AUTHOR: Dr. Jason Bush
Most people have experienced digestive issues, either not being able to pass stool when they feel that a bowel movement is necessary (constipation) or frequent bowel movements characterized by loose, watery stool (diarrhea). Many of you will be uncomfortable reading that last sentence and be even more uncomfortable discussing these issues with family members or health practitioners. But given that digestive issues are painful and sometimes frequent issues, and that these issues increase with age, it is important to openly discuss the available preventative measures and remedies.
The ease with which a person has a bowel movement is directly related to the hardness of the stool, which depends upon both stool bulk and the amount of water in the stool. In other words, soft stools are easy to pass because they are bulkier and contain more water. But stools that contain too much water are problematic too, as diarrhea can lead to dehydration – a potentially leading to other serious problems.
Healthy diets that are rich in fiber promote regularity by balancing both the bulk and water content during digestion. Dietary fiber includes parts of your food that resist the body’s enzymes and pass through the gut undigested. In this manner, they increase stool bulk. The gut microbiome also plays an important role by feeding on prebiotic fiber and positively interacting with cells lining the colon to control water balance.
This microbiome-colon interaction can be interrupted by harmful bacteria, including Clostridium difficile, also known as C. difficile or C. diff. C. difficile infections are dangerous because the toxins produced by these bacteria break down the integrity of the gut barrier, allowing water to escape into the bowel, causing diarrhea. Fortunately, a healthy gut microbiome can crowd out these harmful bacteria, helping to reduce the risk of infection.
You should consider increasing your dietary fiber intake before turning to over-the-counter medications for constipation or diarrhea because these medications may actually over-treat the problem. For example, laxatives containing sorbitol or milk of magnesia work by increasing the amount of water retained inside the colon. However, excessive amounts of water will lead to diarrhea, which is an unpleasant way to relieve constipation. On the other hand, bismuth-containing diarrhea treatments prevent the movement of water into the colon and can cause serious constipation, especially in children and the elderly.
For these reasons, increasing dietary fiber with a prebiotic is a natural way to treat either constipation or diarrhea without causing side effects that might otherwise have you bouncing between these two digestive health issues.