It's a fact of life: your digestive system will for the most part dictate your quality of life. After all, you literally become what you eat, digest and assimilate (or don't eliminate) so problems with the digestive system will significantly affect you.
Constipation should be addressed early. It's much easier to treat at that stage, and an improvement in digestive health will have a profound effect on your health.
This points to the wisdom behind a quote by Josh Billings (pseudonym for Henry Wheeler Shaw, 1818-1885): "I have come to the conclusion that a reliable set of bowels is worth more to a man than any quantity of brains."
It makes sense that if you abuse your body for years, with refined breads, fizzy drinks and nutritionally-poor junk food, you should not be surprised if your digestive system becomes sluggish.
It may take some time to rectify, but as long as you persevere, it will respond. Here are the basics:
Due to its nature as an essential macronutrient in the human diet, fibre is vital for preventing or treating constipation. Most people in western nations consume less than 50% of their required daily fibre, so food moves slowly through the digestive tract, and is not as efficient at removing toxins and waste.
Fibre creates bulk, and this bulk stimulates peristalsis.
More people are showing a sensitivity to gluten which ranges from a mild sensitivity right through to celiac disease where no gluten can be eaten.
Gluten sensitivity can cause diarrhoea or constipation, as well as other nasty symptoms.
If you are gluten-sensitive, a good place to start is by cutting out gluten-containing grains (wheat, oats, barley, rye and spelt) and using other non-glutenous grains in their place.
Steamed vegetables or raw salads, berries, fruit, seeds and nuts are all rich in fibre and help to prevent a variety of digestive-related problems, such as: Several types of cancer including colon cancer Constipation Ulcerative colitis Crohn's disease Diverticulitis
Two different kinds of fibre exist in foods - soluble and insoluble - both of which offer necessary health benefits such as: Regular, normal bowel movements without the need for laxatives Decreased risk of colon cancer and haemorrhoid formation Decreased risk of heart disease and other cancers Controlled cholesterol levels A healthy body weight Reduced risk of diabetes and normalised sugar levels in diabetics
Insoluble fibre is found primarily in whole grains, nuts and vegetables and can't dissolve in water. It bulks up faecal matter in the colon. This encourages peristaltic movement and regular elimination, lowering blood sugar and reducing diabetic risk.
Soluble fibre, on the other hand, absorbs water, softening faecal matter, and making elimination more comfortable. Good sources of soluble fibre are to be found in apples and citrus, vegetables, and for those who can eat these, in oats, barley and beans.
When adding fibre to your diet, whether in food or a supplement, it is important to remember three things: Go slowly - don't start with a large amount, rather build up gradually. Drink more water to avoid discomfort. Be patient - it may take time for results to show.
Often people who suffer from constipation do not drink enough water. Proper hydration is important to add weight to the faecal mass to stimulate emptying.
Soft drinks, tea and coffee don't count as proper hydration as they are mostly dehydrators, not hydrators.
Prebiotics and probiotics
It goes without saying that the most important part of good digestive function is a healthy body supported by good quality, healthy food.
However, once your health is compromised through poor eating habits, antibiotics or stress, often the first sign of strain manifest in some sort of digestive problem, such as constipation and thrush.
The word probiotic means for life. While probiotics work by killing pathogenic bacteria, destroying toxins, boosting antibodies and preventing bacterial and fungal overgrowth, they also produce healthy bacteria in the gut. This is a cornerstone of a healthy digestive system and a good digestive enzyme will encourage this.
If you find you are not getting the desired results, consider looking for food intolerances. There are some very good food intolerance tests (blood tests) available in South Africa.
The most common of these are wheat, gluten, dairy products, trans fats, eggs, soy and sugary food. However, you can be intolerant to any food and is likely to be something that is consumed almost on a daily basis.
Here are the basics of a good supplement regimen for your digestive health: A good probiotic. Magnesium citrate - important for digestive function, constipation prevention and colon health. Fibre such as psyllium (or oats/barley) taken with a glass of water or added to food. Fish oil to regulate possible digestive tract inflammation. Glutamine, which helps to encourage healing of the walls of the body's digestive tract. Vitamin C, for its ability to heal, it's antioxidant activity and powerful ability to boost overall immunity. It is also a safe laxative in larger doses.
An antibiotic can cause temporary constipation. So can painkillers, anti-depressants and other medications too. A probiotic and extra fibre taken for a month or so can usually resolve the problem.
There is no magic key for digestive health. However, by avoiding certain foods and including others, you will have a much better chance of achieving and noticing a significant improvement in your digestive system usually within a couple of weeks.
Check the table on this page for an indication of foods to include, and foods to avoid.
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