When feces reach the rectum they should be about 70% water; and 30% a combination of fiber, undigestible materials, dead cells from the body, and bacteria. When these feces reach the toilet they float at first and then slowly sink and begin to fall apart as the fiber in them absorbs more water.The brown color of feces is a result of bile pigments coming from the liver. When feces are not brown, but have a chalky appearance, there is a problem in bile secretion and fat digestion.
Loose, watery stools or diarrhea can be produced by excessive use of laxatives (cathartics, which stimulate bowel contractions by irritation), nervous stress, gut dysbiosis, infection or the presence of toxic substances in the bowel.
Neglecting the urge to eliminate, not drinking enough water, poor bile production, poor hydrochloric acid production, gut dysbiosis, or eating foods low in fruit and vegetable fiber can lead to constipation. This is a clogging of the large intestine caused by waste material building up on the bowel wall to such an extent that feces can hardly pass through.
If you are eating three meals in a day but only producing a bowel movement once in five days, you could have fifteen meals still sitting in your intestines! This accumulation can become tough, hard and black like the rubber of a truck tire. When the bowel is that dirty, it can harbor an amazing variety of very harmful bacteria and parasites. These life forms will multiply on this putrid, decaying material creating toxins, poisons, and noxious debris that will seep through the bowel wall and enter the lymph fluid and bloodstream. Poor bowel condition is the source for many, many disorders in the body from allergies and skin afflictions to heart disease and cancer.
Even when you are having a bowel movement every day; how often or how much is not necessarily an indication of a healthy bowel. Many people will have loose bowels one day, stiff bowels the next, a smelly bowel one day, and so on. It is more important to establish regularity and determine how long it takes for any one meal to pass through the body.
The time it takes for a meal to travel through the digestive tract is called the bowel transit time. Normally it takes eighteen hours for food to go through the body and be eliminated. That means if you have breakfast at 8 AM, you would have a bowel movement just before bedtime. Lunch and dinner would naturally be eliminated in the morning the following day with one bowel movement shortly after rising and one just after breakfast.
The time it takes for food to be digested and eliminated depends upon the amount of roughage in the food and the water content. Bulkier feces travel faster as they provide substance for the bowel muscle to work upon. Otherwise a soft, fiberless stool becomes very difficult for the colon to move along. The longer it takes, the more water is absorbed, making feces compacted and hard so that it becomes difficult to eliminate them.
A healthy bowel has sufficient water, good nerve tone, good muscle tone, plenty of beneficial forms of bacteria, adequate circulation and the right biochemical nutrients in the right amounts. However, these things are not sufficient to bring health to a dirty, toxic-laden bowel. Cleansing must come first, only then can tissue rebuilding take place.
Bowel Transit Time Experiment
Take 2 oz. of liquid chlorophyll or 2 oz. of beet juice with a meal and take note of how long it takes to exit the body.
You will recognize the chlorophyll because your feces will be unmistakably colored dark green or red if using beet juice! Don’t take any more chlorophyll or eat any dark green leafy vegetables until you have passed all of the chlorophyll.
How long did it take? Did you have more than one bowel movement that was green?
What to Do Now
Now that you know what your bowel transit time is, you can start working to improve it. Bowel cleansing can be as simple as getting more dietary fiber from fruits and vegetables. Fiber from grains tend to be a little more harsh on a sensitive bowel lining and should be avoided by those with bowel problems.
You may also want to consider a bowel-cleansing program that uses bulk laxative herbs. Most over the counter laxatives contain substances that irritate the bowel causing it to flush out bowel contents very quickly. Some will pull water from you body tissues and result in loose, watery stools. Bulk laxatives are different because they absorb water and push through the bowel, as dietary fiber would. A good herbal bulk laxative is psyllium. Psyllium will also help to clean the toxic material that has accumulated on the bowel walls.
If your intestinal wall has become dry and irritated you may want to use a mucilaginous herb like slippery elm instead. Slippery elm absorbs water and produces a slimy coating to soothe the bowel wall and ease the passage of dry stools.
Improve overall digestion by taking a food enzyme supplement containing protease, amylase, and lipase enzymes. If hydrochloric acid production is low or you experience frequent heartburn or reflux try taking Betaine HCl or 1 oz. of apple cider vinegar before each meal.
Beneficial forms of bacteria are crucial for a healthy bowel and immune system. Particularly if you have had a recent or frequent dose of antibiotics. Use the lactobacillus or bifidobacteria strains which are the most well documented for improving bowel health. Probiotics are also safe for infants and children.
If muscle tone is your problem, you may need a combination of a bulk laxative with a stimulating laxative like cascara sagrada. Cascara sagrada stimulates the bowel wall, encouraging peristaltic action to move fecal matter through the intestines. White oak bark can also help to tone up the intestinal walls as well as reducing hemorrhoids and diverticula.
Stress can be a major factor in poor bowel health. Without proper nerve function your intestinal system cannot do its job. If your bowel function seems to change constantly even when you are eating regularly, you may need to consider an herbal combination to reduce stress. Nutricalm is a wonderful blend from Nature’s Sunshine that helps to improve nerve function and reduce the effects of stress on the body.
Dietary changes such as the GAPS diet combined with an herbal cleansing programs are very effective, but the healing process can take up to a year or more before you will see a regular, healthy intestinal system. Colon hydrotherapy is another option that can help to speed your recovery. Ask a qualified natural health care professional or GAPS practitioner for more information about any of these.
No matter what program you choose, be sure to drink plenty of fresh, purified water daily. Water helps to keep the mucous lining in the bowel thin and slick to provide lubrication.
Here's to Your Health!
Kathryn Doran-Fisher is a Traditional Naturopath, Certified GAPS Practitioner and owner of Elder & Sage.