Pandemic . . . Poop?
No, this isn’t some new, obscure symptom of Covid-19 (or at least, that’s not where I’m going with this!).
But a look at how lockdown, quarantine and our current life is affecting every part of our body – including our bowels.
Life is different
Right? Even if you are back at work there are masks and gloves and hand sanitiser, or you’re all set up with the ironing board to work from home, smart top in place for surprise video calls.
But all those things you normally do to keep your bowels in good, healthy working order might be harder right now.
Jean Marie Houghton, a gastroenterologist with UMass Memorial Health Care explains that “a lot of our habits depend upon other cues, such as our morning coffee [or] our morning walk,” and that includes the habits of our bowels! So if your routine is all topsy turvy then your bowel movements might be as well.
Exercise is harder
Did you know that your intestine and guts move due to a muscular motion called peristalsis? Which means that the more you move and make the surrounding muscles work – the better your digestion works too.
“Our activity is significantly tied to bowel regularity,” Houghton explains, adding that physical activity tends to put our bowels in motion so less physical activity, “tends to slow things down.”
Exercise is “a big deal” when it comes to regularity, said Mark Donowitz, a professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “That’s the biggest change for a lot of people, who normally go to work and do their 10,000 steps or go to the gym — none of that is available.”
So if your home work out isn’t providing enough movement then . . . well you might not get a “movement”.
Eating in rather than eating out
Spending all that time right next to your fridge may not be helping! And while sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and waffles for breakfast (my personal favourite with papaya and greek yogurt!) might be helping pass the time they might not pass through you very well at all.
If your usual routine is a pre work smoothie, a light lunch on the go and a carefully prepared dinner then suddenly coming to a grinding halt in front of your fridge might not be helping.
“Most people have figured out what’s good for the bowel habits they want to live with,” said Donowitz, adding that even if you have your perfect “poop diet” down to a science, you might not be able to get all your usual ingredients.
“Fresh fruits and vegetables are natural laxatives, plus they have a lot of fibre,” Donowitz continues, “so if people are not eating them, they can certainly become more constipated.”
Don’t forget that frozen and canned vegetables work just as well as the fresh kind and adding in some good Spanish lentejas and garbanzos (lentils and chickpeas!) will help too.
How big is your glass?
As Ina Garten has now infamously said, “during lockdown cocktail hour is any hour!” And while you might have previously limited yourself to a glass of wine at the weekend, with the days blurring into each other then any day is a Friday!
“Alcohol in small amounts can speed up motility and cause diarrhoea for some people, while large quantities can cause constipation,” Houghton said.
Alcohol can also “be an irritant to the stomach and intestines and may cause pain, bloating and reflux,” she added.
So your extra glass may be having an extra effect!
And for many of us there is that big, all encompassing word – stress.
Stress and anxiety about the global situation. But also about your specific situation – finances, children, parents, access, loneliness and isolation will all be adding to that stress (and its symptoms!).
And that constant level of stress can have an effect on your bowels. I always joke that there are two kinds of people in the world – the ones who carry stress in their neck and those that carry it in their stomach!
As Houghton explains, “the hormones and neurotransmitters involved with stress can affect the motility of the gut and cause a multitude of symptoms,” including cramps, diarrhoea and constipation.
But “It’s not one way or the other — some people have [fewer] bowel movements, some have more,” Donowitz says. “Some people will get more diarrhoea, some people get more constipation.”
Steps to take
Well the obvious ones are to exercise more, eat more fruit and veggies, drink less and become less stressed! Ha!
And to that list I’m going to add winning the lottery and finding a magic genie, because that’s how easy some of those are going to be right now!
In practical terms Lisa, our resident Digestive Health Expert has 6 simple ideas:
- A fibre supplement such as Psyllium Husk or even something as simple as soaking up some Chia Seeds can really help with constipation.
- And the almighty Magnesium, (this is Lisa’s go to mineral!) this can really help when stress is involved as it helps to relax and “free up” the whole body therefore improving symptoms of digestive stress – constipation and/or diarrhoea. There are lots of types on the market but Magnesium BisGlycinate or Magnesium Malate are Lisa’s recommendations. (send her a quick WhatsApp if you need dosage advice!)
- Colonic Hydrotherapy can help to “clear the pipes” and reset the whole system leading to better digestive health. It also reduces bloating and improves gut motility (which laxatives do NOT- these destroy bowel tone!).
- Combine with a coffee enema to improve liver function and promote Glutathione production (a vital antioxident for detox).
- Lymphatic massage (especially the electro kind!) can help with the gut’s peristalsis movement and also reduces bloating.
- And if loads more fruit and veg seems a big hill to climb right now, then add some broccoli to one meal 5 days a week – it acts like a cleaning brush to your bowels!
If you need more advice then just give us a call on 952 883 151, send us a WhatsApp on 699 703 936 or email us on [email protected]. Or, if you’re not sure where to start arrange a free 15 minute telephone consultation with our Patient Care Coordinator Emmie.