How to keep your bowel healthy and prevent bowel diseases

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Many bowel diseases are becoming more and more common such as constipation, haemorrhoids, irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, polyps and bowel cancer.

Did you know that bowel cancer is the second most common cancer affecting men and women in Australia, especially over the age of 50? It is also the cause of the second highest number of cancer deaths after lung cancer.

This is why it is very important to keep your bowel healthy and learn how to recognise symptoms early to prevent a more serious problem.

1. Why are regular bowel movements so important?

The bowel is the lower part of your digestive tract which includes the small intestine, large intestine and rectum.

The functions of the bowel are to absorb nutrients and water from digested food, and to help the body store and excrete waste products in the form of stools.

The stools contain lots of toxins that need to be cleared regularly, otherwise the bowel is the first part of the body to be affected.

For example, bilirubin (from broken down old blood cells) is one of the body’s main toxic waste products excreted through the bowel that gives stools their characteristic brown colour.

If the stools are stored in the bowel longer than they should, the body will reabsorb more fluid making them very dry and harder to pass.

The body will also begin to reabsorb toxins from the stools which may cause damage to both the bowel and the body.

This is why the most common bowel cancers are in the lower part of the bowel where more toxins tend to build up.

2. What are the common symptoms of an unhealthy bowel?

  • Bowel movements with hard or loose stools or pungent smell
  • Infrequent or irregular bowel movements (not daily)
  • Sluggish bowel movements that are not dry but difficult to pass and don’t feel complete
  • Bloating and passing lots of smelly wind
  • Haemorrhoids: burning and pain around the anus
  • Stools with blood
  • Abdominal pain

When too much toxins build up in the bowel, this can affect the whole body and cause other symptoms such as:

  • Tired, heavy and puffy body
  • Headache
  • Insomnia, vivid dreams
  • Lower back pain
  • Red face and red nose, flare up of skin rashes
  • Bad breath
  • Weight gain and difficulty losing weight

3. What does your bowel like and dislike?

Traditional Chinese medicine has a couple of timeless sayings about keeping the bowel healthy.

“The bowel likes to be empty, and dislikes being full.”
This indicates that the stools should be cleared every day. I suggest it is a good habit to encourage your body to have a bowel movement every day at around the same time.

“The bowel does not like to be cold.”
Chinese medicine considers cold and icy foods and drinks to affect the circulation of the digestive tract. It is believed that having warm food and drinks helps to improve the circulation of the bowel. I suggest avoid eating or drinking foods straight out of the fridge, especially on a cold day.

4. Natural ways to improve your bowel movements

  • Eat high fibre foods such as whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables
  • If your stools are often hard and dry, make sure you are drinking enough water
  • Stay active and avoid sitting for long periods without moving
  • Don’t rush and give yourself a regular time of the day to pass your bowel movements
  • The best position for emptying your bowels is a squatting position. Lean forward with your back straight and feet slightly raised if possible (you may also use a footstool)
  • If you have hard stools, don’t strain or hold your breath

If you have a bowel disease or have a family history of bowel disease, it’s best to maintain a healthy weight and quit smoking to reduce your risk of getting bowel cancer.

If you are over the age of 50, don’t ignore your screening tests for bowel cancer. A simple test can detect cancerous polyps early and save your life.

5. How does Chinese medicine help your bowel movements?

Be aware of your bowel habits, if you experience many of the symptoms mentioned above, don’t forget you can see a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner for a check up.

When you come to see us, we will check your body using traditional Chinese medicine diagnosis. We do this by checking your pulse, tongue, signs and symptoms to find out the underlying cause of your symptoms.

We will set up a suitable treatment plan which may include acupuncture, cupping, meridian massage or Chinese herbal medicine to help you fix the underlying cause.

Many people nowadays pay attention to the quality of the food they eat (what’s going into your body), but if you can also pay attention to how it leaves your body then this will help to keep you healthier.

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