We’ve all heard that having regular bowel movements is good for our health, but have we actually been taught why? Not only does eliminating through our intestines regularly get rid of harmful toxins processed through our liver, but it also eliminates excess hormones that need to be cleared out of our system. When we’re not having daily bowel movements, it can impact many facets of our health, including our hormones.
What is Considered “Regular” When It Comes to Bowel Movements?
In my clinical practice, I look for one bowel movement daily at bare minimum, but anywhere between 1-3 is great. You want your body to be eliminating daily, so metabolic and environmental toxins are being cleared out on the regular.
Why Is Having Daily Bowel Movements So Important For Your Health?
First off, let’s back up a second. Did you know that the liver plays a huge role in bowel movements? It sure does! Let’s do a recap of what is going on with our body when we have a bowel movement. Remember from biology class how the liver is responsible for filtering all of our blood? That includes toxins, medications, nutrients and hormones. (3) It then packages up these harmful substances and literally sends them packing! The way the liver does this is by producing bile, which helps break down the fats that we eat, but also helps to carry excess waste and hormones into the intestines, where it can then be eliminated. Eliminating all of this metabolic waste is exactly why our bodies are designed to have bowel movements, otherwise all this junk would have nowhere to go and would accumulate and circulate indefinitely!
What Happens When You Don’t Have a Bowel Movement Every Day & How Are Bowel Movements Connected To Hormone Health?
When the liver is busy filtering our blood, part of its job is to remove excess hormones when needed and, you guessed it, the exit door is through the intestines. When you don’t have a bowel movement every day, the waste products filtered out from the liver, including excess hormones, have a chance to get reabsorbed into the blood. This can cause our hormones to become dysregulated over time.
How Do I Support My Body To Have Good Elimination Habits?
First, check out the list below to see if any of these factors are playing a role in your own health, and then take steps to follow the solutions! Stay tuned next week for herbs to help bowel health :)
7 Factors That Affect Bowel Habit Health
The intestines need enough hydration to keep stool well formed, and to eliminate with ease. When you’re dehydrated, the stool can become hard and difficult to pass.
Solution: Make sure you’re drinking your 8 glasses of water daily. It’s amazing how many of us don’t get our daily requirements for water and how much of a simple difference this can make. Unfortunately, this doesn’t include coffee (or sugary juice or sodas). The good news is herbal tea does count!
A diet rich in healthful foods that naturally contain fiber is a great way to encourage healthy bowel movements. Not only that, fiber can bind to harmful cholesterol and well as excess estrogen and hormones metabolized by the liver. It’s been shown that dietary fiber can even decrease the risk of breast cancer by binding to excess estrogen in the colon so it can be eliminated, while also preventing reabsorption (2).
Solution: Focus on getting 6-10 servings of fruits and vegetables. Incorporate whole, complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, which are naturally rich in fiber. Incorporate fiber into your morning ritual by sprinkling freshly ground flaxseed or chia seeds on your oatmeal, or putting them into a smoothie. Psyllium can be another supplemental fiber source. Again, it’s important to get your water in, because fiber without water can make you more constipated!
3. Physical Activity
Lack of activity can result in stagnation in the whole body, including the colon. Moving your body is a great way to promote circulation, speed up metabolism and keep the bowels moving. There are even certain yoga poses and stretches that can massage the intestines to keep them moving. Massaging your own lower abdomen (in a clockwise motion, from your right to left) can be a great way to encourage things along.
Solution: Stay active, incorporate daily movement and stretch/massage your abdomen to encourage things along.
When our body is in “fight, flight or freeze” mode, it redirects all of our blood and energy away from our digestive system towards our body systems that need fuel to escape the emergency (like our larger muscles, heart and lungs). If we’re constantly in stress-mode (which so many of us are), our digestive systems suffer, including our bowel habits. More than that, chronic stress can alter our hormones in and of itself, including sex hormones, and thyroid hormones too. If our thyroid becomes affected, that can affect our bowel movements too! One big domino effect.
Solution: Be mindful of your stress level on a daily basis and actively work to calm your nervous system. Self-care practices are super important here! Check out my article: Women's Mental Load: The Invisible Labor That Leads to Overwhelm & Burnout for awesome and creative self-care strategies.
5. Food Intolerances: Know What Makes Your Gut Happy & What Doesn’t
When we consume foods that our body doesn’t like, it creates irritation and inflammation in the gut. Often, this can result in altered bowel habits.
Solution: Oftentimes we know what bothers our systems, but not always. Starting a food journal and keeping track of certain health metrics along the way for 7-10 days can be a great tool in discovering more about your food sensitivities. In your journal, keep track of what foods you ate along with how that food made you feel (energy & mood), a record of corresponding bowel movements (frequency, consistency) and any body symptoms you notice (gas, bloating, tiredness, achy joints, headaches etc).
If you want to take this to the next level, you can do what’s called an elimination diet. Don’t worry, this is not a “diet” the way we traditionally think of it, and is definitely not aimed at weight loss or restricting calories in any way. It’s about eliminating general food groups that are well-known culprits in causing health issues- things like gluten, dairy, soy, etc. For more on this, check out Dr. Robin Berzin’s article here: The Simple Elimination Diet That Could Change Your Life Forever (no affiliation, it’s just a good, simple article).
Please note: If you have an active eating disorder, struggle with any kind of disordered eating and/or a history of either of these, and you know either of these food experiments will be triggering for you, just skip this part. Also, feel free to adapt it in a way that you know will be supportive to you.
6. Medications & Iron Supplements
Certain medications are known to disrupt bowel habits. These groups of medications are well-known to cause constipation in some people: Opioid pain medications, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), antihistamines, tricyclic depressants, urinary incontinence meds, blood pressure medications and anti-nausea medications. (1) Overuse and chronic use of laxatives can also make the bowel become dependent on them and when withdrawn, constipation can occur. Iron supplements, especially in higher doses (100-300mg) can cause digestive upset for some people, including constipation.
Solution: Being aware of what medications or supplements cause constipation is important so you can take other measures to keep your bowels regular, through food and lifestyle choices. If necessary, work with your health care practitioner(s) to address this as much as possible. For iron, there are supplements that exist with lower amounts of iron and relevant co-factors to increase absorption and minimize gut impacts. Although, I recommend working with your health care practitioner to decide what will work best for you.
7. Resisting the Urge to Go
A lot of us get “poop shy” and feel like we don’t want to go in public, or at work. But this leads to the body getting used to “holding it”, which eventually causes more difficulty in passing stool.
Solution: Listen to your body. When you need to go, go! This gives your body the signal that it’s urges aren’t in vain, and will encourage regular and happy bowel movements ;)
Keep an eye out next week for when I dive into what herbs can help support the liver and promote healthy bowel habits.
Here’s to happy bowel habits and balanced hormone health!
With all my herbal love,
READY TO GET TO THE ROOT CAUSE OF YOUR HEALTH ISSUES, NATURALLY? BOOK A CONSULTATION WITH ME SO WE CAN DO IT TOGETHER!
Medications that cause constipation. Retrieved October 13, 2021 from The Check Up by Single Care
Reiko Suzuki,Tove Rylander-Rudqvist,Weimin Ye,Shigehira Saji,Herman Adlercreutz,Alicja Wolk. (2007) Dietary fiber intake and risk of postmenopausal breast cancer defined by estrogen and progesterone receptor status—A prospective cohort study among Swedish women. International Journal of Cancer. Retrieved October 13, 2021 from Wiley Online Library
Liver Anatomy and Functions. Retrieved October 13, 2021 from John Hopkins Medicine