The Real Cause of Straining

If you’ve struggled with constipation, IBS and a host of other bowel and bladder related issues, you may have found yourself using all sorts of techniques to empty your bowels. Some say squatting is the most natural position because it helps to straighten the lower bowel to ease the way while others prefer to sit straight up on the toilet. If “effort” is required, patients often lean forward, perhaps rock bit backwards and forwards. If you find you’re struggling to have a normal bowel movement regardless of the position you choose, this blog is for you!

Straining is BAD! Bowel movements should be effortless. If you’re straining, you could develop diverticulitis, hemorrhoids, varicose veins and hernias. So the question is.. why do we strain? Why are we struggling with such high levels of constipation? The answer is remarkably simple. It’s the lack of veggies and fiber in our diet. The people with the fewest gut problems live on diets dominated by vegetables with small amounts of protein, with no processed foods. Their stool is soft and easy, in stark contrast to the hard, painful stools commonly seen in modern American bowels.

A recent documentary, In Defense Of Food (available free online), tells a curious story. A few centuries ago in England, only the rich ate the light, fluffy breads we associate with white bread. The poor couldn’t afford to finely mill grain and had to make due eating coarse, heavy grain breads. This was, of course, looked down upon by high society. Then someone invented a new, inexpensive way of milling wheat thus making white flour affordable and available to both the rich and poor. But a curious thing happened. Constipation and other bowel disorders became rampant not just in the rich, but also the poor. Colonics were big industry in the early 1900’s.

New diseases also emerged (i.e. Beri-Beri and Pellagra) in populations that survived mainly on breads due to the lack of certain vitamins. Yes, white bread might be lighter and tastier, but it’s not nearly as healthy as a grain bread which still contains the most nutritious part of the plant: the fiber and the vitamin rich skin.

But rather than admitting that the over processing of grains was causing these health problems and that this was entirely a man made problem, the growing bread and cereal industry simply put manmade vitamins back into their white breads. That’s why we see “enriched” on most bread and boxed cereal labels.

But that doesn’t solve the key problem of constipation and healthy bowel function.  The human digestive system relies on fiber to function effectively, roughly needing 20-24 grams of fiber a day to produce soft, comfortable stools. Most modern day fast and manufactured foods contains little, if any, fiber. I would guess that many of our readers get less than ten grams of fiber a day and experience occasional (or frequent) constipation and hard stools.

So, if you’re struggling with having a bowel movement, you can try different positions, as well as the popular Squatty Potty, but that won’t solve the key problem that most patients face. It’s all about the fiber.  It’s time to load up on the veggies and back away from the white breads and simple carbohydrates. The Mount Sinai Health System produced a fabulous Fiber Content Chart that will help you count your fiber intake each day. A single serving of green peas contains 13 grams of fiber. Adding several servings of peas, beans, apples and other fruits throughout the week can make a tremendous difference in your bowel comfort and function.  If you need to eat bread, eat a whole grain bread (i.e. Ezekiel Bread) where you’ll have the benefit of both natural vitamins and fiber.

Additional Healthy “Bowel” Information:

I encourage you to watch these FABULOUS two videos below. They get to the bottom of why we have to many problems with our, erhm, bottoms!

In Defense of Food – PBS (Aired 12/29/15)

Should You Sit, Squat or Lean During A Bowel Movement