Normal bowel function is defined as the regular passage of soft, formed stools. Proper bowel function is necessary for the elimination of toxins from the body. There is no ideal number of bowel movements per day or week. The number of bowel movements that people experience depends on the individual.
Having less than three bowel movements per week or the frequent sensation of straining, incomplete emptying or hard stools during bowel movements are signs of constipation. Common causes of constipation include the following:
- Not drinking enough fluids
- Not eating enough fiber (less than 25 grams per day)
- Eating at irregular times
- Eating irregular quantities
- Taking certain medications (such as herbs or ayurvedics)
Frequent bowel movements or loose stools are signs of diarrhea. Common causes of diarrhea include the following:
- Having an infection, especially during or after travel
- Being lactose intolerant
- Experiencing stress, which can lead to a condition known as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Eating excessively rich and/or spicy foods
- Taking certain medications (such as herbs, ayurvedics and antibiotics)
Most cases of constipation and diarrhea are not life-threatening. However, certain symptoms may indicate a more serious disorder. If you have any of the following symptoms, you should see a doctor immediately:
- Bloody stools
- Unexpected weight loss
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Reduced appetite
- Fever, chills and/or night sweats
- Stomach pain
Maintaining Normal Bowel Function
Below are tips for maintaining healthy bowel function.
- Eat a high-fiber diet (at least 30 grams of fiber per day).
- Drink plenty of fluids (at least eight glasses per day).
- Limit caffeine intake since this can harden stools.
- Eat all of your meals at the same time each day.
- Exercise daily, preferably at the same time.
- Reserve the same time daily for bowel movements. Ideally this is 30 minutes to one hour after breakfast, lunch and dinner since eating can help stimulate a bowel movement.
Last Reviewed: 2012