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If you want to know anything about intestinal health pay attention to dinner conversations. Invariably they seem to degenerate into a discussion on someone’s bowel habits. This fascination is fueled by the fact that 1 in 7 Americans suffer from irregular bowel movements as a result of the Standard American diet (SAD). Additionally, women seem to experience this unfortunate symptom more than men.

Why? Well, there are countless reasons for constipation ranging from psychological to physiological. One issue is that normal bowel movements are dependent on properly functioning organs and glands that include digestive tract, liver, gallbladder, pancreas and hormonal system. What, you ask, do hormones have to do with your bowels? More than you think. Because your bowel movements rely on bile, organs and glands are brought into the play that trigger the release of hormones. These chemicals then act on the gallbladder to ensure proper bile release. Gut problems like Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s Disease not only interfere with the bowel’s ability to void, by making it over reactive as in diarrhea and/or sluggish as in constipation, but also wreak havoc with biliary function.

Another very important factor in proper bowel function is a healthy gut flora. That’s those little critters that populate your intestines. Each one of us has a gut flora that is unique to our body. These beneficial symbiots help you digest your food and make nutrients that keep the lining of your gut and your bones healthy among other important functions. Sadly, rampant use of antibiotics kills the good with the bad and leaves the gut vulnerable to all sorts of opportunistic bugs. While taking probiotics such as acidophilus or bifidobacter is helpful, the best way to replace your unique flora is to feed it. Soluble fiber is the principal food source for your gut flora and is also a biggie in keeping your gut healthy. Studies have shown that the average daily requirement of dietary fiber can be as much as 35 grams with men requiring more than women, a moot point when you consider that most are lucky if they get in 5 grams per day. Eating fresh fruits and vegetables daily such as apples, broccoli and leafy greens like swiss chard and kale not only provides food for your flora, but also provides a hefty serving of insoluble fiber which adds bulk to your stool. Are you eating enough greens?

Water is another missed factor in proper elimination. Not only does water flush out dietary indiscretions, but it hydrates your cells and provides the necessary moisture to facilitate bowel movements. Drinking 8 -10 eight ounce glasses of water per day will go a long way in helping keep you regular. Are you drinking enough water?

Constipation although treated as a condition is a symptom not a disease. That means that there is an underlying reason why you can’t move your bowels and that can eventually lead to more physical problems down the road. Are you constipated? Do you have problems with bloating, gas and an inability to digest your food properly? Do you find yourself relying on laxatives to have regular bowel movements? It’s time to take action.

Dr. Nadia R. Malek, DC, DACBN 

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