Why Holding Back Your Urge to Poop Can Wreak Havoc on Your Insides

Why holding back your urge to poop can wreak havoc on your insides

How often should we poop?† If you Google this question, you’ll likely find an answer along the lines of three times a day to once every three days. But this leaves room for substantial variation. The real answer is: when you feel the urge.

In fact, habitually delaying the urge to defecate and slowing the gut’s “transition time” may be associated with a higher risk of problems such as colon cancerdiverticulosis (small pouches of the intestinal wall that protrude through the intestinal wall), hemorrhoids and anal tears and prolapse.

That’s why the golden rule of gastroenterology is to always heed the “call to defecate” when the urge hits.

Food often triggers the urge

In the early 20th century, physiologists determined that eating food was a powerful stimulant to open your gut and they called this the gastro-colic reflex† It is often most potent after a fast and thus after breakfast.

Babies generally empty their bowels when the need arises. However, as soon as we can make our own decisions – we start walking around the same age – we learn to suppress this “cry to crutch”.

Learning to control the gut is an important developmental step, but some of us go too far; we find that we can sometimes make this urge go away temporarily if we ignore it for a while, because now doesn’t seem like an appropriate time.

But usually suppressing this urge can be accompanied by symptoms such as:

  • constipation
  • stomach ache
  • variable and unpredictable bowel movements
  • bloated feeling
  • wind
  • slower transit of matter through our intestines

Know your ‘transit time’

We probably know how often we open our guts, but not many of us are aware of our “entire gut transit time.” In other words, how long does it take for remnants of the food you eat to come out the other side.

This transit time is important because issues of urgency (a sudden, frantic urge to defecate), diarrhea, and constipation can all be signs of slow transit.

There is an easy way to measure it; swallow a handful of raw sweetcorn kernels and then watch out for the yellow kernels in your poop.

How long should it take for them to appear? It should be somewhere between eight and 24 hours.

A longer transit time

No one is saying that you have to empty your bowels whenever and wherever you want. But if you get into the habit of putting it off, it means the remnants of the food you eat are staying in your body longer than they should. Your transit time will be longer and your quality of life deteriorates

On average we have produce about six tons of poop in our lifetime, made up of water, bacteria, nitrogen, carbohydrates, undigested plant matter, and lipids (fats).

The longer this mix of things is in us, the more prone it is to fermentation and decomposition. This produces not only wind, but also chemicals known as metabolites, which then come into contact with the intestinal wall and can be absorbed.

The idea of ​​autointoxication from the colon is not new. From the time of the ancient Greeks, waste products in the gut were thought to contribute to an imbalance of the four body fluids (blood, yellow bile, black bile and mucus) essential for good health

Kellogg’s, part of the moderation movement in the United States in the 19th century, developed breakfast cereals to address both constipation and bad morals, which they believed be connected.

Longer transit time has been associated with a higher risk of significant gastrointestinal problems such as:

Recent interest in the microbiome has also linked dysbiosis (or changes in the bacteria that live in our gut) with slow transit. So slow transit can also be associated with a wider range of diseases associated with gastrointestinal dysbiosis.

A healthy habit

You can improve your bowel movements by increasing the amount of fiber and fluid in your diet, exercising regularly, and staying in touch with your colon.

Some people even use cognitive behavioral therapy improve bowel function.

Most importantly, when your colon calls, you need to listen.


Martin VeyseyHonorary Professor, University of Newcastle

This article was republished from The conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article

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