereby preventing buildup of toxic waste materials.
up space and resources, thereby helping to prevent infection by
harmful bacteria, fungi, and parasites.
at feeling emotionally balanced.
can interfere with your ability to clean your colon through its effect
on your enteric nervous system. I can state with certainty that the
majority of people who have come to me over the years with a chronic
colon-related health issue have had significant anxiety in their lives.
have a challenge with colon and rectal health, I encourage you to
take a careful look at ways that you can minimize the amount of stress
and anxiety you experience.
Thoughts On Having Healthy Bowel Movements
remember that healthy bowel movements are generated by good overall
health. Chronic constipation is the single greatest cause of having
an unclean and unhealthy colorectal region because over time, constipation
causes your bowel walls to face excessive pressure. This pressure
is created by you straining to go and by your colon walls creating
stronger contractions to help eliminate hard stools.
pressure on your colon walls can cause little pouches called diverticuli
to form. Sometimes, small bits of waste material can get lodged in
diverticuli, which can lead to diverticulitis and other potentially
serious health challenges.
also note that nowhere in this article have I mentioned how many bowel
movements you should have daily. How many you have isn't important
compared to the quality of each movement. If you focus on making food
and lifestyle choices that produce comfortable bowel movements, you
can have peace of mind in knowing that your colon and rectum are in
likely in good health.
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