Bowel Cancer Awareness Month By Amanda McCredie APD. How does the bowel work .The digestive system breaks down and absorbs all the food and fluids you consume into nutrients needed to fuel the body. The digestive system runs from the mouth to the anus and includes the oesophagus, the stomach, the small intestine, the large intestine or colon, and the rectum and anus. It is around 9-10 metres long. Depending on what has been eaten it can take between 12-48 hours for food to travel the length of the digestive tract.
What is the normal frequency for bowel movements?
There is no set rule on the right number of times to use your bowels. Anything from several times a day to several times a week can be normal, as bowel habits can vary between individuals. “It’s a sudden change in bowel habits that can signal a problem.” Stool (poo) texture is more important than frequency. Stools should be soft, sausage-shaped and easy to pass. It should only take a minute or so to empty your bowel. It’s normal for stools to smell. Odour is caused by the trillions of bacteria in your digestive system that enhance metabolic and digestive processes. So you can take some consolation in the fact that smelly poo means a healthy gut!
What’s not normal?
Some abnormal bowel habits may be symptoms of gastrointestinal conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease or food allergies or intolerances. Not all changes in bowel habit indicate disease. A persistent change in bowel pattern, especially blood in the stool if you’re over 40 years of age, needs prompt review by your doctor.
- Blood mixed with faeces
- Blood splattered around the bowl
- Constipation for an extended period of time
- Diarrhoea for an extended period of time
A healthy bowel = a healthy you! Digestive health is a dominant health issue in today’s society especially with the growing emergence of evidence in relation to gut health and our overall health.
The digestive system can be upset easily. An unhealthy diet, stress, antibiotics and travel are just some of the causes.
An upset digestive system can make you feel bloated and sluggish. Many people suffer from digestive related problems at one time or another. One third of the population regularly suffer from digestive illnesses such as irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, diarrhoea, stomach-ache, nausea and sickness and 60% of Australian adults have experienced digestive problems.
Tips for good bowel health
- Eat a healthy diet including foods high in fibre such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables
- Drink 6-8 glasses of water (1.5-2 litres) daily
- Get active to help move food through the digestive tract
- Allow enough time on the toilet so you don’t need to rush or strain
- Be aware of your bowel habits so you notice when something changes
- Maintain a healthy weight and don’t smoke because obesity and smoking are associated with an increase in risk of bowel cancer
- If you are over the age of 50, talk to your doctor about appropriate screening tests for bowel cancer
- Limit the amount of alcohol you consume
The bacteria within your intestines are key to a good digestive health. Gut flora is important, your intestines contain more than 100 trillion bacteria and microorganisms. The friendly bacteria in your gut stimulate blood antibodies, allow your body to deal with toxins and allergens, produce vital nutrients, protect you from harmful bacteria and parasites, aid in digestion, and fight foreign invaders that could lead to infection.
It may help some people to maintain a favourable balance by taking a probiotic product each day (try a two week trial to see if they help). This tops up the ‘good’ bacteria you should already have in your large intestine.
Recent evidence suggest that different fibres act through different mechanisms and are more effective in combination than individually for promoting bowel health.
International comparative studies show stronger correlations between bowel cancer and starch (and thus resistant starch) intake than with dietary fibre. The strong inverse association between starch and bowel cancer corresponds with the hypothesis that fermentation of resistant starch in the colon is a potential mechanism for bowel cancer prevention. “Although dietary fibre intakes seem to be reaching targets, more than 60% of the population, do not consume adequate amounts of fibre, particularly young women and food avoiders (those who avoid carbohydrates, gluten, wheat and other grains)”, This in itself is a major concern for overall gut health and the increase of bowel cancer in younger adults with no know family history.
How much Fibre do I need every day
Adults: Aim for 30 to 40 grams a day.
Reach this goal by eating:
- A bowl of bran cereal
- 2 slices of wholemeal or grain bread
- 2 pieces of fruit
- 1 serve of vegetables
- 1 cob of corn
Children: Use the Age + 5 rule. Simply add 5 to their age to come up with the grams of fiber the should eat. For example, a 10 year old would need 10 + 5 = 15 grams of fiber per day.
Reach 15 grams of fiber per day by eating:
- 2 wholewheat breakfast biscuits
- 1 slice of white high fiber bread
- 1 piece of fruit
- A small can of baked beans