How frequently should we poop? If you Google this question, you’ll likely find an answer ranging from three times a day to once every three days. But that leaves room for substantial variation. The real answer is: when you feel the need.
In fact, habitually postponing the urge to poop and slowing the gut’s “transit time” may be associated with a higher risk of problems such as bowel cancer, diverticulosis (small pockets of intestinal lining protruding from the intestinal wall), anal hemorrhoids and tears, and prolapse.
This is why the golden rule of gastroenterology is to always heed the “call for stool” when the urge arises.
Eating often triggers cravings
At the start of the 20th century, physiologists determined that a powerful stimulus to open your intestines was eating food, and they called it the gastro-colic reflex. It is often more potent after a fast and therefore after breakfast.
Babies usually empty their bowels when the need arises. However, as soon as we can make decisions for ourselves – around the same age we start walking – we learn to suppress this “saddle call”.
Learning to control our bowels is an important developmental step, but some of us take it too far. we find that sometimes we can make that urge go away temporarily if we ignore it for a while, because the time just doesn’t seem right.
But habitual suppression of this craving can be associated with symptoms such as:
- abdominal pain
- variable and unpredictable bowel habits
- slower transit of matter through our intestines.
Know your “transit time”
We probably know how often we open our bowels, but few of us are aware of our “complete bowel transit time”. In other words, how long does it take for the residue from the food you eat to come out the other side.
This transit time is important because having urgency issues (a sudden, frantic urge to poo), diarrhea, and constipation can all be signs of slow transit.
There is a simple way to measure it; swallow a handful of raw sweetcorn kernels, then watch out for yellow kernels in your poo.
How long does it take for them to show up? This should be between eight and 24 hours.
Longer transit time
No one disputes that you should empty your bowels where and when you want. But getting into the habit of putting it off means the residue from the food you eat stays in your body longer than it should. Your transit time increases and your quality of life deteriorates.
On average we produce about six tons of poop in our lifetime, made up of water, bacteria, nitrogenous matter, carbohydrates, undigested plant matter, and lipids (fats).
The longer this mixture of things remains in us, the more it is subject to fermentation and decomposition. This not only produces wind, but also chemicals called metabolites, which then come into contact with the intestinal lining and can be absorbed.
The idea of auto-intoxication by the colon is not new. Since the days of the ancient Greeks, waste in the gut was thought to contribute to an imbalance of the four bodily humors (blood, yellow bile, black bile and phlegm) essential for healthy.
Kellogg’s, part of the temperance movement in the United States in the 19th century, developed breakfast cereals to treat both constipation and bad morals, whether they believed to be connected.
A longer transit time has been associated with a higher risk of significant gastrointestinal issues such as:
Recent interest in the microbiome has also related dysbiosis (or changes in the bacteria that live in our intestines) with slow transit. Thus, slow transit can also be associated with a wider range of diseases related to gastrointestinal dysbiosis.
A healthy habit
You can improve your bowel habits by increasing the amount of fiber and fluids in your diet, exercising regularly, and being in touch with your colon.
Some people even use cognitive behavioral therapy to improve bowel function.
More importantly, when your colon calls, you need to listen.
Martin Veseyhonorary professor, Newcastle University
This article is republished from The conversation under Creative Commons license. Read it original article.
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