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Is my gut healthy?

How often should we poo? Ayurveda says at least once a day, maybe more. But why? To fully understand this we also need to understand how the human digestive system works.

Mouth; Saliva begins the digestive process, the sight and smell of food trigger this. The teeth and salivary glands help lubricate and break down food.

Esophagus; Muscles in the wall of your esophagus create waves (called peristalsis) that move the food towards your stomach. When the food reaches the lower end of your esophagus, there’s a muscular valve, the lower esophageal sphincter, which needs to relax and let the food enter your stomach.

Stomach; the stomach begins churns the food into smaller  pieces. Digestive glands in the stomach lining produce stomach acid and enzymes, which mix with the food to form a semifluid paste called chyme. Once the chyme is well mixed, waves of muscle contractions propel it through a valve called the pylorus and into the upper section of your small intestine (duodenum). 

Duodenum; here juices from for pancreas, liver and gall bladder get mixed in, what do these do?
Pancreas, produces digestive enzymes that help break down proteins, carbohydrates and fats.
Liver, produces bile, a solution that helps you digest fats.
Gallbladder, stores bile. As fatty food enters the upper portion of your small intestine (the duodenum), the gallbladder squeezes bile into the small intestine through the bile ducts.

Small intestine; food is moved into the second portion of your small intestine, the jejunum. It’s further broken down into smaller molecules of nutrients that can be absorbed. Then it moves into the final and longest portion of your small intestine (the ileum) where virtually all of the remaining nutrients are absorbed through the lining wall.

Large intestine; Nearly all of the water is absorbed, leaving a usually soft but formed substance called stool. Muscles in the wall of the colon separate the waste into small segments that are pushed into your lower colon and rectum. As rectal walls are stretched, they signal the need for a bowel movement.

This whole system in an adult human is around 5.5 metres (18 feet) long. When it’s functioning efficiently, when we eat food that allows this to happen and we look after our body and keep everything balanced it’s a superbly designed system for sure. However there’s definitely huge potential for it to malfunction or for bits and pieces to get stuck along the way.

Efficient digestion moves things along, as we eat everything moves along a bit and so it comes out the other end. If we are putting food in one end and for some reason the digestion isn’t working so well things get stuck, nutrients don’t get digested properly and toxins (ama) build up. It’s kind of like your pipes at home. They get furred up inside. If they get furred up on an ongoing basis they eventually get blocked. Nothing then works as it should. If we are not eliminating at least once a day this build up of waste throughout the whole system continues to increase. If we are not eliminating at least once a day this is not normal, it is a sign that something is wrong. At some point this will produce symptoms of some kind of digestive disorder, gas, bloating, IBS, inflammation, constipation, diarrhoea, malabsorption, acid reflux, weight gain or weight loss and much more. If these symptoms go unchecked they will eventually lead to other diseases throughout the body. The malabsorption of nutrients combined with the lack of energy resulting from this depletes all of our body tissue and cells and therefore organs, not to mention the impact upon our mental health (the gut brain connection, for another time). Our whole bodymind health truly begins with our gut.

This article explains more (and there’s lots more online if you want to research for yourself): “Everyone should have at least one bowel movement per day. However, it is normal to have up to three bowel movements daily, one after each meal” and “In an ideal world, eating will stimulate the need to use the bathroom, at a minimum, one is expected to have a bowel movement once a day, but it could easily be three times in a day if the gut is functioning well.”Some articles state that pooing as infrequently as three times a week is normal but gut health experts say that this isn’t ok.

How do we know if our digestion is ok? Firstly we notice any symptoms that arise, no matter how small, and seek to rebalance ourselves, perhaps with the support of a practitioner. Secondly we check out our own poo, every day. How do we do this? Notice how often you go. Ideally once a day for the reasons explained above. When you go how is it? Is it easy to pass or do you have to sit for ages and strain? If you’re struggling to go or don’t go daily you are possibly dehydrated and / or constipated. Does it smell ok? Poo shouldn’t smell bad, it’s just left over fibre and juices from your gut. If it smells funky then something’s not happening as it should. Is it mucusy, a funny colour, loose, or more frequent than you feel it should be? Whatever is happening begin to really notice what your digestion is doing, every single day. Additionally if it’s ok but you had an issue in the past be aware of this, as there can be old stuff stuck inside the guts nooks and crannies from years ago. 

There are simple things that you can do to improve, regulate and keep your digestive system happy.
. Firstly adopt the Ayurveda daily routine. Our body recognises this natural cycle and responds accordingly by eliminating every morning. 
. Monitor your tongue, this is the very the top of your digestive tract and will show you if there is a coating throughout your body, scrape the tongue clean every morning. 
. Drink warm water every morning and throughout the day. 
. Avoid caffeine, sugar and alcohol as well as processed foods. 
. Eat plenty of green leafy and fresh locally sourced vegetables and whole grains. 
. Enjoy some good oils and fats to help lubricate your gut lining. Ghee can be used for cooking and is exceptionally beneficial for your health as well as being a natural probiotic. 
. Be aware of the ayurveda food combination advice of not combing fruit and other foods, and avoid lots of fermented foods as this creates a fermenting gut when used in excess. 
. Consider doing a simple dietary cleanse a couple of times each year.  
. Please please try simple non pharmaceutical approaches to nurturing your gut health first, these things often work quickly and efficiently and there’s no need to keep taking any medicines long term. Pharmaceuticals can deplete beneficial gut flora and fauna and make things worse not better.

Make friends with your body, get you know your gut, optimise its performance like you would a high powered car, after all whatever we absorb becomes our body tissues and cells, we literally are what we eat. We do not want to have a gut full of old stale food waiting to create disease, we want everything to work efficiently and effectively so we feel energised and vibrantly alive. Let go of the social stigma around this and talk about your gut health with friends.

Note: This blog as inspired by an article in a national UK newspaper whose headline stated that you do not need to poo everyday. In my view this kind of information in the public arena is potentially damaging and definitely confusing to many people who will not question this narrative and may as a result put their health at risk by ignoring vital signs of digestive issues that can be easily and naturally remedied.