Bowel Wellness

Words: Dr Ambika P NAYAK

This is an important physiological function for a healthy body, every day, more so after getting up in the morning, and emptying the bowels. The bowel habit of an individual is one of the prime indicators of their health. The nature of stools, like frequency, colour, and consistency, tells one a good deal about the alimentary system. Hence, ‘How’s your bowel movement?’ is a frequently asked question in an Ayurveda consultation.

We have all seen this elderly man, Bhaskor Banerjee, in the movie, Piku, trying implacably and obsessively to have ‘the best motion.’ This, unfortunately, is the story of several elderly folks. Let alone the old, the young and the middle aged too have issues clearing their bowels on a regular basis.

There are several reasons.

First things first. Let us understand how faeces are formed — the ingested food is acted upon by the digestive enzymes [jaṭharāgni], starting from the mouth till the stomach and this is subsequently divided into the nutrient part, called sāra, which is absorbed in the intestines, just as the residual part, called kiṭṭa, normally moves down to the rectum and forms faeces, or stool, after most of the water is absorbed. The solid wastes are eliminated from the body by the peristaltic action of the bowels, or intestines. The longer they stay inside, the more toxic they are to the body and mind. So, regular elimination is important to keeping the body from absorbing toxins.

Our body follows a natural rhythm of events and when one cultivates the habit of morning defaecation, the body follows the same practice every day — that is, once the rhythm is set in motion. Early morning elimination cleanses the bowels, improves digestion and absorption, promotes health and keeps gut-related illnesses at bay.

Irregular eating and bowel habits, in the long-run, lead to hampered digestion, malabsorption and related disorders, including flatulence, heaviness and discomfort in the abdomen, chronic constipation, diarrhoea, irritable bowel syndrome [IBS], haemorrhoids [piles] etc. Colonic cancer is also linked to chronic irregular bowel and improper eating habits.

Many a time the cause of bowel irregularities are simple; they need identification by self and are easily resolvable — inadequate food/fibre intake, insufficient intake of fluids/water, lack of physical activity/exercise, addiction [tea, coffee, smoking], distractions [mobile phone, newspapers], voluntary withholding, psychological stress, and sluggish intestinal movements. Others which can be revoked with effort and proper treatment are indigestion, gastritis, piles, fissures, tumour, thyroid dysfunction, nervous system disorders, muscular disorders, overuse/long-term use of laxatives [conventional/herbal/non-herbal], side-effects of medications, trauma, such as sphincter damage, strictures, including post-surgical, genetic, or structural abnormalities.

Ayurveda Perspective

Ayurveda explains that the suppression of the natural bowel urge, or untimely forced initiation of the urge, as one of the important causes in the development, or progression, of illness. Holding back leads to pain in the abdomen, headache, bloating, flatulence, or burping, and pain in the calves. The effect can be immediate, or remote. Irregular bowel emptying not only affects the body, but also the mind. It may also sometimes lead to a ‘constipated face’ — which is more than a literal expression.

A few simple tips would be adequate to aid easy morning evacuation of bowels — drink warm water after rising, with a pinch of salt, or lemon juice can be added to the water, walk briskly in the morning, or walking a few steps after drinking warm water, or light abdominal exercises to initiate muscular movement, massaging the tummy with palms [after warming the palms by rubbing against each other], practicing calm and sitting in kukkuṭāsana, or squat pose, for a while, consuming adequate quantities of water and adding adequate amounts of roughage/fibre in the diet every day. Eating healthy, sufficient quantities, and on time, while taking into account your digestive capacity, as also regular physical activities/exercises could aid in better bowel movement too.

Constipation is such a common issue today — we see the busiest of folks going for ‘shopping’ for laxatives, or every household has something, or the other ‘like-thing,’ on their shelves. There are also several ‘varieties’ of them available at the store. It is not advisable to ‘trial and error’ with them indiscriminately.

Things To Do

Small amounts of good fat, like ghee, or simple cooking oils, in the meals, or with warm water, help folks who have a dry body, or are habituated to eating dry food, which could cause sluggish intestinal movements, or difficult and hard stools due to lack of lubrication. People with small appetites end up eating small meals — this again reduces the bulk of stool. In such cases, taking psyllium husk, or isabgol, is helpful.

When the stimulation for the defaecation reflex is a problem, natural laxatives like triphala, nityam etc., may be used.

But, don’t you ‘self-treat.’ It is imperative that you speak to your Ayurveda physician, or healthcare provider, and follow their professional advice.

Remember always that bowel regulation is vital and that a hale and hearty bowel reflects your optimal health and mood too.

Dr AMBIKA P NAYAK, MD [Ayurveda], is Founder & Managing Director of Ayurvedeeyam, a speciality Ayurveda Clinic in Bengaluru. Her passion for the ancient, yet ‘completest’ natural medical system, and professional clinical skills are keyed to raising awareness for Ayurveda as a first choice of treatment for illness and healthy living, just as much as her axiom, Svasthasya svāsthya rakṣaṇaṃ — the age-old, fundamental principle of Ayurveda. Dr Nayak, who has presented papers and participated in national and international symposia, is also a strong advocate of panchakarma, thanks to its fully holistic and proven therapeutic efficacy in the treatment and prevention of illness, or disease.

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