According to Zuri Murrell, MD, a colorectal surgeon at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, diet is a major factor that can affect one’s likelihood of developing certain bowel issues. Diets low in fiber and high in red meat, along with the consumption of highly-processed foods, are major risk factors.

The most common bowel issues people experience are constipation, diarrhea, rectal bleeding, nausea and abdominal pain. In most cases, these conditions are benign and will pass; however, if these issues persist, an evaluation by a physician is necessary. 

“When it comes to bowel issues, the key is to know your body, so you can determine if there is a change in bowel habits. If you have a bowel movement every day like clockwork, and you notice that it changes to maybe once every two days, and there is no improvement despite the use of over-the-counter treatments, then you need to see a doctor,” cautions Dr. Murrell. “If you've noticed blood when you wipe (often this can be a benign condition) and it persists despite over-the-counter treatments, a medical evaluation is needed. If there is blood in the stool, then don't delay; you need to see a physician immediately.” 

Fortunately, there are things you can do to lower your risk and potentially prevent issues from occurring. Below, Dr. Murrell recommends adopting 5 lifestyle changes to promote healthy bowels.

Increase your fiber intake

Murrell’s number one recommendation is to increase fiber consumption to ensure you are getting 20 to 25 grams per day. 

“Fiber is very important for helping to escort waste from our body by binding water in the colon, which then helps to decrease something called colonic transit time. This is the time it takes for waste to be eliminated from the colon," ," he explains. "This helps to decrease the amount of time that cancer-causing chemicals stay in your body.” 

Take vitamin D supplements

"Vitamin D is made when the skin comes in contact with the sun," shares Dr. Murrell. "Vitamin D boosts the immune system and helps to decrease the chance of getting cancer."

Maintain a healthy weight or BMI

Obesity is detrimental to many aspects of one’s health. “Obesity causes inflammation throughout the body and causes the body to ‘attack itself,' thus preventing our immune system from fighting threats, such as changes that can cause cancer. Fighting it through diet, exercise and healthy living will make a major difference in not only bowel health but one’s generalized health,” says the doctor

Eat less red meat

“Consumption of a large amount of red meat can lead to colon cancer and other cancers because of the products that are generated during digestion,” says the surgeon. “Multiple studies have shown that diets high in red meat are associated with a variety of cancers.”

Eat fewer processed foods

Decrease your consumption of highly-processed foods. 75 percent of the diet of individuals 18 and younger in America consists of highly processed foods. 

“These processed foods are basically large amounts of chemical additives that if consumed on a regular basis can lead to obesity along with a multitude of bowel issues,” warns the doctor.

There are many environmental factors that can lead to bowel issues; however, many are in our collective control shares Dr. Murrell. Eat your fruit and vegetables, decrease red meat consumption, decrease consumption of highly-processed foods, exercise, and many medical issues of all types can be prevented.