It’s not something that is discussed much in circles of friends and colleagues – for obvious reasons – but constipation is common. In the UK, approx.12% of the general population suffer from chronic constipation. Twice as many women than men struggle with it, and the over 65s are most affected: 25% of free living older people experience constipation, but a shocking 80% of the elderly living in nursing homes.
Because bowel habits are not a popular topic of conversation, it is hard to know what is normal and what isn’t. If you can answer ‘yes’ to two or more of the following, you are probably constipated:
Do you ‘go’ less than three times per week?
Do you often strain (at least 25% of the time)?
Are your stools often hard or lumpy (at least 25% of the time)?
Do you often feel that you haven’t been able to excrete everything (at least 25% of the time)
Sometimes, we have a “gut feeling” that maybe we shouldn’t be doing what we’re about to do. Sometimes, when we’ve been very scared we admit to our friends that we’ve been “shi***ng ourselves”. When we’re in love, we experience “butterflies in the stomach”. Some of our decisions are not thought through, but “gut reactions”, which doesn’t mean that they are bad decisions. They may be just the right thing to do. Our language has many such figures of speech, referring to the relationship between our emotions and the digestive system. But that’s all they are: figures of speech. Or are they?
In the last few years, science has rediscovered the gut-brain relationship as an area of research. The brain is one of our most secure organs, encased in bone, shielded by a membrane – the blood-brain-barrier – to protect it from undesirable substances that may be circulating in the blood. Via the nervous system, it collects information transmitted by our senses and reacts accordingly.
Winter is coming on fast. Now the clocks have gone back, and it is noticeably darker. The lack of light during the winter months considerably affects our body chemistry. Last week, I wrote about vitamin D, which is made in the skin under the influence of sunlight. But light has even further reaching effects on our body chemistry.
Do you love your coffee? And if you do, do you feel guilty about it? After all, coffee seems to be bad for you and many health experts discourage its consumption. But as with most things concerning health and nutrition: It’s not black and white.
We all know people who can guzzle a “venti” (20 fl oz = 600 ml) and still have a nap afterwards, when others only so much as sniff an espresso and are wired all day long. That’s because how you respond to caffeine – coffee’s most predominant active compound – is governed by your genes, some of which affect the way your liver processes caffeine, others influence how the brain reacts.