Constipation - The English Disease
Constipation is usually understood to mean the infrequent passing of stool, but it is also the quality of what is passed as well as the frequency which is important. In general terms, the longer that digested food residue remains in the bowel, the more water is absorbed from it, the harder it gets and the more difficult it is to pass.
White bread, refined breakfast cereals and a low intake of fruits, salads and vegetables is a major factor in the reduction of the bulk of faecal material. Add to this the fact that most people do not drink nearly enough fluids, and the situation arises where an already dry mass takes longer and longer to pass through the system. This results in a rise of pressure inside the bowel and excessive straining on the toilet.
In 1972 Dr. Dennis Burkett started to publicise his theories that constipation was caused by lack of fibre in the diet. This, he maintained, was a major factor in the huge increase of people suffering diverticulitis and cancer of the colon. At about the same time, surgeon Commander T.L. Cleave suggested that it was the low fibre diet served up to seamen which caused the biggest health problem in the Navy – constipation – and that this could be a precursor of both varicose veins and haemorrhoids. As a result of all the publicity bran became the buzzword of the 1980s, but its abuse in the treatment of other conditions has caused serious problems.
Uncooked wheat bran contains phytic acid that prevents the absorption of calcium so it’s bad for your bones. Stick to oat or rice bran which both act more like smoothage than roughage and don’t affect calcium levels.
Constipation can also be caused by bad and irregular toilet habits and surprisingly, laxative abuse. Excessive use of these drugs can interfere with the proper function of the colon and they should only be used at times of occasional difficulty and as infrequently as is possible. Occasional bouts of constipation are common, especially when normal routines are disrupted. In this situation, or to break the cycle of chronic constipation, there is no problem with the short term use of laxatives. The most natural and safest of these are concentrated extracts of plants like tamarind, figs, and Senna. Some laxatives interfere with nutritional status for example, mineral oils leach out carotene and vitamins A, D and K, and happily these are not frequently used today. Whole untreated linseeds (flax seeds) also reduce absorbance of vitamins A, D and E and powerful chemical purgatives upset the balance of sodium, potassium and calcium. However, dried ground flax seed is excellent and also helps keep hormones in balance thanks to its content of lignans – natural phytoestrogens. Two dessertspoons of Barleans Organic Fortiflax should be added to your daily porridge or muesli.
Start improving the diet by increasing total fluid consumption and aim at a minimum of 3-4 pints daily. If you’ve always been a white bread eater, take half your bread as wholemeal (brown, granary or any other label is not good enough), and eat porridge or muesli every morning. Add two dessertspoonsful of Fortiflax or two teaspoonful of rice or oat bran to a carton of live yoghurt, or your cereal, each day and make sure you have a small pot of Yakult every day for its gut friendly bacteria.
Research shows that the presence of a healthy colony of gut bacteria is an important factor in the treatment of many bowel disorders, especially constipation and IBS – Irritable Bowel Syndrome. There is a specific type called IBSc which has constipation as a major symptom and the unique bacteria in Yakult- Lactobacillus casei Shirota - have been shown to help this too. The same strain has also been found effective in preventing recurrent attacks of the infection Clostridium difficile, often called C diff.
While it can be a minor part of normal gut flora, the bacterium is thought to cause disease when good bugs have been killed off by antibiotics. Often acquired in hospital, this diarrhoea causing infection can be very serious and even life-threatening. Each relapse can cost the NHS as much as £11,000 and cause great distress to patients and their families.
For many years I have advised eating live yoghurt and a pot of Yakult daily, whenever you are prescribed antibiotics, for whatever reason.
Be prepared for some discomfort in the form of wind, bloating and a bit of pain for the first few weeks, particularly after you add 100g (3½ oz) of dried fruit to your daily diet in the second week and lots of extra fruit, vegetables and salads.
For more info see www.yakult.co.uk
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