Is there anything as satisfying, as relieving, as energizing as a complete bowel movement?
To this day, I haven’t found a better road to immediate, physiological joy.
A functioning bowel: a true gift, a true delight! Worthy of daily celebration, I could argue.
Aside from the immediate boost in energy, a complete and regular emptying of the bowel is absolutely critical for overall health. When waste moves out of us easily and often, the cells of our small and large intestines remain vital, our hormones rebalance, and the gut junctions maintain their integrity, therefore fortifying our immune systems defense system.
The result? A better feeling, more fabulous version of you.
In a perfect world, we would have a bowel movement after each meal, as mass peristalsis from chewing sends rippling signals down the entire canal of our digestive tract. With each movement, most feel an immediate lift in mood and energy as the body significantly lowers the bacterial, free-radical, and toxin load. Issues like bloating, endotoxemia, SIBO, and SIFO are far less likely to take root when the sweeping action of a properly functioning GI tract shuttle the matter along.
For most people I speak with, regular bowel movements are no longer a part of their day.
Even family members and close friends who never struggled with constipation have reached out asking for help. They share concerns of incomplete or increasingly rare bowel movements, experiencing first hand how toxic the body becomes when it cannot let go of waste.
They feel tired.
They have brain fog and muddy thoughts.
Their bellies are bloated.
Their moods are dark and they feel irritable.
Others talk about how anxiety and sleep issues have taken over, leading to circles of daytime sleepiness but without relief when the night comes. Their outlooks seem narrow, their thinking rigid, increasingly so the more time they go without a bowel movement.
Ironically, the world seems empty when the bowels are packed full.
Most Americans, even the one’s following trendy vegan, keto, or paleo diets are more constipated than ever and have grown accustomed to sluggish bowels: the new norm. They consider themselves lucky to have a bowel movement every other day, sometimes every three days.
I once followed a very strict carnivore diet as a desperate intervention to clear up some gut infections. In the carnivore community (which advocates for plant-free, animal-based eating), I’ve stumbled through forums where fellow carnivores shared how their bowel movements were reduced to every six or seven days. This was considered NORMAL. Not to worry, they agreed.
Yet, when waste isn’t moving out of us the way nature intends, toxicity builds up and our entire being suffers as a result.
The health of the colon directly impacts the function of every other system, especially our metabolism and our immune system, which primarily resides in the gut. Due to increased inflammation from diet, stress, lifestyle, infection, toxicity, or a combination of factors, the walls of our intestines can swell up to an inch thick. As it thickens, the alimentary canal narrows to a few millimeters in diameter, resembling a pencil. In some regions or curves, it may even close, as is typically seen in people who deal with chronic constipation. For people that can feel a bowel movement waiting to come out, but can’t seem to lure it out of the darkness, the root cause is often due to a highly inflamed colon.
When the intestines become swollen, the normal rhythmic peristalsis is impaired, allowing decaying food to sit, build up, putrefy, ferment, irritate and loosen the gut barrier, and the vicious circles of inflammation, autoimmunity, and mysterious chronic diseases take root. Retroviruses awaken and we become less vital as stress hormones and inflammatory molecules circulate more freely and wreak systemic havoc.
Instead of focusing on normal growth, maintenance, and repair, the body prioritizes cleaning up the toxins that continue to circulate and irritate local tissues. The liver struggles to keep up with the onslaught of free-radicals, attempting to render toxins less harmful, and overtime, becoming overburdened and inefficient. The popular liver cleanses are often attempts to assist a liver that has been struggling for far too long.
I tend to get chatty when it comes to the power of colon cleansing. I love to preach about the ability of colon hydrotherapy sessions to heal about any systemic issue or restore function to the colon, especially ones that gravitate more towards the side of inflamed, sleepy, and sluggish.
Having daily bowel movements is essential in between colonics to limit the toxic load on the body and to keep your liver chugging along smoothly.
In order for the gut to heal and to ultimately restore health, you MUST keep things moving. It’s a curious catch-22 that sometimes requires a little outside help.
How to increase bowel movements:
Over the years, I have tested all of the “tried and true” techniques to restore my own bowel function, after I had lost the ability to have my own bowel movements and experienced first hand what “autotoxemia” felt like. In the laxative & supplement department, I experimented with:
- Salt flushes
- Vitamin C cleanse
- chia/flax “puddings”
- Magnesium oxide
- magnesium citrate
- Lemon water enemas
- Dr. Bronners soap enemas
- Peppermint tea enemas
- Coffee enemas
- Salt water enemas
- Cistus tea enemas
- Biocidin Formula enemas
- Senna tea
- Smooth Move Tea
- Heavy duty herbal laxatives
- Gentle laxatives
- Aloe juice & meat
- Slippery elm lozenges and tea
- Oat bran porridge
- High vegetable, mostly raw diet
- 100% fruit diet
- time-restricted eating
- Indigestible fibers: carrot salad, bamboo shoots, and well-cooked mushrooms
- Aged cascara sagrada powder
All of these experiments had their time and place. Some of the magnesium-based or senna-containing supplements led to uncontrollable bowel explosions in public as I leapt into canyons or into bushes with no other choice in the moment. These were not my favorite supplements. Others led to intense cramping, waking me up in the night as I writhed in discomfort, only to have very loose, but incomplete stools the next day. Also not my favorite.
However, the last two bullet-points have changed the playing field. I talk about the importance of [indigestible fiber] for systemic regulation and [also about the impact of different types of fiber given specific contexts].
In addition to a daily serving of carrots, mushrooms, or bamboo shoots, cascara sagrada has become a staple in what keeps me healthy, energized, and inspired. It keeps me out of the deep hole of health debt that results from decreased motility and a build up of toxins, like estrogen, nitrous oxide, endotoxin, and the subsequent synthesis and release of more pro-inflammatory free radicals.
Cascara (Rhamnus Purshiana) bark was first used by American Indians as a laxative, but its benefits extend beyond just the bowels. It can even block the synthesis and release of cortisol, which is released in times of stress and as a response to even minor inflammation. Goodbye stress, hello to feeling fabulous with a daily bowel movement!
How Laxatives Work:
Most laxatives work by irritating the gut lining, increasing contractions and causing bowel movements as a response to that irritation. While they seem to work effectively in the short term, the body begins to acclimate. Over time, your colon will require larger doses to have the same effect, leading to rising levels of serotonin and further inflammation. Laxative abuse with prescription medications follows this same trend of acting highly effectively at first but then losing effectiveness over time. Some can even cause nerve damage which is claimed to be permanent.
With chronic laxative use, most people develop colons with even more sluggish movement, as the colon “forgets” how to squeeze on its own. Unlike other laxatives, properly aged cascara sagrada energizes the smooth muscles of the colon, causing the muscles to contract rhythmically, as is ideal with normal peristalsis. Some of cascara’s health benefits derive from its emodin:
“Emodin inhibits the formation of nitric oxide, increases mitochondrial respiration, inhibits angiogenesis and invasiveness, inhibits fatty acid synthase (Zhang, et al., 2002), inhibits HER-2 neu and tyrosine phosphorylases (Zhang, et al., 1995, 1999), and promotes cellular differentiation in cancer cells (Zhang, et al., 1995). The anthraquinones, like other antiinflammatory substances, reduce leakage from blood vessels, but they also reduce the absorption of water from the intestine. Reduced water absorption can be seen in a slight shrinkage of cells in certain circumstances, and is probably related to their promotion of cellular differentiation.”
According to Dr. Ray Peat, “all of these are basic anti-stress mechanisms, suggesting that emodin and the antiinflammatory anthraquinones are providing something central to the life process itself.”
Beyond just stimulating bowel movements, cascara seems to keep cells functioning smoothly:
It increases mitochondrial oxygen consumption and ATP synthesis, while decreasing oxidative damage (Du and Ko, 2005, 2006; Huang, et al., 1995).
Even more timely, “emodin has been shown to block the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) Coronavirus spike protein and ACE2 interaction, suggesting that emodin may be considered as a potential lead therapeutic agent in the treatment of SARS” (Ho, et al. 2007).
If you are someone looking to improve your gut function, fortify your cells against the aging effects of stress, and even boost your viral immunity, properly aged cascara sagrada–when used in the proper dosage with the right fibers–could give your entire system a leg-up in between colon hydrotherapy sessions.
If you’re looking to wean off of laxatives or simply restore much needed function to your sluggish colon, there’s a slow and easy path forward. Colon hydrotherapy and properly timed supplements could truly help retrain your natural peristalsis, without any risk associated with typical laxatives.
If you’re interested in diving in or not quite sure where to start, feel free to reach out! Anything bowel related truly lights me up.
Chin Med J (Engl). 2002 Jul;115(7):1035-8. Effect of emodin on proliferation and differentiation of 3T3-L1 preadipocyte and FAS activity. Zhang C, Teng L, Shi Y, Jin J, Xue Y, Shang K, Gu J.
Cancer Res. 1995 Sep 1;55(17):3890-6. Suppressed transformation and induced differentiation of HER-2/neu-overexpressing breast cancer cells by emodin. Zhang L, Chang CJ, Bacus SS, Hung MC.
Clin Cancer Res. 1999 Feb;5(2):343-53. Tyrosine kinase inhibitor emodin suppresses growth of HER-2/neu-overexpressing breast cancer cells in athymic mice and sensitizes these cells to the inhibitory effect of paclitaxel. Zhang L, Lau YK, Xia W, Hortobagyi GN, Hung MC.
Life Sci. 2005 Oct 14;77(22):2770-82. Effects of emodin treatment on mitochondrial ATP generation capacity and antioxidant components as well as susceptibility to ischemia-reperfusion injury in rat hearts: single versus multiple doses and gender difference. Du Y, Ko KM.
Cell Mol Life Sci. 2005 May;62(10):1167-75. Emodin inhibits tumor cell migration through suppression of the phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase-Cdc42/Rac1 pathway. Huang Q, Shen HM, Ong CN.
J Nat Prod. 1995 Sep;58(9):1365-71. Effect of anthraquinone derivatives on lipid peroxidation in rat heart mitochondria: structure-activity relationship. Huang SS, Yeh SF, Hong CY.
Antiviral Res. 2007;74(2):92–101. Emodin blocks the SARS coronavirus spike protein and angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 interaction. Ho TY, Wu SL, Chen JC, Li CC, Hsiang CY.