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Linda Mundorff

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January 2010

Food Handling, Cooking, and Storage


Traveling with Intestinal Irregularity

June 2009
By Dr. Linda Mundorff, MPH,MSN,ND,RN,CNC,CTN

There you are sitting in the passenger seat of your recreational vehicle (RV) enjoying the sights as you comfortably travel down the road to your next camping experience when all of a sudden you need to make a pit stop...

Intestinal irregularity has been the butt (no pun intended) of many a joke, but in reality is far from funny and not usually conversational. The fact is millions of people each year suffer from intestinal upset from spoiled food, and viral infection, to limited mobility and intestinal disorders.

Common symptoms range from frequent gas and bloating to abdominal pain and urgency. Although we have all experienced these types of problems, it does not mean we have to live with these types of problems. Below are several preventive measures one can take to help circumvent a disruption in travel plans:

  • Don't ignore the urge to go
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Make sure your diet contains a good source of dietary fiber
  • Move around, activity helps to stimulate the bowels

Not many people are comfortable talking about their bowels that is why many will do almost anything to avoid defecating in a public bathroom. The fact that your RV has a bathroom facility may not be much better when you are entertaining neighbors from the campsite next to you and you know your visit to the bathroom is going to be lengthy and possibly aromatic.

Regardless, the body has this urge trigger for a reason - when the stool reaching the rectum, the holding pouch, it is time to empty it. The urge sensation will be trigger on a frequent basis, however after each successive ignore, the urge grows weaker and weaker. Over time, the brain adapts and eventually the urge will be so subtle that recognition fails and with the urge gone, most of us will not think twice about the last time we had a bowel movement, until several days have gone by.

The longer the stool sits in the large intestine the firmer it becomes, to the point of feeling like a small stone. This is due to the reabsorption effect of the large intestine. Its primary function is to reabsorb water and form a solid firm mass. Moreover, the constant strain placed upon the bowels to perform causes the rectal wall to weaken resulting in hemorrhoids and in some a need for surgical intervention to correct the weakened wall.

Water is a critical component of many of the functional processes within the body. However, not all sources of water are healthy and actually can be bad because of contamination. Therefore, the healthy traveler should be very weary of local water. For instances, mineral content varies greatly, so much so that individuals with a sensitive gut can experience severe gastric upset lasting several days. When camping in a new area that the water be boiled before usage. Moreover, water should be suspect in any sudden changes in bowel habits.

Diet is one of the major causes for gastric problems and those with a history of gastric disorders need to be especially vigilant as it could mean the difference between a chronic problem and a cure. One can reverse most intestinal irregularities with just a few simple dietary adjustments. For example, adding lots of color to the meal is an insurance policy against deficiencies in fiber intake.

There are many who will swear by probiotics and actually, these products are actually very good at helping the bowels regrow the bacterial lining needed to help form stool. Nevertheless, probiotics will not solve a significant problem with constipation; it is more useful for those who experience a lot of diarrhea, which depletes the bowels of their normal flora.

My mother-in-law once announced to her doctor that she gets plenty of activity, because she counts every step she takes to the dining hall at her senior complex! Activity is not about counting steps, or moving from the couch to the sofa for example. Our bodies need the type of activity that gets our hearts pumping, our blood flowing, and our lungs deeply expanded The campground is a wonderful place to work up a little sweat while at the same time giving your heart and other muscles a healthy workout. Most parks have beautiful hiking trails and most offer some type of aerobic activity.

In conclusion, bowel health is an important part of daily self-care and especially when travelling; and can be managed with early intervention. Just remember, everyone has the problem, except maybe your dog or cat, which seems to have no problem leaving you a daily present not once but several times a day! Relax and take up bathroom reading, or catch up on the latest music, anything that will help you be patient and sit long enough to get the job done.

Disclaimer: Dr. Mundorff is a Registered Nurse and Board Certified Traditional Naturopath, and not a medical doctor. The information in this column is for educational purposes only and should not be used to self-diagnose and treat diseases, nor be misinterpreted as a prescription. This information is provided with the understanding that the author is not engaging in a health-care practitioner/patient relationship with her readers. In the author’s best judgment, the information and opinions expressed here are accurate and sound at the time of publication. Readers who rely on the information in this book as a replacement of the advice of a medical doctor assume all risks of such conduct. The author is not responsible for errors or omissions. Please consult your doctor before starting any alternative modalities.