Constipation, or passing stool with difficulty less than three times a week, is a common reaction to modern stress. This is at first glance curious, because our bodies were hard-wired for centuries for the exact opposite response. In primitive times, stress consisted of an acute attack, such as from a wild animal in the forest.
The body was (and still is) programmed to immediately eject the contents of our bowels, to lighten our load for “fight or flight”. An excellent modification if one is being chased by an enraged predator, or is cornered and forced to summon Herculean strength in self defense. When the blood supply is urgently needed in the limbs for strength and speed, there is no blood to spare languishing around the digestive tract, so it shuts down for business.
However, in the modern workplace, stresses are chronic and innocuous, and our hard-wired reflexes have become useless. While we are still set for “Fight or Flight”, there is nobody to hit, and nowhere to run. Even worse, our busy schedules make good bowel habits even more challenging. We are programmed to have a gastro-colic “dumping” reflex about a half-hour after stretching the stomache with a huge meal. Problem is, we are now rushing of to work, so that breakfast stimulation creates the wrong reflex for the bus trip, or traffic jam. As a result, we hold back that urge, then try to pass stool a few hours later, when the body is offering no help at all. So lets take a look at some ways to help the modern battle for regularity:
1. Drink plenty of water. Most people, like car engines, are down a quart. More water at the top end will help soften the stool at the bottom end. A good time to drink that extra water is after a big meal, to further generate that “dumping” reflex soon thereafter.
2. Eat more fiber. There is no fiber in refined sugars, or refined flours, or, for that matter, refined anything. Fiber should best come from multiple sources, such as bran, fruits, nuts, and vegetables. There is no fiber in anything that comes from an animal. Not in meats, fish, chicken, and not in milk, cheese or eggs. That means an Atkins Diet of high protein provides no fiber until you get to the part with the green vegetables. Fiber cannot be found in processed foods either. Read the fine print, and you will note that Aerosol Spray-Cheese is devoid of any fiber.
3. Tone those abdominal muscles. The six feet of colon contents need to be propelled along the way, and this propulsion is inhibited by a sloppy abdominal wall. While sit-ups can lead to low back pain if not done correctly, crunches can help, or many of the abdominal work done in Pilates and Yoga.
Belly dancing is an excellent example of another way to ripple the abldominal muscles, and encourage the bowel tone as well.
4. Watch the time. Remember your gastro-colic dumping reflex will strike a half hour after your big meal. So make plans to be sitting on the toilet, not on the bus when this happens.
5. Be wary of drugs as a frequent response. If one uses non-prescriptive suppositories, pills, or enemas too often, the results are often worse. Lazy bowels can be the unintended consequence of too much “help”.
6. If you truly cannot get your bowels back on track, please see your doctor for proper investigation.
This may include x-rays, ultrasounds, or MRI’s of the abdomen, and can even include colonoscopies to rule out other underlying conditions.