Having irregular bowel movements can be a sign of numerous health issues. Getting to the point where one is having regular bowel movements is one of the best forms of feedback one can get in determining that their diet and digestive tract are operating properly and efficiently. The body excretes what it consumes and a lot can be learned from irregularities in bowel movements. Additionally, in Chinese Medicine we often ask many questions about the stool as it is a clue to the health of the inside of the body. Luckily, having regular bowel movements is not too difficult, as it is the natural way the body is meant to work. Outlined below are a few simple tips for helping restore the natural rhythm of your digestive system.
One method for helping to have regular bowel movements is to try to have a bowel movement at a regular time. Even if the urge is not there, sitting down and trying to have a movement at a predetermined time every day will help to train your body that that is the time at which it should be having a bowel movement. For many people, having a bowel movement in the morning before showering is the optimal time to do so. Therefore, sitting down and attempting to have a bowel movement before bathing in the morning is a good choice; however, it does not matter at what time one tries to have a bowel movement as long as it is consistent. Attempting to have a movement in the morning one day only to attempt one in the afternoon the following day will not help with improving the regularity of the movement.
In addition to regularity in terms of frequency, having a regular and proper consistency is vital. If the stool is too hard or too soft, it is a sign of poor movement through the large intestine. For example, if the stool is too soft or is watery it means that the stool passed through the large intestine too quickly and enough water was not absorbed back into the body. This is getting you on the track of diarrhea. With long term loose or watery stool can lead to dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. On the other hand, an extremely dry and hard stool means that it took too long to pass through the large intestine and too much water was absorbed back into the body. Hard stools can cause many issues with your health. Dry stools often cause pain and bearing down which lead to hemorrhoids, anal fissures, and pain. Pain will often make you put off eliminating your stool even more. Worst of all, the large intestine is mainly an organ of absorption. This means there is fecal matter in there that is beginning to rot and overgrow with bad bacteria, these toxins can then start to absorb into your body.
One of the best things to do for maintaining proper stool properties is to have a diet with plenty of fiber. Fiber can be found in many foods including whole grain breads, crackers, cereals, and pasta. Additionally, many food products are fortified with fiber. Another popular choice for people are supplements like psyllium and flax. These bulking agents contain lots of fiber and are great at absorbing toxins and such in order to be eliminated. Flax seed also contains essential Omega-3 fatty acids. This makes flax seed itself a double action supplement that is great for daily use!
Maintaining a well balanced diet and eating regularly is vital to having regular bowel movements. If eating is sporadic and inconsistent, the body will be digesting foods at different times. For example, if you happen to eat a big meal late at night some days but not others, the food that is eaten late at night will be moving through the digestive tract at a different time than on days when you eat at regular intervals throughout the day. In addition to eating at consistent times, maintaining a balanced diet will do wonders for maintaining regular bowel movements. Skewing a diet too far in one direction will have an adverse affect on the entire digestive tract. For example, eating too much dairy and fats will result in a tight, soft, and oily stool when compared to a balanced diet. Optimum health is found with consistent eating habits (especially when time is taken to sit and enjoy your food, not eating while driving or working etc.) and eating a wide diverse amount of foods.
Lets talk about some herbs and various usages. There are a few different categories for herbs when it comes to producing regular stools. Here are the different ways you can categorize the herbs:
Purgatives: Purgatives are herbs that we use to induce bowel movements. Herbs have different ways of doing this like: strongly stimulating peristalsis or flooding the large intestine with water. Purgatives are commonly used for short term issues and should be prescribed by herbalists or used only when needed and for short term use. Purgatives can cause dependency and other issues if used incorrectly. When used in balanced formulas in small amounts some purgative herbs can be used long term.
Non-dependant Laxatives: Non-dependant laxatives are just as the name says. Unlike purgatives, non-dependant laxatives provide help to the bowel to help keep you regular. These herbs have a little bit of many different functions like moistening the bowels, lightly inducing peristalsis, providing bulk and more. When used correctly these herbs can be used to create a regularity of the bowel.
Moistening Herbs: Moistening herbs are the safest of all the herbs. Most of these ‘herbs’ are seeds and therefore many foods do the same actions as the herbs. These seeds and herbs have oils and other properties to them that moisten your large intestine. This is the most important category for elderly people.
These 3 categories can typically categorize all the different herbs used for constipation and promoting bowel movements. Here are some popular herbs for each category:
Rhubarb Root / Da Huang: Rhubarb root is a strong purgative and is very effective at promoting bowel movements. This is the number one herb used in Chinese Medicine for excess constipation that needs a quick remedy. When the problem is related to dryness with the stool, then more herbs need to be used to increase water in the large intestine for a bowel movement to avoid pain, like Mang Xiao. Da Huang is not recommended for long term especially by itself or with few herbs. As this herb has other good functions it is used in smaller amounts in formulas for bowel health for longer periods of time and is often an ingredient in colon cleansers.
Cascara Sagrada: Cascara Sagrada is a famous western herb used as a laxative. I categorize this as a non-dependant laxative. Cascara Sagrada effectively moistens the bowel, provides some bulk and light peristalsis to be a reliable herb for bowel movements and creating regularity. This herb is easily found and should be a main ingredient in most formulas. Since it isn’t as strong it is a perfect fit to be a main ingredient when taking a formula longer term.
Huo Ma Ren / Canabis Seed: I am using Huo Ma Ren as an example for moistening the large intestine herbs because it is by far the most prescribed medicinal herb for this purpose. In my opinion Flax Seed would be the closest food that people take on their own. These herbs are important in long term stool regularity and should be used to create continued results. As I have previously stated, these are the most important herbs for the elderly as dryness is the issue here.
A note on Senna Leaf / Fan Xie Ye: I would like to put a note in here regarding Senna Leaf as it is widely used and popular. Senna is a very dependant herb and a strong laxative. Additionally, Senna has recent research showing it has cancerous properties. Although this is also a Chinese Herb it is highly discouraged from use due to recent research on the herb. I highly recommend not taking this herb, ESPECIALLY long term.
Remember that bowel movements are the major way that your body gets rid of waste out of your body. Not only can a daily bowel movement encourage the removal of toxins from your body, but also prevent the stool from actually adding toxins into the body.
For those looking for quality premade formulas on the market. Whether you have any kind of issue with bowel movements you want to correct, taking pain medication that is causing constipation, or wanting to easily kickstart off a clean colon you should look at a well balanced formula with proven results and is safe, I recommend a Bowel Tonic. Additionally, a bowel flush or colon cleanser may be needed to clear the intestines of old waste so you can start fresh.