Top Tips for a Healthy Bowel
Getting educated on what good bowel health is, starts at looking at our bowel movements or stools. According to the Continence Foundation of Australia being regular is often misunderstood as meaning that you go to the toilet to pass faeces every day. It’s common for people to empty their bowel once a day, although it’s still normal to pass stools less often. Being regular really means that soft yet well-formed bowel motions are easily passed. This should happen anywhere from 1–3 times a day to 3 times a week. For more information on stool health visit Dr Mercola’s article here and the Bristol Stool Chart
What are Pollops?
A colon polyp is a small clump of cells that forms on the lining of the colon. Most colon polyps are harmless. But over time, some colon polyps can develop into colon cancer, which can be fatal when found in its later stages. Anyone can develop colon polyps. You may be at higher risk if you have a personal or family history of colon polyps, or if you’re 50 or older, overweight, or a smoker. Colon polyps often cause no symptoms. You might not know you have a polyp until your doctor finds it during an examination of your bowel. Some people with colon polyps experience: rectal bleeding, change in stool colour, change in bowel habits, pain, iron deficiency and anaemia.
What is Bowel Cancer?
According to Cancer Council Australia, Bowel cancer or colorectal cancer, develops from the inner lining of the bowel. This is usually preceded by growths called polyps, which may become invasive cancer if undetected. Bowel cancer is the second most common cancer in both men and women in Australia. It also has the second highest number of cancer deaths in Australia with upwards of 5000 deaths per year in Australia. Our risk of getting bowel cancer seems to be determined by various risk factors most out of our control such as age, previous medical history of inflammatory bowel disease or polyps, or significant family history. But some risks we can change such as diet and lifestyle.
What’s the deal with Fibre?
Dietary fibre consists of the parts of plants that humans aren’t able to digest, there are two main types of fibre:
Soluble Fibre – Consists of pectins, gums, mucilages. Foods high in soluble fibre include vegetables, flaxseeds. Psyllium, lentils, peas. These types of fibre attract water and form a gel during digestion. It’s been shown that some of these soluble fibres help to reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol levels
Insoluble fibre – Consists of cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin. These pass through intestines undigested to add bulk to stools and prevent constipation and associated problems. These can also be fermented by bacteria in the large intestine. Foods high in insoluble fibre are bran fruit and vegetable skin, nuts, seeds, dried beans and whole grain foods. Most plant foods have a mixture of both types of fibre and both have been shown to be beneficial to the digestive system, aiding in regular bowel movements. It’s always better to increase your fibre intake through food consumption as opposed to fibre supplements. If you do choose to supplement fibre, it is very important to have adequate water intake otherwise it can cause or worsen constipation.
The recommendation is that adults aim for 25-30g of dietary fibre per day. If you are switching from a low fibre diet to a high fibre diet, it’s recommended to do so gradually as the sudden switch can create abdominal pain and increased flatulence. One other thing to note is that very high fibre diets with more than 40g a day have been linked to decreased mineral absorption, which increases the risk of developing mineral deficiencies. With the rising popularity of diets such as the paleo and keto diet which exclude most whole grains you can still get enough fibre from vegetables and fruits.
Simple ways to increase dietary fibre intake:
- Eat wholegrain breakfast cereals such as oats and mueslis
- Switch to wholemeal or multigrain breads and whole grains like brown rice.
- Add extra vegetables to your meals
- Snack on fruit, nuts, and seeds
Nutrition to Improve Bowel Health Besides Fibre
Recently there has been more research into the human microbiome and its many roles. These include inflammation, drug metabolism, and even the development of cancer. Bowel cancer has been a focus for study in this field. Its development and response to treatment have both been linked to the functioning of the gut bacteria. Further clinical research is necessary to draw more definitive answers to the exact mechanisms, however studies in mice strongly suggest the gut microbiota can modulate susceptibility to bowel cancer, and therefore may serve as a means of early identification and treatment.
In short, keeping a balance of good bacteria in our gut could be one the most powerful things we can do to improve our bowel health. There are some supplements on the market such as Motion Potion which combines a mix of soluble and insoluble fibres like psyllium, and slippery elm, along with prebiotics, herbs and greens. The aim is to nourish the gut and feed the probiotics whilst also helping to get things moving. Other ways to improve the health of your gut is to eat more fermented foods such as sauerkraut and kefir. Probiotic supplements have also been shown to be beneficial.
Another powerful tool to help your gut health is to drink bone broth. The gelatine and amino acids in bone broth can actually help repair the gap junctions between epithelial cells of your intestinal lumen. These cells can get damaged by our diets, especially if we eat things that we are sensitive to. The more diverse the bacteria in your gut are / the better health outcomes we seem to see.
What to avoid
Avoiding foods your sensitive or allergic to, such as the case of coeliac disease, lactose intolerance and FODMAP diet is important. Consuming foods that your unique digestive system doesn’t tolerate very well can lead to negative outcomes for the health of your microbiome.
We also want to avoid processed foods in general. Things high in artificial colour, flavours and preservatives all can have a negative impact on our bowel health. Vegetable oils such as sunflower, canola, soybean oil should be minimised as well. The bad microbes in our gut seem to feed off sugar, so too much sugar can tilt the balance of our gut bacteria.
Other lifestyle factors that can affect our bowel health
Drinking enough water is very important to your bowel health, especially if your opting for a high fibre diet. Fibre helps to bulk out stools and drawing water helps you pass the matter. Therefore, if you don’t drink enough water you can get dehydrated, constipated or both.
One thing that is coming into the mainstream now with endorsements from athletes to doctors and nutritionists is intermittent fasting. This way of eating is now being backed-up by hard science. Intermittent fasting may help balance hormones and give our digestive systems a break. It has shown promising results in helping to manage chronic disease. Keeping the times of the day you eat to a 6-10 hour window may help to improve digestive health.
A high amount of stress seems to affect bowel health. Try to minimise stress as much as possible. Regular exercise can also be beneficial to bowel health as inactivity seems to be a risk factor for most chronic disease development.
By Josh Gaudry ~ Flannerys Food Scientist
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