What Causes a Sluggish Bowel?
A sluggish bowel causes constipation. Constipation usually happens because the colon (part of the digestive system) absorbs too much water from your food. If the food moves through the digestive system too slowly, too much water may be absorbed. The bowel motions at the end of the digestive process are then too dry and hard.
Many things can cause or worsen constipation including:
- Not eating enough fibre
- Not drinking enough water
- Not doing enough exercise
- Anxiety, depression, and/or grief
- Underactive thyroid
- Delaying the urge to go to the toilet
- Using laxatives for more than just a few days at a time
- The side-effects of some medicines (even some common ones like painkillers or iron tablets)
- Being overweight
- Some nerve diseases
- Some bowel problems like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- A slow-transit bowel, which means it takes longer for the faeces to travel all the way to the rectum, so more water is removed over time and constipation is much more likely. This occurs where there is nerve damage such as with stroke, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis or trauma.
How You Can Prevent a Sluggish Bowel
The best approaches to prevent a sluggish bowel, and therefore constipation, are the following simple strategies:
- Drinking 6–8 glasses of water per day helps to move contents in the bowel along and prevent constipation.
- Increasing fibre intake to 25–35 grams per day by having 2 serves of fruit, 5 serves of vegetables, some legumes and pulses, and plenty of wholegrains (see fibre chart at the back of this book for values of fibre in common food items – note that the more processed foods are the less fibre they contain). Increase fibre in your diet slowly to avoid bloating and excessive passing of wind. Always increase water intake when you increase fibre to avoid initial worsening in constipation.
- You may have heard that there are two types of fibre – soluble and insoluble. Soluble fibre is one that dissolves in water and helps with lowering cholesterol levels. Soluble fibre is found in fruits and some vegetables. Insoluble fibre acts as roughage for the bowel to keep things moving. This type of fibre is found in the skins of fruits and vegetables, as well as in wholegrains. Both types of fibre are important for different reasons. Making sure you diet is rich in the above foods will ensure you are getting enough of each type of fibre.
- Try and do some form of exercise on most days. This will help stimulate bowel movement. Walking for 30 minutes a day is an excellent way to meet this requirement.
- You can train your bowel to signal an urge to pass a bowel motion at a fairly regular time of the day by making sure that you never ignore the urge to pass a bowel motion as well as allowing sufficient relaxed time following the morning or evening meal to pass a bowel motion. Adopting the correct position to pass a bowel motion will help with avoiding straining. This involves sitting on the toilet with torso slightly leaning forward but back still straight, abdomen relaxed forward, and making sure your hips are flexed to a 90 degree angle to your