It’s a popular children’s book, it’s a sock-puppet sing-along, and its the truth: Everybody Poops. But it’s also the truth that this vital process can get disrupted in a lot of ways, causing distress and discomfort. Read on for more on “normal” function and some very common problems with bowel function.
For starters, let’s discuss the pathway of food through the digestive tract:
HERE ARE THE FACTS THAT ALL WOMEN SHOULD KNOW ABOUT THEIR BOWELS:
This understanding of ideal digestive and bowel function is necessary to begin to understand when our bodies are demonstrating abnormal symptoms. These abnormal symptoms can include fecal incontinence (unwanted loss of stool or gas), constipation (infrequent bowel movements and/or hard stools), diarrhea (loose and watery bowel movements) and rectal pain.
The list of causes for these symptoms is extensive. Below are a few of the most common:
Keeping a healthy GI tract is the best way to avoid unwanted bowel symptoms and is easier than you would expect.bIt comes down to fiber, fluid and exercise.
Fiber is the part of grains, fruits, and vegetables that cannot be digested by the body. There are 2 types of fiber and they have different effects on our body. Soluble fiber dissolves in water and turns into a gel-like texture in the intestines. This slows digestion and allows for more complete absorption of food. Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water and adds bulk to the stool. This helps the stool pass more quickly through the large intestines. A comprehensive diet should include both forms of fiber with a total of 20-25g/day. Below are examples of each type of fiber:
Proper fluid intake also keeps our digestive tract healthy. It keeps the stool moving through the intestines quickly and effectively. Traditionally we have been taught to drink 8 glasses of water a day but the truth is that the amount of water needed is highly dependent on each individual person. A good rule of thumb is to drink ½ your body weight in ounces of fluid and ½ of that should be water. Ex: If your weight is 140 lbs, then drink 70oz of fluid total with 35oz being water.
Exercise also helps with moving stool through the intestines and improves the metabolic processes. Click on this link to see a guideline for recommended daily exercise:
If you find that you have bowel symptoms that cannot be controlled by fiber, fluid and exercise alone, you can get help! The first step is talking to your doctor. They will be able to direct you through the proper avenues of treatment. These may include medication, pelvic floor physical therapy, nutritional counseling, and more. For more information here are websites that may be helpful:
And if you are interested in finding a physical therapist specializing in women’s health and pelvic floor dysfunction, the following resources may be helpful:
Ruth E. Hensley, PT, DPT Physical Therapist, Marathon Physical Therapy and Sports Medicine