To Your Health

My mother often asked me if I had a bowel movement every day, but now that I am on my own, it's more like two to three per week. How can I get back to a daily BM without getting hooked on laxatives?

Q. My mother often asked me if I had a bowel movement every day, but now that I am on my own, it's more like two to three per week. How can I get back to a daily BM without getting hooked on laxatives?

A. To begin with, the ideal is more like two or three BMs per day, and the number of BMs per day may be less important than a concept called "transit time." Transit time is the time it takes for food to travel all the way through the entire gastrointestinal tract, and it should be less than 24 hours. It is possible to have two or three BMs per day and still have a slow transit time. You can estimate transit time by eating something colorful, like red beets, and then noting how long it takes for red color to appear in your BM.

A fairly rapid transit time means that fecal matter does not spend much time in contact with your gut lining. Fecal matter, since it consists of material we want to get rid of, tends to contain several sorts of offensive substances, including some carcinogens.

There are several ways to improve transit time. Since what goes in must eventually come out, increasing your intake of fiber will tend to increase transit time. As a bonus, the soluble fibers found mostly in vegetables can be converted into short-chain fatty acids that are ambrosia to the cells in the gut. These short-chain fatty acids not only literally feed the gut but they also maintain the proper pH or acid-base balance.

The American average for fiber consumption at present is about 10-12 grams per day. Our remote ancestors' diets provided them with 40-80 grams of fiber per day, but even our grandparents obtained about 20 grams per day. Many researchers blame the rapid rise in colon cancer on this drop in fiber intake.

A second good influence on gut function is the amino acid L-glutamine. L-glutamine is not considered an essential amino acid because we can make some of our own, but it certainly is a beneficial amino acid. In fact, so much glutamine is used to feed the cells of the gut that little or no L-glutamine from our food actually makes it into the body. L-glutamine as an almost tasteless powder is easy to use as a supplement and 2-4 grams per day (1-2 teaspoons of powder) sometimes works wonders. Rarely, L-glutamine will stimulate the brain so much that sleep is impaired, so best to use it in the mornings. Also, to avoid some competition with other amino acids, using L-glutamine apart from food will give you more bang for your buck.

Any muscle requires energy to function, and gut muscles need energy for the rhythmic squeezing we call peristalsis. Magnesium supplements can furnish a jump-start of energy, plus some magnesium salts draw water from the body into the gut and make the fecal material easier to move. Milk of Magnesia is the classic "aid to elimination" that your mother may have relied upon to keep you regular. It is still hard to beat for safety and effectiveness.

Pantothenic acid, one of the B-complex vitamins, has also been used to improve transit time. Prior to World War II, intravenous pantothenic acid was sometimes used following surgery to stimulate elimination after gut motility was stopped with anesthesia. Taken orally, it is safe to use several thousand milligrams per day, although a few hundred milligrams is often enough.

Diarrhea is the most common side effect of overdoing vitamin C supplements, but some people take advantage of this "side effect" and use vitamin C as a laxative.

There are many other nutrients that will help your gut to feed you better, so put the whole team to work by including a good multivitamin/mineral in your food supplement program. A bonus from adding the multivitamin/mineral is that together these nutrients will do more than simply take care of sluggish elimination.

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