Ayurvedic medicine tells us that digestive and colon health are of paramount importance. In the practice of Ayurveda, we classify people according to vata, pitta, and kapha types, or doshas. Vatas are lean, anxious, and irregular. These people need to eat small, frequent meals and hydrate properly with warm water. Pittas have medium builds, with flushed complexions and a strong metabolism or inner heat, so they don't have any problems with bowel movements. They should eat a lot of whole grains and salads. Kaphas are heavy and slow moving, and thus tend to have slow digestion. They need a lot of physical movement and need to make sure they are eating dry, lighter foods such as rice and steamed vegetables.
There are a few things, however, that are good for all body types. Eat a variety of foods, but keep the cooking techniques and ingredients consistent. Today Italian, tomorrow Chinese — or eating really late at night — is bad for creating a regular digestive pattern. Use cumin, coriander, turmeric, and fennel — all are excellent digestive spices that enhance metabolism. And flush out gas and bloating by eating ¼ teaspoon freshly grated ginger sprinkled with salt and a few drops of lemon juice right before a meal.
— Suhas Kshirsagar, MD, executive director,
Kerala Ayurveda Academy and Clinics, Aptos,
Traditional Chinese Medicine doctor
Chinese medicine looks at three dimensions — cold and heat, wet and dry, and then stagnation and deficiency — to analyze health problems, including digestion and constipation. These dimensions, combined with the movement of food and fluid through the gut, are key factors in digestive health. Lack of fat in the diet is another common contributor to constipation. Fats, such as avocado, vegetable oils, or sesame seeds, as well as animal fats such as butter, stimulate the gallbladder's production of bile, which is essential for digestion. If you think that dryness is a factor in your bowel movements, take 1 or 2 tablespoons of honey a few times a day — it is a natural lubricant and moisturizes the intestines.
The other thing that is important about digestion is timing. According to Chinese medicine, the optimum time of the bowel is in the early morning. Often people are in too much of a hurry, or they eat too quickly. Drink a cup of hot water with lemon juice and honey first thing in the morning before eating to stimulate the digestive system. Give yourself time for normal activity of the bowel. Once you get the desired effect, then it becomes a matter of sustaining dietary habits and re-establishing the rhythm of the body.
— Efrem Korngold, OMD, Lac, San Francisco
Proper elimination is really important to digestive health. You have to turn over the toxins and the gut bacteria, and constipation is a sign of a disturbance of this function. Quick-fix remedies can help you get more regular, but many of them are harmful. For example, laxatives damage the nerves in the gut. When you help fix the gut, sometimes you can help fix other digestive health issues that are manifested outside of the gut, such as migraine headaches, menstrual problems, and allergies.
Start with a healthy diet of whole foods, including vegetables and whole grains. Also try taking magnesium [dose depends on body weight and diet], which causes movement of fluid into the bowel, plus flaxseeds and fiber, which help ease the resistance to bowel passage. [Grinding flaxseeds makes it easier for your body to reap the fiber and omega-3 fatty acid benefits.]
In terms of hydration, I think that 2 liters of water a day is a good rule of thumb, unless you need more because of a medical condition or because you live in a very dry climate. Just remember: If you're dehydrated, you may not have a bowel movement at all.
— Gerard Mullin, MD, director,
Integrative GI Nutrition Services,
Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore