Bowel Movement Problems

By Dr. Ritu Krishnatreye, BHMS

Bowel movements problems

Bowel movement problems can reveal how well a person’s digestive system is working. Color, consistency and frequency are some of the indicative signs that differentiate between normal and abnormal bowel movements.

The most common problem related to one’s bowels is constipation.

Constipated stools are dry and hard, making them difficult to pass. It happens when the colon absorbs too much water from fecal matter. It can also occur when intestinal contractions are too slow or sluggish to push stool forward.

Before we move on to some natural remedies for constipation problems, we need to understand the factors leading to constipation.

10 Reasons for Bowel Movement Problems

There are a few factors that can cause bowel movement problems. Fortunately, most of them aren’t too difficult to deal with. 

1. A lack of fiber

When we don’t get enough fiber in our diets it can cause constipation problems. Fiber adds bulk to stool, which helps to stimulate peristalsis.

Fiber helps to hold moisture in stool, thereby making it soft and easy to pass.

2. Dietary causes

The American diet contains a lot that promotes constipation.

  • A lot of red meat

  • Foods made using white flour and white rice

  • Processed and canned foods

  • Fast food restaurants

These foods contain very little fiber. Moreover, processed foods contain a lot of sugar, salt and saturated fats that are difficult for the body to digest.

These foods also contain additives and preservatives that can contribute to constipation.

Animal fats, including those in dairy products and eggs can also negatively affect the bowels. In children, cow’s milk is one of the causes of constipation because it is difficult to digest. 

3. Dehydration

Drinking enough water helps to keep the body hydrated, which is important for maintaining soft and moist stool.

When the body is dehydrated, it will compensate by absorbing additional moisture from fecal matter. This makes stools dry and hard, and difficult to pass.

4. A lack of magnesium in the diet

Magnesium plays a vital role in maintaining bowel movements. However, most of us don’t get nearly enough magnesium in our diet, which can lead to constipation.

  • Magnesium increases the water retaining capacity of colon, which in turn adds moisture to waste matter.

  • Magnesium helps to balance the effect of calcium, which has a tendency to make the colon tense up.

5. Not responding to nature’s call

A common cause of chronic constipation is not responding when you feel the urge to defecate. It may be some time before that urge comes again.

In the mean time, the colon continues to extract water from stool, which can result in dry, hard, impacted stool that is difficult to pass.

6. A sedentary lifestyle

A 9 to 5 desk job could be one of the reasons for bowel health problems. Studies have proven that a lack of physical activity can contribute to constipation.

We all know that physical activity is important for our overall health, but may not have considered its importance for keeping our bowels moving.

Our bodies rely on exercise for various functions, like improving metabolic rate and stimulating intestinal mucosa to produce mucus, which in turn lubricates the fecal matter.

7. Traveling

Traveling tends to change our lifestyle.

It may mean:

  • Not drinking as much

  • Getting less exercise

  • A change in eating habits

  • Unfamiliar or unsanitary restroom facilities

  • The body not gracing us with that important “urge to go”

All of these factors can have a negative effect on bowel movements, resulting in constipation. 

8. Certain medications

There are certain medications that can affect the peristaltic activity of the intestines.

The wavelike contractions of the colon are less intense, meaning that fecal matter spends longer in the colon.

These medications include:

  • Diuretics

  • Anticonvulsant drugs

  • Antidepressants

  • Painkillers

  • Anti-spasmodic drugs

  • Many drugs used to lower blood pressure 

  • Antacids, when taken for an extended period of time

Iron tablets and multivitamins containing calcium and iron can also have a negative effect on the digestive system, including flatulence, bloating and constipation. 

9. Pregnancy

One out of every two pregnant women experience constipation at some point during their pregnancy. There are various factors that contribute to constipation during pregnancy.

This may include:

  • A lack of fiber

  • A lack of exercise

  • Iron and calcium supplements

  • The relaxation of pelvic ligaments

Similarly, bowel movements may be affected by PMS, due to fluctuations in feminine hormones. 

10. Medical conditions

Certain medical conditions may cause constipation. These may include:

  • An intestinal obstruction caused by intestinal cancers or tumors

  • An abdominal hernia

  • Swallowing of indigestible bodies

  • Inflammatory adhesions and post-operative adhesions

Inflammatory bowel conditions such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis may also affect the normalcy of stools.

Irritable bowel disease may also be characterized by alternate phases of constipation and diarrhea, along with other symptoms like abdominal pain, bloating and excessive gas. 

The thyroid or a stroke

Hypothyroidism is a condition in which your thyroid gland is unable to produce enough thyroid hormone, which in turn may affect the metabolic rate and bowel health.

It may slow down intestinal contractions, leading to constipation.

A stroke may lead to nerve damage. Nerve damage may hinder the stimulation of contractions of the intestines.

5 Natural Remedies for Bowel Movement Problems

There are numerous natural solutions that can provide long term relief for constipation problems. You may have already found out that conventional medications are for temporary relief.

For many, until the following natural remedies are incorporated into one’s lifestyle, they will never be free from bowel movement problems.

Half of the above digestive problems are cured immediately once lifestyle changes are incorporated.

1. Eat the right foods

Eating the right foods is the best natural cure for constipation.

Include plenty of foods that are high in fiber, like fruits and vegetables, legumes, seeds and nuts. 

2. Stay hydrated

To avoid dehydration, drink plenty of water. When one is dehydrated, their body soaks up any available moisture from waste matter in the intestines, resulting in hard, dry stool.

So drink lots of water, vegetable and fruit juices and clear vegetable soups to prevent dehydration.

3. Restrict your consumption of these

Reduce your intake of dairy products, and refined and processed foods. Cook meals prepared from fresh, natural ingredients.

4. Get a little exercise

Exercise is not just important for a healthy heart, but also for good digestive health. Physical activity helps with the movement of waste through the colon.

When waste matter isn’t in the colon as long, less water is absorbed from waste material in colon.

5. Increase your daily magnesium intake

Did you know that taking a magnesium supplement might just help you live a healthier life?

It's true, since most of us don’t get enough magnesium in our diets.

Magnesium is also a great tool for promoting regularity. Just a teaspoon a day of a magnesium supplement may be enough to kiss most of your constipation issues goodbye.

Magnesium pulls extra water into the colon, which helps to keep stool moist, soft and easy to eliminate.

Short Term Relief for Constipation

For severe, acute constipation, at times a laxative may be needed to provide immediate, short term relief.

We have a variety of laxatives to choose from. Take a look at the following to help you decide which might be the best fit for you.

Lubricant laxatives

Lubricant laxatives work by lubricating the intestinal passage. This helps waste matter to move more freely through the colon.

Lubricant laxatives like mineral oil should not be used for a long duration, as they can negatively affect the absorption and assimilation of vitamins and minerals in the digestive tract.

In long run, taking a lubricant laxative may result in nutritional deficiencies.

Stimulant laxatives

As the name suggests, stimulant laxatives stimulate the contractions of the intestines, which in turn helps to push along waste matter.

Although stimulant laxatives provide quick relief from constipation, they should not be used for a long duration, since over time they can reduce the colon’s ability to contract on its own. 

Emollient laxatives

Emollient laxatives are stool softeners that work by making stool softer and easier to eliminate. They also work by coating stool with a water resistant coating.

This helps to keep water from being absorbed from the stool and also facilitates the passage of stool through the colon.

Hyperosmolar laxatives

Dry, hard stools are difficult to pass and can result in constipation. This type of laxative works by drawing water into stools, making them moist and soft. 

Enemas and suppositories

These are often only considered when other laxatives do not provide effective results. When they are used too often, enemas and suppositories can cause metabolic disturbances. 

Conclusion, bowel movement problems

Healthy and regular bowel movements are a sign that our bodies are functioning normally. Most of the time, bowel movement problems are caused by a poor diet or sedate lifestyle.

Therefore, to cure constipation and other bowel movement problems, the best place to start is by making a few changes in diet and lifestyle. For quick, short term relief, a laxative may be needed.

(Return from Bowel Movement Problems to What is Constipation)

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