Why waste matters: Naturopathic advocates say it’s a critical health benchmark
FARGO — It's an inevitable fact of life for us all: death and taxes, and waste ... or if we're being informal, poop. We all cringe at the slightest mention of any bowel movement, but naturopathic doctors and holistic lifestyle advocates agree: poop needs to be talked about it, if we are serious about overall health.
"No one wants to talk about pooping. It's a taboo thing," says Andrea Krejci Paradis, a yoga teacher and holistic life coach from Moorhead. "In our culture, it's defined as 'gross'."
Paradis says most take little notice of how they are eliminating and rarely consider it an indicator of overall health and well-being.
Dr. Tonya Loken, a licensed naturopathic doctor with a masters degree in nutrition says, "People should know that they ate food."
"We should be able to digest and eliminate in a very seamless matter, and if we don't, then something is off," she says. "I think people have been conditioned to think that 'I've always been bloated.' Well, then you've always had something going on with your digestive system."
Her patients tell her that they eliminate every other day, and they consider this to be a normal schedule. Unfortunately, it's not.
"If you're not pooping once a day, there is usually something going on," she says.
Loken compares irregular digestion to garbage that sits in the summer.
"If we aren't digesting our food properly, then it's basically purifying in the gut," she says. "Think about the summer when you put the bin out, but the garbage truck doesn't come and get it. Then you open your garbage and you think 'it's like someone died in here'. That's what happening in your gut when you're not eliminating properly."
Loken says gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea or brain fog (a term to encompass feelings of confusion, forgetfulness and lack of focus and mental clarity) could signal that the body is not digesting 100 percent of their food.
When she meets with new patients, Loken uses terms like "soft serve ice cream, rabbit turds or dog poop" because people are comfortable with those metaphors when talking about their waste.
In addition to bowel movements, Loken says she inquires about a patient's health history, their diet and when they most frequently eat. Then Loken explains how digesting your food properly can boost a person's mood and immune system.
"If we have enough stomach acid to digest our protein then all of those protein building blocks that I like to think of as Legos can't go and repair the rest of the body," she says. "When the body doesn't get these Legos, it's going to have further breakdowns later on."
Loken points out that extraintestinal symptoms (symptoms that occur outside of the intestines) like acne or psoriasis can also be a sign of gut dysfunction.
"Joint pain or inflammation can be a sign a poor gut health too. People think that 'I'm just getting old', but when we heal up someone's gut it's miraculous. Their knee pain can go away," she says. "People think that because their knees aren't connected to the gut, then it can't be cause of that. But they sometimes are. "
Ancient medicine for elimination
Although it's a taboo subject in our culture, the ancients used waste as a benchmark for health.
Paradis says Ayurveda — a more than 5,000-year-old medicine that translates to "life knowledge" — teaches the principle: "Digestion is king."
"Elimination is not the measurement of wellness in our society like it would be for Ayurveda," Paradis says. "But if your physical digestion isn't on track, then it's harder for everything else to function."
According to Ayurveda, (the "sister science to yoga"), a person's digestion can also disrupt their mental health.
Like modern science, Ayurveda says a person should eliminate once a day but not more than two times day.
Paradis says if it's been a week since you've gone number two then that's not a good sign in Ayurveda.
"It shouldn't be too runny, or too rock hard. You shouldn't have to strain to get it out. It's just one of those nice, perfect poos," she says. "...and we all know what I'm talking about.”
In Ayurveda figuring out what works may take some time, but Paradis says there are two practices you can do right away in the morning to "wake up your digestion."
Paradis encourages people to check with their doctor before trying either of the following breathing practices. (Also, sorry women who are pregnant or on the first day of their cycle; these two practices aren't for you.)
- Agni Sara: Stand with feet shoulder width apart, bend knees and place your hands on thighs. Inhale through nose and look forward. Exhale through mouth and slowly tuck your chin as you expel all of your air. Hold out all of your air, as you draw the belly button toward your spine and up between your ribcage. (To help you notice your breath, place your hand on your stomach to see how the belly is moving throughout the practice.) Hold as long as it is comfortable. Practice three to five times.
- Kapalabati: Sit in a comfortable, cross-legged position. Draw in your belly button towards your spine to push out your air for a quick exhale. Then "let go" and allow an inhale to naturally happen. Do this for 30 breaths (30 times). Paradis says people do not need to practice these exhales quickly, especially when they are first starting out.
"Really get the 'draw in your belly button to push out your air' part and then gradually
speed it up," she says.
Modern ways to aid digestion
While more research is needed to further prove some of these practices, others say that adjusting their diet or scheduling a therapeutic procedure like a colonic significantly improves digestion, and their elimination becomes regular. Loken's naturopathic practice in south Fargo will sometimes suggest colon hydrotherapy to her patients.
"People always ask 'Does it hurt?', she says. "No, it's very gentle and most people don't feel a thing."
During the hydrotherapy, the last five feet of the digestive tract (known as the large intestine or colon) receives a washing using FDA-approved equipment. This procedure removes fecal material from the colon walls and dilutes the bacterial toxin concentration in the large intestine. Loken says the therapeutic effects of colon hydrotherapy are improved muscle tone which helps with elimination of stool and enhances the absorption of nutrients from the colon while minimizing the absorption of toxic waste material.
"I've had a lot of women who had a session before their wedding, and they couldn't believe how good they felt after it," Loken says.
Another health trend is adding probiotics, a type of "good" bacteria, to your diet. (Reality TV star Kourtney Kardashian says her favorite beverage is Kombucha, a fermented drink filled with probiotics.) Probiotics are found in foods such as yogurt and sauerkraut and may help with diarrhea and irritable bowel syndrome, reduce the risk of flu and ease allergic disorders.