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Constipation, Diarrhoea and IBS

Many take their digestive system for granted… until it goes wrong. How many of us are guilty of gulping down breakfast and out the door faster than their wheels can take them? Or of skipping meals on long rides? If not immediately, down the line, serious gastrointestinal problems can manifest, such as bowel distension, haemorrhoids and even cancer. So before it’s too late, it’s important to care for our alimentary canal—all nine metres of it. Otherwise it might soon grumble a little louder than usual.
Often the butt of many jokes, constipation can be a serious condition, leading to surgery. Besides pain and bloating, most think that if they haven’t ‘gone’ for a few days, they are constipated. True, but you can still be constipated going to the loo twice a day. The term refers specifically to the consistency of the stools (i.e. hard, dry and difficult to move), not just how often they decide to evacuate. Transit time is still important, as the longer waste remains in the bowel, the more toxins can seep through the intestinal wall back into the bloodstream. Ideally, food should not remain in the body for longer than 12-14 hours, otherwise fermentation and putrefaction occur due to bacteria multiplying. What aggravates and slows down movement are low-fibre foods such as white bread, white pasta, white rice, cakes and biscuits. But it’s not just what you eat. Water intake is also vital to ease constipation. The more dehydrated you are, the drier you are all the way to the colon. Furthermore, the higher the diet is in fibre (particularly insoluble fibre such as in bran-based cereals), the more water needs to be consumed. In fact, if you increase your fibre intake without the fluids, you’ll end up constipated as fibre requires fluid to enable it to bulk up and flush the system. And plenty of exercise not only gets the circulation going, it has a direct effect on the speed and effectiveness at which the whole digestive systems functions. Foods that aid healthy peristalsis (the passage of food through muscular action), are fresh, fibrous fruits and vegetables, wholegrains, wholemeal rice and beans—all of which help to prevent bowel cancer. For those who are wheat intolerant (where wheatbran irritates), rye and oatmeal bread are excellent alternatives.
Flaxseed oil is also highly nutritious and adding linseeds to your breakfast provides a gentle, natural laxative. Your nutritionist may suggest taking bulk-forming psyllium husks (a household name in India), once a day to aid a healthy digestive tract. A herbalist might prescribe you senna or rhubarb root, or fenugreek for persistent constipation. You can stimulate the colon to aid the passage of waste yourself by massaging the stomach in a clockwise direction. This is where an aromatherapy massage therapist becomes highly effective. They may use antispasmodic and carminative oils such as peppermint, fennel and marjoram. Rosemary and lemon are hepatics, which stimulate and tone the liver, whilst lavender is a cholagogue that stimulates the gall-bladder.
 Constipation, Diarrhoea and IBS

Diarrhoea is not welcomed by cyclists, however it is often seen in the pro peloton. The 2008 Tour of California lost a large number of riders as it swept through the teams. It is usually caused by bacterial invasion, such as through food poisoning, and when severe, calls for hospital treatment. This propulsion of faecal matter by the body is a natural protection mechanism after having detected foreign invaders. For this reason (only when symptoms are mild), it is not desirable to take anti-diarrhoeal medication as it encourages the body to hold on to bacteria/ toxins, and often leads back to constipation. A natural alternative is carob powder, which has an astringent effect on the intestinal tract’s membranes. Mild bouts are often helped by drinking antispasmodic herbal teas such as camomile and peppermint. Warm water infused with ginger and cinnamon and sweetened with honey has an antibacterial effect on the gut. Though if dehydration threatens, rehydration salts (potassium, sodium and sugar) may be required. To help prevent holiday diarrhoea (and if your friends and family can bear it), include a couple of garlic cloves in evening meals for a couple of weeks before you leave. Malabsorption is the key concern with diarrhoea. Having skipped the action of osmosis, nutrients are prematurely expelled from the body. If vitamin A and zinc are flushed out, your ability to fight bacteria is suppressed, which can lead to gut infections. A good multivitamin/ mineral supplement can assist here. Consuming probiotics containing lactobacillus is a quick and effective way to restore healthy gut flora as it neutralises bacteria. Live soy yogurt can be a favourable alternative to milk varieties. During massage, excellent essential oils for diarrhoea include camomile, sandalwood and thyme.

Did you know?Irritable Bowel Syndrome affects the whole digestive system. Its intermittent symptoms commonly alternate between constipation and diarrhoea, with bloating, cramping and flatulence. Anxiety and food allergies exacerbate symptoms, and a diet of grilled fish and lightly cooked vegetables help to calm the bowel. Many find that taking peppermint oil tincture brings great relief, as it is antispasmodic and carminative, as is slippery elm. If the stomach is not too sore to the touch, gently massage with a blend of true melissa or rose otto, with camomile and lavender essential oil. IBD (irritable or inflammatory bowel disease) is more complex than IBS. It comes in many forms, with varying severities of constipation and diarrhoea, affecting the old and young. The name also covers Crohn’s Disease, usually affecting the small intestines, and ulcerative colitis which favours the colon. This condition can also cause weight loss, fever, passing blood and incontinence. Therefore, due to the risks of anaemia and peritonitis, it is vital to care for what goes into the body. High sugar intake and low-fibre diets are usually the main culprits, though simply overeating can also exacerbate symptoms. Saturated fat-filled junk foods (of which there are far too many to list) must be avoided completely.


If experiencing symptoms, despite a healthy diet and lifestyle, you may be suffering from digestive enzyme deficiency, something that a qualified nutritionist can test for. The daily stress many of us experience has a direct effect on how the bowel works—it suppresses digestion. See a stress management practitioner to draw up a personalised program if afflicted. Many call on a course of reflexology to bring the body back to a state of homeostasis. Reflexes on the feet that correspond to the digestive organs are manipulated by the therapist. For example, as well as the stomach and colon reflexes, the pancreas, liver and gall bladder reflexes are also stimulated to work synergistically and aid digestion. Remember to aim for effective digestion, absorption and elimination. If any of the three are malfunctioning, so too will your overall health be.


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Finally after  those agonising second places, a win at the Tour de France.

Baby Faced Assasin

Susie Burrell is a sports dietian and a trained psychologist

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