What happens behind the bathroom door isn’t something most people like to think about, let alone discuss. You just want to get in, do your thing, and get out. For the estimated 63 million Americans suffering from chronic constipation, though, their bowel movements are always on their mind and greatly affect daily life. After all, being backed up can cause major stomachaches, back pain, fatigue, and even vomiting in severe cases. To avoid personal plumbing problems, it’s important to know how stool is formed and understand why it can potentially clog up a person’s pipes (AKA their intestines).
How Stool Is Formed
Passing a bowl movement is the final (and very important) step in the digestive process. It’s a sign that your body has gotten rid of the food waste and other toxic particles it needed to in order to function properly.
For your body to form stool, your entire digestive system needs to work together. You see, digestion starts in your mouth the moment you begin chewing food. The enzymes in your saliva work to break down food as it moves from the mouth, down the esophagus, and into the stomach. There, gastric juices continue to break down the food. As it moves through your small and large intestines, nutrients are extracted by the body to help your various systems function. The waste substance that remains in your intestines is stool.
If a person’s digestive system is working the way it was designed to, they will pass a bowel movement every day without much straining or discomfort. Doctors say healthy individuals can pass anywhere from one to three bowel movements a day, and it can vary from day-to-day. A person is considered constipated if they have three or fewer bowel movements per week.
Constipation is a common condition and is often caused by something minor — a lifestyle factor that you can easily change. Other times, the underlying cause of constipation is more complicated. Below, I have outlined the top 12 causes of constipation. Some of these causes may sound familiar, while others may come as a surprise to you.
We’ve all heard the saying before: You should drink eight glasses of water a day. Some doctors even recommend more than that depending on your lifestyle, body size, and general health. The fact is, staying hydrated helps to control your body’s temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, metabolism, and digestive health.
Why does hydration aid digestion?
Well, drinking adequate amounts of water keeps your intestines smooth and flexible. It also helps keep the food you eat moving through your intestines and ultimately allows waste to exit the body without much straining or discomfort. On the flip side, if your body doesn’t have enough water, a stool becomes hard and dry. That makes it extremely difficult to pass.
If you are someone who struggles to down enough liquid throughout the day, keep in mind that drinking glass after glass of water isn’t the only way to hydrate. According to the Institute of Medicine, about 80 percent of the water you consume comes from beverages, while the remaining 20 percent actually comes from food. That’s right … along with drinking water, you can also boost your H2O consumption from the foods you eat. So make sure to fill your diet with foods like cucumbers, zucchini, tomatoes, and other juicy fruits that have a high water content.
2) Low-Fiber / High-Sugar Diet
This probably doesn’t come as a surprise to you, but your bowel movements are a direct reflection of your diet. While most people know they should be eating enough fiber in their diet (since fiber promotes soft and bulky stool), the average American’s diet contains less than half the recommended amount.
The daily recommended intake of fiber is somewhere between 20 to 35 grams per day, depending on your age and gender. Unfortunately, the Standard American Diet (SAD) is filled with processed foods that are high in sugar, unhealthy fats, and way too much sodium. Those processed foods are also extremely low in fiber. For this reason, researchers say the average American consumes a mere 14 grams per day. Keep in mind, that’s the average, so many people eat even less than that!
The best way to add fiber to your diet is to fill your plate with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans. Please note, though, when you increase your fiber intake it’s extremely important to drink enough water. If you don’t stay properly hydrated, the fiber will act as a sponge and absorb the surrounding liquids in your body. This can lead to harder and dryer stools. As you read just a few moments ago, dry stool is hard to pass and can lead to constipation (which is exactly what you don’t want). So when you begin adding more fiber to your diet, do so gradually. This will help your body gets used to the added amounts of fiber.
3) Lack of Exercise
One of the reasons senior citizens are considered high risk for constipation is because of their more sedentary lifestyle. You may not even realize it, but when you exercise you’re not only working your leg and arm muscles. Inside your intestines, there is also a layer of muscle that is constantly contracting to help food waste pass. If you aren’t getting enough physical activity, though, your intestinal muscles may become too relaxed. This makes it extremely difficult for food to move through the digestive tract and ultimately exit the body.
Don’t worry — you don’t have to sign up for a High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) class in order to promote healthy bowel movements. Rather, doing some light yoga stretches every day can make a huge difference. All of the twisting and turning involved in yoga helps to massage the digestive organs and muscles, promoting a better bathroom experience.
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland that’s located in your neck and releases hormones that control your metabolism. One of the main things people think about when they hear someone has a sluggish/underactive thyroid is weight gain. However, hypothyroidism doesn’t only affect weight. When your thyroid is less active, so are the muscles in your intestinal tract. This causes stool to travel through the colon at a slower pace. The longer it takes a stool to pass, the more water gets drained from it. This leaves the stool dry and hard, making it tougher to pass.
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