Our bodies are miraculous in all that they do for us. Our senses allow us to experience our environment. Our heart and circulatory system pumps blood throughout our body for our entire life usually without missing a beat. Our digestive system takes the food we eat and breaks it down down to the molecular level so that it can be absorbed and provide energy to the trillions of cells in our body. One often underappreciated function of our body is its ability to eliminate waste. This waste comes from many sources: undigested food components, the breakdown products of physical structures as our body repairs itself, hormones, chemicals from outside the body (e.g. medications) and exposure to chemicals in our environment (e.g air pollution and pesticides). Because the process of eliminating waste and unneeded chemicals from our body is so important we have several systems to facilitate this process. This week I focus on one key system, our intestinal tract and the elimination of solid waste.
Wherever we are living, we have to take out the trash. It is the only way to keep things clean. The same goes for our internal environment. Regular eliminations (bowel movements) are key to maintaining this balance. Our solid waste is the place that many substances are removed from the body. If you take medications, many of these are broken down in the liver and then need to be eliminated through the stool. Similarly hormones (in both men and women) are broken down in the liver and need to be eliminated as well. If the body is not having regular eliminations, these chemicals can build up in the body leading to adverse effects. For example in women who are having issues related to hormone imbalance (e.g.PMS or menopausal symptoms) an important first step is to make sure that they are having regular eliminations. The goal should be for at least one bowel movement daily. Here are some strategies to encourage regularity.
Increase the fiber. Fiber is the part of plant and grain foods that is indigestible or only partly digestible. Fiber helps our intestinal system work better and move things through. In addition, fiber has several other benefits. The soluble fiber the type found in beans, apples, berries, nuts and oatmeal can also lower cholesterol and lower blood sugar. Some key foods to add to your diet to increase your fiber intake include:
Beans. Beans are very high in fiber. Eating beans regularly is an excellent way to increase your fiber intake. Some people have trouble digesting beans. This ability can often improve if you take it slow. Start by eating a small portion of beans and gradually increase your intake. Also there are products like Beano® that can be used.
Whole grains. Whole grains include foods like brown rice, oatmeal, barley and whole wheat flour. Try to get a variety of whole grains in your diet and to try new grains that you may not have tried before to increase the variety. Some of these might include barley, quinoa and wild rice. (which is actually a type of wild grass).
Vegetables and fruits. Some vegetables and fruits are especially high in fiber. Fruits like apples and pears are excellent high fiber choices. High fiber vegetables include: broccoli, greens, brussel sprouts and squash. As an added benefit several vegetables like broccoli, collards and cauliflower also help the detoxification systems in our liver work better.
Still need help? Try psyllium. Even after making some dietary changes, some people still need help to get the digestive tract moving. Psyllium a natural fiber supplement that can be taken on a regular basis to support regularity. It is readily available over the counter in preparations like Metamucil. You can ask your healthcare provider if they think this would be helpful. Psyllium fiber also has been shown to lower cholesterol and blood sugar to some degree in people who take it regularly. It is important to take psyllium with adequate water.
Don’t forget the water. Our digestive system also needs enough liquid to make sure that solid waste can move through smoothly. Adequate fluid intake is an important part of this. For most people a starting point is to try to drink at least 8 glasses of water per day. This should be spread throughout the day and might translate to a glass of water upon waking up, a glass of water with each meal and 3 more glasses spaced throughout the day.
I have tried all these things and it is still not working. If you have made some of the changes described above but still having trouble with regular eliminations you should see your healthcare provider to discuss other options. Many medications can have a constipating effect. If it has been many years since you have had regular bowel movements you may need some additional help to get your system working smoothly.
In this time when we are being exposed to more and more substances in our internal and external environments it is important to keep our system of elimination working to support our best health. Do you have other things you are doing to support your best health. Let me know. I would like to hear from you.
The information contained herein should not be used as a substitute for the advice of an appropriately qualified and licensed physician or other health care provider. The information provided here is for educational and informational purposes only. In no way should it be considered as offering medical advice. Please check with a healthcare provider if you suspect you are ill.