9 ways to get your bowels moving and promote good gut health
Constipation is a common bowel complaint where bowel movements are infrequent or hard to pass. Many people are so used to not “going” that they put up with feeling bloated and gassy or rely on laxatives to help keep them regular.
The body is designed to have bowel motions every day, ideally after every meal; however, modern-day living and poor dietary habits can clog up the digestive system, making it difficult to pass stools.
Passing a bowel motion allows your body to excrete toxins, hormones and chemicals. If you’re constipated, this is not happening and therefore these toxins are circulating around your body, causing symptoms such as bloating, breakouts and fatigue.
Learn how to relieve constipation naturally to avoid long-term complications such as haemorrhoids, anal fissures, rectal prolapse and colorectal cancer.
What causes constipation?
Constipation is usually caused by dietary and lifestyles factors; however, medications, pregnancy and some health conditions such as an underactive thyroid and diabetes can also contribute to bowel movement problems.
Some common causes of constipation include:
- A diet that is high in refined carbohydrates and gluten-containing foods such as bread, pasta, pizza, pastries, cakes and biscuits. These foods are very binding and can clog up the digestive system.
- Dairy products increase mucous production in the gut which can interfere with digestive function.
- Red meat and fried foods as these foods are hard to digest and put extra strain on your digestive system.
- Low fibre intake (vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts, seeds) as fibre helps move faecal matter through the bowel, making it softer and easier to pass.
- Eggs and bananas can constipate some people.
- Dehydration and not drinking enough water. When water is in short supply in the body, your intestines cannot add water to stools, making them hard and lumpy.
- Stress promotes the release of certain hormones that can slow down your digestive system, leading to poor bowel motions.
- Lack of exercise or movement results in poor muscle contraction in the gut. This makes your gastrointestinal system sluggish and it slows down the movement of food from one part of the gut to another.
- Caffeine as it dehydrates the body and can cause constipation.
- Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) can cause constipation, gas and bloating as harmful bacteria in the gut outweighs the “good” bacteria, causing an imbalance in your microbiome.
Foods to help constipation
- Fresh vegetables especially spinach, broccoli, Brussel sprouts and artichoke
- Fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi and kefir
- Apples and pears (with the skin on), raspberries, kiwi fruit
- Wholegrain rice, millet and oats
- Lentils, chickpeas and kidney beans
- Nuts, chia seeds and flaxseeds
- Soaked prunes and dates
- Ground flaxseed
Natural ways to relieve constipation
Here are 9 ways to get your bowels moving and promote good gut health:
- Eat a fibre-rich, whole food diet (including the foods listed above) to boost digestion and improve gut health. Plant-based foods are an excellent source of fibre and are also easier to digest than animal-derived foods. Here are some delicious plant-based recipes to get you inspired in the kitchen.
- Avoid constipating foods including highly processed grains (pasta, white bread, pastries, pizza, crackers, white rice), dairy products, red meat, unripe bananas, fried foods and junk food.
- Stay hydrated by drinking sufficient filtered water and herbal teas (great in the winter months and colder weather).
- Cut out coffee and other caffeine-containing drinks such as black tea and energy drinks as caffeine dehydrates the body which can worsen constipation. Instead try coffee alternatives like a turmeric latte or a chicory root coffee (caffeine free).
- Create a toilet routine to prompt your body (and brain) to pass a stool. Training yourself “to go” involves sitting on the toilet at the same time every day in order to encourage your body to have regular bowel movements.
- Move your body daily by going for a walk or doing some exercise – even if it’s only for ten minutes. Exercise stimulates the contraction of your intestinal muscles to push stools through the bowels easier.
- Have a glass of warm lemon water upon rising to stimulate your digestive system and liver.
- Supplement with probiotics (beneficial gut bacteria) to replenish and balance the bacteria in your gut. Consult with a nutritional therapist or naturopath who can recommend the best probiotics for your needs.
- Try herbs that stimulate the bowel and support gut function:
- Senna and Cascara have a mild laxative effect to kickstart sluggish bowels. They can be taken as a tea or in a capsule form.
- Aloe vera is a natural laxative and anti-inflammatory. It helps to soothe an inflamed gut, improve digestion and reduce constipation. Drink ½ cup to one cup of fresh Aloe vera juice per day on an empty stomach.
- Slippery elm in an excellent demulcent herb that coats the mucous membranes (lining) of the gut to soothe and protect an irritated gut. Slippery elm comes in a powder and needs to be mixed with water. You can also buy it in capsule form.
- Dandelion stimulates bile production (to aid digestion) and adds more water to stools to promote healthy digestion and stool movement. You can eat fresh dandelion leaves, drink dandelion tea or take it as a liquid herbal or tincture.
- Psyllium seed husks helps relieve constipation by adding bulk to stools and stimulating the intestines to contract and move stools through the digestive tract. Psyllium comes as a powder, granules or capsules and should be taken with water, after a meal, one to three times per day.
- Peppermint contains menthol in which has a soothing effect on the digestive system. Drink peppermint tea after a meal to help relax your stomach and move stools through your intestines.
- Ginger stimulates peristalsis (the contraction of intestinal muscles) to effectively move food through the digestive tract. Take as a tea, liquid extract or capsule.
Consult with a qualified herbalist who can advise you on the most appropriate herbs and dosage after taking a full case history from you.
A happy healthy gut
Relieve constipation and sluggish bowels by avoiding constipating foods like bread, meat and dairy. Instead, nourish your gut with high-fibre foods including vegetables, wholegrains and legumes, drink sufficient water and move your body daily. Passing a bowel motion every day will make you feel lighter, less bloated and more energised.