Not many people like to talk about how often they go to the bathroom, but what if it saved your life? Yes, humor aside, going to the toilet or, more accurately, how regular your bowel movements are plays a major role in determining how healthy or unhealthy you are. And when major diseases like cancer are involved, then it’s definitely worth taking the time to understand what exactly is going on down there! Ready?
Most of us have experienced constipation at one time or another. In fact, you may be unfortunate enough to be experiencing it right now.
Perhaps you are taking a laxative for your lack of bowel movement to make you go more regularly, like a food supplement or medication. But is this really the healthy option to take or is there a much better way to deal with this kind of health issue?
To quote a Dr Burkitt who carried out epidemiological studies in Africa and wrote the book Don’t Forget Fibre in your Diet:
“Available knowledge suggests that the bowel transit time in people in primitive communities is in the region of 15-25 hours, whereas in the western countries the transit time is about 3 to 5 days.”
The fact is with all the many processed foods that people eat on a Standard Western Diet, experiencing constipation or slow bowel movements is a very common thing. Unfortunately, this much overlooked aspect of health appears to have many health dangers associated with it.
Now, your transit time is how long the food that you eat takes to go from your mouth to when it leaves your anus.
So exactly how long should this be ideally? Well, there are differing opinions on this matter, but 14 to 24 hours seems to be the general rule of thumb, with some experts suggesting up to 36 hours.
Now, your stool size is also a very important factor with regards to your health and it has been found that the larger the stool the quicker the transit time and so the easier it is on our intestines to keep things moving along. Indeed low stool weight has been found to increase the risk of developing diseases, such as appendicitis, diverticular disease, bowel cancer and various anal diseases.
You may think: “Well, I go to the bathroom and have a regular bowel movement every day so no problem with constipation for me!” But if the stool you are passing has taken a number of days to transit through your digestive system (let’s say 4 days, for example) then your stool is effectively late and you are constipated.
Remember we talked about transit times and if your food waste is taking a long time to exit your body then even if you have regular bowel movements it is not healthy for your body.
The understanding here is that having constipation means a greater contact time between our waste products and intestinal wall, which may increase the formation and absorption of fecal mutagens or, more simply put, unwanted organisms that can increase your risk of disease.
One example of how constipation is believed to be linked to disease has been with women suffering with breast cancer. It has been found that what are called bile acids, which are naturally produced by the liver so as to remove any unwanted cholesterol from the body and also aid in the digestion of fats in the intestine, could be implicated with the onset of disease. Study findings appear to support the idea of a relationship between bile acids from the intestines and the risk of breast cancer.
In the case of women with breast cancer and also suffering constipation, the bile salts are reabsorbed by the body (due to constipation) and then head to the breast tissue. It is known that these bile acids can cause damage to DNA and so are suspected of being involved in disease states, including, in this case, breast cancer.
So having a slow transit time can increase bile acid absorption, which increases your risk of disease.
What is the best solution to a slow transit time and all the apparent negative health factors that go with it? Well, having plenty of plant fiber in your diet, which you get from whole fruits and vegetables is a great way to bulk up your stools and decrease your transit times. One study found that vegan diets bind significantly more bile acids than lacto-ovo or non-vegetarian diets and this is with different diets that had the exact same amount of fiber in them!
So make sure to eat vegan, eat whole foods and ideally raw foods to keep not just your gut healthy but your whole body as well!
If you are curious you can measure your own transit time by ingesting something that you can observe in your stool after a bowel movement. A good food to choose would be beetroot or red dragon fruit due to their bright red colored flesh.
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