Constipation and Colon Problems

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Submitted Aug 22, 2003   Updated Sep 26, 2010
By Ray Fosterrlf@mt-rushmore.net

 

Let's start by discussing the function of the bowel as our food is processed.

After we eat food, it enters the stomach, acid is secreted as well as enzymes and a substance to help with vitamin B12 absorption. The acid may have a role in killing some on the organisms that might otherwise produce infection. The food empties into the first part of the small intestine, the duodenum. Multiple other enzymes and bile are released for digestion. Not all of the contents of the bowels are digested and absorbed, though. Some of the fibrous material in the bowel travels though without being digested and absorbed. It actually makes kind of a network that can hold water with other waste products from digestion. This fiber is very important when we look at constipation. There are many different types of fiber. Major food sources of fiber are fruits, vegetables, whole grain cereals, and legumes. There is virtually no fiber in meat, milk, eggs, cheese, or any other animal product.

How is fiber beneficial to us?

A fiber-rich diet clearly reduces the risk of developing colon cancer. Drs. Howe, Benito, and colleagues analyzed the results of 13 studies that looked at the influence of fiber intake on colon cancer. They found a strong dose-response relationship when they looked at fiber intake: the more fiber eaten, the lower the risk of colon cancer.

1. Fiber draws water to itself. Therefore, it may help to dilute any carcinogens that gain access into the intestine.

2. Fiber helps to speed up the passage of colon contents, thus decreasing the time for any potential carcinogens in the stool to damage the lining of the colon.

3. Fiber helps to decrease the production of altered bile acids known as "secondary bile acids." These altered bile acids appear able to cause colon cancer.

A high fiber diet has been shown to decrease breast cancer by more than 50 percent. Associated with plant fibers are plant estrogens ("fiber-associated phytoestrogens") that may lower breast cancer risk. There is also evidence that fiber can interfere with the intestinal re-absorption of estrogen—this would also be expected to lower breast cancer risk.

Fiber appears to moderate the absorption of sugar into the body and so a diabetic who eats an apple will be likely to have better blood sugar control than drinking apple juice.

And importantly for our discussion today, fiber has a strong relationship with relieving constipation.

Are there different kinds of fiber?

Yes there are two main groups: soluble fiber (dissolves in water) and insoluble fiber. Almost all of the different types of fiber are actually indigestible carbohydrates (an exception is a fiber called lignin). Some of the other fiber types include cellulose, hemicellulose, pectins, and gums.

Where can I get fiber in my food?

There are many foods rich in fiber. A high content of insoluble fiber is found in wheat (especially the bran) and bananas. Foods strong in soluble fiber include most fruits, vegetables, legumes (fresh or dried), oats, brown rice, and barley. Most foods that are strong in soluble fiber are also strong in insoluble fiber.

When eating food, eat food that has the whole plant product. So don't eat wheat flour that has been refined to white flour with much of the good fiber removed, eat the whole-wheat products. Don't eat sugary desserts with the sugar separated from the fiber; eat fresh whole fruits.

Don't worry about which foods to eat. Just avoid meat and dairy products and eat whole grain products, vegetables-fresh or cooked, fruits, legumes, and nuts.

 

How often should I eat?

Colon Cancer and Meal Frequency.

 

Meals per Day

Risk of Rectal Cancer

Risk of Colon Cancer

2 or less

1.0

1.0

3

1.7

1.4

4 or more

1.9

1.9

Two meals per day are best.

(From Proof Positive by Neil Nedley, M.D.)

Does smoking have any role in colon problems?

I think that looking at cancer risk in some organs can give us a picture of damage being done to those organs. For example, we have a fair amount or information available now about colon cancer. Consider the following possibility: what causes colon cancer as a long-term effect might cause colon problems on a shorter term. Smoking causes short- term lung problems and on the long term it causes lung cancer. Colon cancer data then might be a window to view tools to colon health today.

Harvard researchers have found about double the rate of colon cancer in smokers. So if you are a smoker and have colon difficulties; stopping smoking might be one way to improve your colon problems now as well as to reduce future risk of cancer including colon cancer.

Constipation is a subject that many people are uncomfortable addressing; but this is very common in Americans why is this?

As a group, Americans tend to eat a lot of low fiber foods such as meat; cheese, and other dairy products; and refined flour, refined sugar, and oil. With this approach, not only are we missing many valuable nutrients found in unrefined plant foods, but we also miss out on valuable fiber. Those individuals on a standard American diet who start a program of eating this type of food will find size of bowel movements increase considerably. The bowel movements will become softer and time of transit, the time from eating to elimination, will decrease considerably.

Is there anything else that I can do for constipation?

Water is a very important component of preventing constipation. For adults, I recommend drinking 2 to 3 quarts of water per day plus extra when doing a lot of sweating.

The water can then combine with the fiber to soften the stools.

What about colonics or enemas, are these a good idea?

Some people who have not had a bowel movement in several days may benefit from these. But this is the exception. We at NEWSTART do not recommend the routine use of enemas. This is not a natural process and carries some risk also.

But some of our listeners may have been using these regularly and feel they are needed to keep the bowels moving.

When we allow the body to become dependent on assistive devices, it is sometimes difficult to return the body to its normal function. This applies to leg and thigh muscles not used for several days or weeks following illness or surgery. Walking may be difficult for a time until these muscles are again strengthened. This also applies to muscles and control of the colon. The colon uses muscles to move the waste along, and these muscles can be strengthened. Consider this to be a training program with greater and greater intervals between colonics until none are needed at all.

Would this same principle apply to laxatives? Are they a good idea?

Laxatives are commonly used in our country. They are a poor substitute for a high fiber diet and plenty of water. While you may have found through the years that bowel movements are very difficult without a laxative, a high-fiber diet associated with 2-3 quarts per day of water may be all that is needed to cure this problem. Some may find that their dependence on these drugs is so strong that they have a difficult time without them at first. For these people, consider tapering off of the laxative over one to two weeks as you improve your diet and drink plenty of water. If severe constipation is still a problem then see a physician who may be able to help you.

When making these big changes in diet. Keep a record of the types of food that you eat. This will help to reinforce good eating habits. Also leave room on the record for recording a rating of constipation severity: 1=worst and 10=excellent. This rating scale combined with your food diary will enable you to look back at your results and to make a connection between cause and effect in your diet and bowel patterns.

Is it true that there is waste building up in the colon and narrowing it so that unless I have an enema, then I will probably become stopped completely?

God did not make a mistake when he made the colon. A person regularly eating a good amount of unrefined plant foods with their generous fiber will almost always have a healthy colon.

If a person wishes to have a cleansing of the colon, fasting for 1 to 2 days and drinking plenty of water may accomplish this.

Some of our listeners may experience fairly severe abdominal pain after eating certain types of foods, why is this?

There are many causes of abdominal pain; and some of them are serious needing prompt medical attention. But if a physician has evaluated the problem and proper testing has been done, sometimes people still have big problems with abdominal pain.

This might often be called irritable bowel syndrome. In my experience, people who are having this type of pain often are tender in the area of their colon. This might suggest that spasm of the colon is related to this disease process.

I have had success with this type of problem before. I remember one lady who was obese and ate many different foods. She was advised to keep a food diary and to track her abdominal pain. I felt that there was a correlation between pork or bacon products and her abdominal pain.

I suggest that with the many irritants that are found in the meat products, our listeners would do well to stay away from all meat products and keep a record of the abdominal pain improvement each day that results so that they will see the relationship between eating the meat products and abdominal pain.

Another common problem with abdominal pain is lactose intolerance. Many people do not have enough of the milk sugar enzyme lactase to digest the milk sugar lactose. When this undigested sugar goes into the colon with its high concentration of bacteria, the bacteria help to digest the sugar at that point. But this may cause excess gas and diarrhea. Stopping dairy products can cure the uncomfortable syndrome. Again, by keeping track of the discomfort in a diary as well as keeping track of the foods eaten, a person might be better able to identify food triggers.

What about blood in the stool? Is this important?

Yes blood in the stool is important; it can occasionally be a serious problem. A person who has bleeding from a hemorrhoid does not usually have a serious disease. A healthful high fiber diet may improve hemorrhoidal problems substantially. Another cause of bleeding with the stool would be a tear in the exit opening, that is a tear in the anus. This type of bleeding would occur with some pain typically.

But talk to your physician: sometimes it may be difficult to distinguish serious from not serious bleeding. Colon or rectal cancer might present with bleeding, diarrhea, or constipation.

Another serious problem with the colon can be related to damage to the colon wall. Ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease of the colon may present with bleeding, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. These are very serious diseases. Ulcerative colitis is associated with a high risk of colon cancer.

But even in these serious diseases, healthful living may be beneficial. I know of one man who used to take steroid medication for this type of problem, but with a healthful lifestyle, he had a great improvement and did not need this type of medication.

Does exercise have role in digestion?

 

Does rest have any thing to do with digestion?

Yes, notice that when you are under a great deal of stress, the food just seems to sit in your stomach. As you relax, the bowels are freed to perform their work. Try to make mealtime an enjoyable and relaxed occasion. Allow enough time to eat so that you do not feel very rushed to eat your meal. As you enjoy your meal better, the digestive system will be better freed to accomplish its task.

 

Yes, exercise is very important in keeping the entire body healthy. The gentle rocking and pressure from walking after eating may move the intestinal contents along more effectively than sitting or lying. But allow a longer period such as 1 1/2 to 2 hours after eating before exercising vigorously.