Regularity_Cover image

Nature Calls

  • What is regularity?
  • What are the benefits of increasing dietary fiber?
  • What do probiotics have to do with it?
  • What is the healthy way to get relief?
  • What is the Forgotten Fruit?

Regularity is not a glamorous subject. Be that as it may, more than 75 percent of us experience occasional constipation while more than four million Americans suffer frequent or chronic constipation.

Women of all ages and anybody over 65 are most often affected. In truth, efficient, regular elimination is fundamental to feeling good.

Further, many of us judge our health by our regularity.

Look inside and find out what can you do

to maintain colon health……..

Regularity_Cover image

Topic: REGULARITY

Constipation is the most common gastrointestinal complaint in the US. However, many people think they are constipated when they aren’t.  Average digestion time for a meal is two to six hours. Time for the digestion process in the small intestine is about three to five hours. Then the residue goes to the large intestine where it remains for another four hours to three days.

Nature Calls

• What is regularity?

• What are the benefits of increasing dietary fiber?

• What do probiotics have to do with it?

• What is the healthy way to get relief?

• What is the Forgotten Fruit?

Look inside and find out what can you do

to maintain colon health……..

Nature Calls

Regularity is not a glamorous subject. Be that as it may, more than 75 percent of us experience occasional constipation while more than four million Americans suffer frequent or chronic constipation. Women of all ages and anybody over 65 are most often affected. In truth, efficient, regular elimination is fundamental to feeling good. Further, many of us judge our health by our regularity.

Regularity is an area of controversy for the experts. The orthodox medical community tells us that because individual rates of peristaltic action differ widely, a perfectly normal rate of bowel movement can vary anywhere from three times a day to three times a week. An adjunct to this is the view that we ought not to expect our bowels to operate exactly the same two days in a row.

On the other hand, holistically minded health practitioners believe that having a healthy colon means good evacuations two to three times within twenty-four hours. This group also believes that bowel movements should occur like clockwork, preferably after meals.

What the two groups agree on is the solution to sluggish bowels. Each day drink plenty of liquid (water is preferable, 6-8 cups), get 40-45 grams of fiber, and exercise (walking is highly recommended).

Getting Up on the Right Side of the Bed

Real constipation is not merely irregularity. It is the passage of small amounts of hard, dry stool usually less than three times weekly. Sufferers may find it difficult and painful to move their bowels. They may also feel bloated, uncomfortable, and sluggish. Besides the lack of fiber, water, and exercise, constipation can be caused by certain medications (including antidepressants and pain-killers), by physical structure, by stress, and by habitually not heeding nature’s call.

The NDDIC reports that Americans spend over $725 million dollars annually on OTC products to relieve constipation.1 In countries where the standard diet is high in fiber, intestinal transit time averages about 18 hours. Here, the average is about 30 hours with many persons experiencing satisfactory elimination only once every 72 hours (3 days).

1 The National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse of the National Institutes of Health.

Overly processed foods inhibit the body’s natural elimination. Because they leave so little residue, it can take 75 to 100 hours to pass small quantities of fecal matter. This is when toxicity occurs. High bulk foods carry fiber residues to the colon. These residues give the colon muscles something to push. The residues also encourage the growth of intestinal bacteria and, paradoxically, soothe the intestinal walls. 

Most constipation problems can be solved by eating a wholesome natural foods diet (high in fiber and low in fat), drinking plenty of fluids, and exercising regularly. In addition, some naturopaths and health practitioners recommend a day each week of liquids to rest the digestive tract. Others recommend periodic or seasonal colon cleansing.

When help is needed for relief, the individual needs to remember that all laxatives are not alike. Basically, there are two types: stimulant laxatives and bulk-forming laxatives. Periodic colon cleansing programs frequently use a combination of stimulating and bulking substances.

Stimulants work directly on the intestinal muscles to promote peristalsis. Most of these are herbs that have been folk remedies for many centuries. They include cascara sagrada bark, senna leaves, a fragment of aloe called Aloe ferox, and castor oil. Stimulant laxatives should not be used often and should be used with caution. Over-dosage can produce gripping, increased mucus secretion, and diarrhea. A common side effect of habitual use is laxative dependence. In this case, one needs the stimulant in order to have a bowel movement.

Another stimulant option is supplemental magnesium. Start with a calcium-magnesium supplement in the ratio of 1:1. If constipation persists, add 250 mg of magnesium (as citrate or another easily-digestible form) every three days until it works. Don’t increase the amount of magnesium too quickly because it accumulates — and so does its laxative effect!

In her article for Environmental Nutrition (February 2003), Emily Bergeron, MS, RD, sorts out safe laxatives. She lists 20 common brands (including “natural products”), but only the bulk-forming types are recommended. Bulk-forming laxatives encourage the bowels to move on their own by increasing the volume and water content of the stool, which also softens the fecal mass. This type of laxative must always be taken with an additional eight ounces of water for each dose.

The most commonly used bulking agent in natural laxatives is psyllium husks. These husks are the active ingredient of the famous Metamucil. (Generic ground psyllium can be purchased economically at many natural products stores.) Ground flax seeds, guar gum, and pectin are three more natural common bulking agents. Two other bulking agents are methylcellulose and calcium polycarbophil. Both of these are artificially produced. However, like all fiber they are not digestible, not toxic, and not allergenic. The latter substance closely resembles psyllium but produces significantly less incidence of flatulence than the natural fiber because it provides no nutrition for intestinal flora.

One last well-known and widely used bulking agent is wheat bran. Wheat bran is the major ingredient of the regularity cereals. It can be purchased at any natural product store and added to prepared cereal or used as a cereal on its own. In general amounts from 6-8 teaspoons per day produce a result, although some people may need several tablespoons. Begin with one or two teaspoons per day, increasing the amount gradually until you achieve the desired effect. Again, this bulking agent must be taken with plenty of liquid — one tablespoon of bran will absorb 1 cup of water in the intestines. Gas and stomach rumbling can be expected for the first two to three weeks.

Bulking agents have a tendency to bind with minerals such as zinc, iron, magnesium, and calcium. They also have the ability to absorb vitamins altogether. To counter these properties, be sure to maintain your vitamin-mineral supplements and don’t take them along with your fiber products.

The Picture of Health

Beginning on the right hand side of the body at the ileocecal valve (the valve between the small and large intestines, also the approximate location of the appendix), the colon continues up the right side of the abdomen (ascending colon). It makes a left hand turn at the liver (hepatic flexure), travels across the body overlying the stomach (transverse colon), makes another turn at the spleen (splenic flexure). It then descends on the left side (descending colon), where with one final loop-the-loop (the sigmoid colon), it ends at the rectum.

Although usually thought of as a storage place for the semisolid remains of our diet, the colon has other functions. In the first place, it is a muscular tube lined with a layer of moist mucous cells which lubricate its contents. Its smooth folds are speckled with special glands that resemble skin pores. These glands extract fluids and electrolytes (sodium, potassium, chloride, etc.) from passing food residues. The fluid — about a quart each day — is recycled and eventually filtered by the kidneys and excreted as urine. In addition, the colon takes up short-chain fatty acids which are produced by intestinal bacteria during the fermentation of fiber. These can then be used by the body for energy.

Peristaltic movement is much slower toward the end of the colon. Instead of being continuous as it is in the previous sections of the tract, it comes in large waves three or four times per day, moving the contents along to the next section. One stimulus for this movement is the arrival of food into the stomach. Once the stool moves out of the sigmoid colon into the rectum, a signal is sent to the brain telling us that nature is calling.

Beneficial Bacteria

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the colon is the intestinal microbes it sustains. There are over three pounds of them. Mainly benign, they form thirty to fifty percent of the dry weight of the stool, creating its texture and also its odor. Their job is to break down any remaining proteins, fats, and fiber from the chyme of the small intestine.2 Their metabolic activities can either provide a suitable environment for the wall of the colon or be a constant irritation.

2 Chyme (kime) is liquid digested matter that passes from the stomach into the small intestines to be absorbed.

Some strains of bacteria have the capacity to destroy toxic chemicals which might come into the body with our food. On the other hand, some are poisoned by chemicals, creating a situation where only unnatural strains can grow. Research suggests that there is a link between bacterial enzymes and particular compounds in the diet which may be activated to promote tumor formation. Those at high risk of developing colon cancer show more activity of these enzymes. It is thought that a diet high in meat or fat can encourage this activity. As might be anticipated, beneficial flora keep disease producing micro-organisms under restraint. 

Our intestinal bacteria population is established within the first few days of life. The newborn picks up bacteria during its birth and at each feeding thereafter. Babies who are breast fed have a characteristic bacterial population which differs from those who are bottle fed. In fact, the bacteria present in any one person’s colon are distinctly different from those of another’s even within the same family. To a large extent, what we eat determines which bacteria we grow. This is because our diet becomes the diet of our intestinal microbes. As you would expect, the “good guy” bacteria like a natural, high fiber, low fat diet. Emotional stability is also a positive influence.

The beneficial bacteria population can be improved with the use of probiotic supplementation. The major type of bacteria used for this purpose is lactobacillus, particularly Lactobacillus acidophilus. This is the type of bacteria readily available in supplemental form. Following are some of the important benefits of L. acidophilus.

• Synthesize many of the B vitamins, including biotin, folic acid, and B12, as well as vitamin K, the coagulant vitamin.

• Increase the absorption of calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium.

• Help normalize cholesterol levels of the blood.

• Help keep the intestinal tract free of unwanted bacteria, minimizing the formation of cancer-causing substances in the colon.

• Produce digestive enzymes.

• Generate large amounts of lactase and may assist persons with lactose intolerance.

• Support the immune system.

• Help maintain bowel regularity.

Most of us are familiar with the use of probiotics following the use of antibiotics. Broad spectrum antibiotics can wreak havoc with the intestinal ecology. One effect of the destruction of these benign flora is the overgrowth of yeasts such as Candida albicans. Using any of the many forms of L. acidophilus (liquid, tablet, capsules, powder, or yogurt) or bifidus bacteria can colonize the intestine and remain permanently. 

Surprisingly, the predominant yogurt bacteria culture, L. bulgaricus, cannot be implanted. If you wish to use yogurt to reimplant intestinal bacteria after a course of commercial antibiotics, be sure to read the label. While all brands contain L. bulgaricus, some contain L. acidophilus as well and this is the type you will need. 

An entire year may be necessary to change intestinal bacteria content using diet alone. However, several months’ course of acidophilus and/or bifidus supplementation are satisfactory to gain sufficient bowel implantation. FOS (fructooligosaccharides) is a group of substances known to be particularly effective in promoting the implantation intestinal bacteria. Inulin is a type of FOS. Commonly called prebiotics, these food derivative soluble fibers (from chicory, garlic, leeks, Jerusalem artichokes, etc.) are being added to yogurt and other foods. This addition is advertised as an advantage to health. Because our bodies must adapt to using these fibers in concentrated amounts, some probiotic manufacturers won’t include them and question their value. Remember, the body knows lactose (milk sugar), high fiber carbohydrate foods, and vitamin C. All of them encourage the growth of healthy intestinal flora. Most importantly, a natural foods diet is basic to maintain the work done with probiotic implantation.

FIBER

Dietary fiber is defined as the skeletal remains of plant cells that are not digested by the body’s enzymes. Interestingly, its valuable functions occur precisely because of its indigestibility. Not a single substance, the word fiber indicates an enormous group of widely different substances with varied properties. For our purposes, dietary fibers are divided into two types: insoluble and soluble.

Wheat bran belongs to the insoluble fiber group as do psyllium seeds. The addition of unprocessed bran to the diet is the best treatment for the vast majority of chronic constipation cases. Since it absorbs large amounts of water, bran has also proven useful in cases of chronic diarrhea. It has been shown to bring dramatic relief to 90 percent of the symptoms of diverticular disease. Among patients with Crohn’s disease, those who eat a high fiber/low sugar diet are five times less likely to be hospitalized. 

On the other hand, soluble fiber works chemically to prevent or reduce the absorption of certain substances into the bloodstream rather than promoting the passage of digested food. Because of this characteristic, it has been shown to lower cholesterol, help to manage blood sugar, and improve fat metabolism. The presence of soluble fiber in the diet is more strongly linked to the reduction of blood cholesterol than lowering fat consumption. Oat bran is the best known source of soluble fiber. Other sources include legumes (especially soy beans), fruits, nuts, brown rice, and barley.

Flaxseed is an unusual fiber source, containing both insoluble and soluble forms. Flax fiber is one-third soluble and two-thirds insoluble so brings the benefits of each. However, whole seeds pass through the body undigested. To be useful, the seeds must be ground. Buy the whole seeds; grind about 1/2 cup at time; seal in an airtight container; store in the refrigerator or freezer. Sprinkle on veggies, salads, soups, and cereals. Add a spoonful to your smoothies.

Although flaxseed oil is currently popular for its high omega-3 fatty acid content, ground flax delivers more health benefits than the fragile oil. The oil contains no fiber and very few lignans. Lignans are plant substances that are thought to bind to estrogen receptors in the body and reduce the risk of hormonally related cancers. Flaxseed is the richest known source of lignans. Typical ground flaxseed intake is about two tablespoons daily.

Overall fiber recommendations vary from 25-60 grams per day. Eating 40-45 grams is a happy medium. At this time, the average diet contains less than 20 grams. Fiber rich vegetables include beans (such as pinto and black), 12-20 grams per cup; broccoli, 8; berries, 8; 1 banana, 3; medium apple, 4; 1 slice whole wheat bread, 6; medium baked potato (7 oz.), 5 grams. An easy-to-use fiber chart is available online at http://www.wehealny.org/healthinfo/dietaryfiber/fibercontentchart.html.

Good colon health, like health itself, is based on good sense.

Sidebar:

The Forgotten Fruit

Don’t forget about prunes! This sticky, sweet fruit is known for its laxative action. This effect has been attributed to various compounds present in the fruits, such as dietary fiber and sorbitol (a sugar alcohol that can cause diarrhea). Prunes and prune juice are often used to help regulate the functioning of the digestive system. Soak 5 sun-dried prunes in water for 48 hours, then eat the prunes in the morning and drink the juice at lunchtime.

But, hey! They’re not prunes anymore! Nope. Prunes got a facelift. Now they’re officially “dried plums” — at least in California. (No comment.) Incidentally, dried fruits are an excellent concentrated source of both fiber and antioxidants. They do need to be eaten with lots of fluids or stewed. Figs are one of the best fiber options. Three dried figs contain 10.5 grams of fiber, more than five times the fiber in three dried plums and for the same calories (120).

References

• Bergeron, E. (February 2003). Relief for irregularity: Sorting out which laxatives are safe. Environmental Nutrition.

• Fillon, M. (2005). The good digestion guide: A complete handbook to gastrointestinal health & happiness. Woodland Publishing: Orem, Utah.

• Khalsa, S. (December 1992). Colon health. Nutrition News.

• Staff. (June 2006). Q&A: Your best options for outsmarting chronic constipation. Environmental Nutrition.

Online references

• Flax information: Retrieved March 7, 2007. http://www.ecochem.com/flax_1.html

• Fiber information: Retrieved March 7, 2007. http://www.wehealny.org/healthinfo/dietaryfiber/fibercon   tentchart.html