columnBy Dr. Joseph Kamugisha
While some people can overcome constipation by eating large quantities of vegetables every day, simply eating more fibre is not a guaranteed solution for every person who suffers from chronic constipation.
It is important to understand that our cells that include those from our digestive tract and nervous system require a constant influx of undamaged fatty acids and cholesterol to remain fully functional.
If we do not ensure adequate intake of healthy fats, our nervous system and the smooth muscles that surround the digestive passageway may functionally deteriorate. The cells found at the inner lining of the digestive tract are responsible for creating peristaltic waves. Their improper dysfunction might lead to chronic constipation or similar abdominal discomfort.
Intake of healthy fats is necessary for optimal absorption of fat soluble vitamin A, which is critical to building and maintaining a healthy digestive tract lining that indirectly is another key factor to promote optimal bowel function.
Some healthy foods that are naturally rich in healthy fats include avocados, coconuts, olives, organic eggs, oily fish like salmon and mackerel, nuts, and seeds.
If reasonably healthy, our stools should contain just a few basic elements such as fibre in the foods that we eat, micro-organisms, digestive juices, and water. These elements travel together through our large colon.
Water is reabsorbed into our blood, which allows the other elements to come together to form stool by the time they reach our rectal pouch (terminal parts of large intestine).
If we do not ensure adequate water intake, by the time that waste materials reach our rectal pouch, it is likely that there will not be enough moisture available to create soft stools that can exit our body comfortably.
This does not mean that it is in our best interest to drink water all day long. The best action is to eat plenty of water rich foods, excellent choices being raw vegetables, steamed vegetables and fresh fruits. Being physically active is the most powerful way to keep our nervous system alert and healthy. And a healthy nervous system is essential to regulating healthy bowel movements.
Through the action of a pair of cranial nerves called the vagus nerves, our central nervous system works together with the enteric nervous system to promote healthy bowel movements.
Our anatomical design is in such a way that it is most natural to have bowel movement when you are squatting. Sitting or leaning forward while in a toilet is a position that requires more self-generated pressure within our abdominal and pelvic cavities to produce bowel movement.
When we eat substantial meals, the waste materials from each meal can travel together through our digestive tract, which makes it easier for the smooth muscles in our digestive tract to monitor and propel each bolus of waste materials. If we eat small meals throughout the day, it is harder for our digestive tract to create well formed stool. It is better to sit down two or three times a day and enjoy substantial meals than it is to graze on smaller meals all day.
Fresh plant foods provide a wide variety of nutrients that can nourish the cells of our digestive tract. Just as importantly, water and fibre that are naturally abundant in fresh plant foods can contribute to the formation of stool that is comfortable to pass.
Through the connection between our autonomic nervous system and our enteric nervous system, our emotions are strongly tied to the quality of our bowel movements.
When you have the urge to go to the toilet, try not to put it off. Suppressing bowel movements will only put unnecessary burden on our digestive tract and nervous system. When both have worked hard to give you the urge to go, reward their efforts by going as soon as possible. Doing so will keep them alert and efficient.