Last summer, there was an article in the papers which caught my eye, mainly because it was accompanied by a cute picture of pandas, but also, with my naturopathic hat on, it was talking about bowels! In particular it was reporting on how panda poo contains potent bacteria capable of breaking down tough plant material, essential for extracting ethanol, which can be used as a biofuel. What struck me most was that the average adult panda chomps its way through about 11 kg of bamboo shoots a day (not a very balanced diet) and wait for it ………….. can poo up to 40 times!!! At the time of reading I was suffering with a temporary (though it didn’t feel it at the time) bout of traveller’s constipation – so my immediate thought was “LUCKY PANDAS”!!
As I was feeling sluggish, headachy and generally out of sorts with my lack of panda-regularity, this got me thinking about just how incredibly important our bowels are for health, so now, having exhausted my somewhat limited knowledge of the bowel habits of pandas, I shall share with you some thoughts on human digestion ………… in particular, bowels ….. so don’t be shy ……. and read on!!
Naturopathically speaking, we are constipated if we don’t have 3 good well-formed bowel motions a day. Yes, you read that correctly – THREE!! Just count your blessings you aren’t a panda!! A* for anyone who achieves that; B++ for the once-a-dayers and a “come to my office” for everyone else!!
When our cells cleanse, the toxins discarded take a circuitous route, ending up in the colon, before being escorted via the stools off our premises for good. The colon is therefore a temporary holding dock, with the emphasis on temporary. If the stools are allowed to linger a little too long, toxins can literally recycle via the bloodstream. Not only does this rather defeat the object but you can auto-toxicate, leading to all sorts of symptoms, such as headaches, joint aches, skin rashes, feeling under the weather, even depression. It can also irritate the colon itself, setting the scene for more digestive problems.
So what do we need to make things work a little more smoothly?
Four things: hydration; bulk; good muscle tone; and a healthy environment in your digestive tract.
- Hydration is a fairly easy one. Bottom line (sorry – no pun intended) – we need to drink water regularly (4 pints spread throughout the day), and try to avoid drinks such as coffee and tea which are diuretics and serve only to take water away from us. Eating water-rich foods also helps. Fruit, vegetables and soups all belong to this category. Dry foods however, draw on our water reserves. So if you are starting your day with toast (very dry) and coffee (strong diuretic), you are not doing your colon any favours!!
- Bulk = fibre, found in whole foods, fruit and vegetables. This helps to sweep the colon clean (it draws up toxins as it goes) as well as gives the colon muscles something to work against …… which leads onto ………….
- Good muscle tone. The old adage “use it or lose it” applies just as much to the colon as to anywhere else in the body. We need to exercise it every day to keep it in tip-top condition. Fibre is of great importance; also exercise. A good brisk walk can help tone the colon. I often find that if I am sedentary for a couple of days say, my bowels can become sluggish. Never rely on laxatives, as these just make the colon lazy.
- Healthy Environment – we provide this through drinking water and eating healthily. Good bacteria (probiotics) also give us a helping hand ……… these little fellows support our whole digestive tract, aiding digestion as well as keeping bad bacteria at bay. Adding in some good bacteria as well as cleaning up your diet can really help with regularity. Note that when buying supplements, it is better to buy a combined pre- and pro-biotic. The Pre- provides the food for the pro. Also, there is no point in throwing supplements in if you don’t change your diet!! We need a nice healthy environment in our digestive tract for the good bacteria to THRIVE in! J Hopefully this has given you a few helpful hints to achieving an A* colon. If digestion is a problem for you, I would recommend you seeking the advice of a practitioner, who can help tailor your diet to improve your bowel health as well as digestion in particular.