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May 17, 2008

Heeding the call of nature

Taking a probiotic supplement, including more fibre and water in one’s diet and exercising can help you empty your bowels more easily and regularly. CONSTIPATION is difficulty in passing motion and/or infrequent bowel movements. It is not a disease, but rather a troublesome condition due to underlying problems.

As bowel transit time is increased, the stools harden and become difficult to pass due to dehydration. The body slowly re-absorbs the fluid content in the faeces and along with it, many soluble toxins. This auto-intoxification is the reason people suffering from constipation have headaches, tiredness, bad breath, a coated tongue and mental dullness.

Common causes of constipation are fibre deficiency, gastrointestinal diseases, low water intake, change in the normal bacterial flora, inactivity, liver dysfunction and chronic use of laxatives and stress.

Constipation can begin early in life. The normal breast-fed child will have a bowel movement approximately 20 minutes after the start of a feed. Over time, as solid foods are introduced, mothers soon become aware that certain foods such as bananas can cause the stools to harden and slow the transit time, while prunes and papayas will soften them and encourage bowel movement.
Later, as the child is weaned and cow’s milk is introduced, bowel movement becomes less regular and more difficult to regulate. Once the child is toilet trained, less attention is placed on regularity in some cases.

Apart from that, during childhood, vegetables and fruits may not be their favourite foods, worsening the problem. With toddlers and also with adults on hectic schedules, the call of nature may be habitually ignored or postponed.

A useful index to take note of is bowel transit time, or the time it takes for food to pass through the body. In diets comprising unrefined cereals, fruits, and plenty of raw vegetables, the transit time is usually 12 hours or so.

On a refined diet, this may extend to 24, 48 or 72 hours or even longer; passing motion may become a once-a-week affair. Another factor is lack of activity and exercise which removes the mechanical action of the muscles on the intestinal content, thus slowing bowel action.

If the main cause of constipation is a fibre-deficient diet, increasing your intake of unrefined carbohydrates, whole grains, fresh vegetables (raw salads) and fruits will be beneficial.

This will promote bowel movement, add bulk to stools and the fibre can also help bind to toxins before being eliminated through the stools. Avoid refined carbohydrates such as sweets, desserts, white rice, noodles, cakes and cookies as these will aggravate the condition.

Increasing water intake is also important to soften the stools and reduce bowel transit time. Exercising will also improve constipation by promoting healthy bowel movements.

Try supplementing your diet with live bacteria such as the clinically-proven strain, Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM. This group of friendly bacteria re-establishes the gut micro-flora and exerts health benefits on the host by reducing gastrointestinal symptoms such as constipation. Live bacteria may also help improve digestive disorders such as gastritis, ulcerative colitis, indigestion and Helicobacter pylori infection.

When choosing a probiotic supplement, it is important to choose one that conforms to these criteria:

1. Clinically proven

Each probiotic strain has to be studied and clinically proven to confer specific health benefits on humans. For example, Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM has been studied for more than 30 years and the health benefits are well-documented.

2. The right strain

Experts agree that it cannot be assumed that research published on one strain of probiotic applies to another strain, even of the same species. L. acidophilus NCFM is clinically proven for alleviating digestive problems, L. acidophilus LA-5 and Bifidobacterium BB-12 help improve gut health of children and reduce symptoms of allergies, namely eczema.

3. Refrigeration for optimal potency

Probiotics are sensitive to various environmental conditions such as pH levels, moisture and temperature. All these conditions must be properly controlled to ensure stability and the efficacy of the product. This is especially true in countries with high temperature and humidity like Malaysia.

Probiotic products are best kept refrigerated to ensure high potency and stable probiotic count. The common misconception is that freeze-dried powder or capsule probiotic formulae are stable at room temperature and can be displayed directly on store shelves.

However, the high temperature and humidity in our climate can significantly decrease the viability of the probiotics over time.

According to renowned probiotics manufacturers, refrigeration is the best way to sustain the living colonies for long periods. However, probiotics can be left unrefrigerated for short periods of time, making them convenient for travel.

Dead bacteria can only adhere to the intestinal wall and this is for a short period only. Thus, they do exert a temporary effect of relieving gastrointestinal symptoms.

Live bacteria, on the other hand, not only help the physical, but the physiological function of the gut as well. They help maintain a healthy intestinal digestive tract and stimulate the immune system to ward off infections and improve allergies.

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