Constipation is a common phenomenon among college students. From my own personal witness, many college students suffer from constipation, or lack of knowledge about healthy bowel movements. Irregular bowel movements are a serious problem that should not be overlooked. Bowel movement irregularities can lead to potential colon problems or even death. The colon plays a major role in transporting waste and toxins outside the body, so it is very important to “keep it moving.”

How many bowel movements should I produce?
According to John W. Popp, Jr, M.D., Fellow of the American College of Gastroenterology (FACG) from the American College of Gastroenterology, “The average person will move his or her bowels anywhere from three times a day to three times a week. Anything in that range is therefore considered ‘normal’ and the important thing is what is normal for you.” Many other doctors agree; though, contrary to the belief, there is no exact frequency of bowel movements that you should produce, as long as it is normal for the individual.

Texture, Size, Color, and Shape
Australian colorectal surgeon, Dr. Michael Levitt, wrote in his book, The Bowel Book: A Self-Help Guide for Sufferer’s, the human gastrointestinal system was designed to operate best where stool resembles the shape and consistency (although not the color!) of an unripe banana. Stools should be soft and easy to pass. Stools should be contained in one long piece, similar to a banana or a sausage, and not in small pellets. The texture and color should resemble peanut butter; however, the colors can range from light brown to dark brown. If the stools are black it can be the result of eating certain foods, taking iron supplements, or possibly from internal bleeding. Stools that appear pale or look like clay could be the result of lack of bile salt (which gives stool a brownish color) or hepatitis.

What is constipation and what causes it?
Constipation is when your stools are small, hard, dry, painful and difficult to pass. Generally, constipation is diagnosed if you go 3 days without producing a bowel movement. These problems can lead to other painful problems like hemorrhoids. Sarah Ash, a Nutrition Science teacher from North Carolina State University, teaches her students that constipation is when your feces are not “bulky” enough, meaning a diet that lacks in roughage (indigestible portions of plants) and fiber. According to Ash, when your feces are not “bulky,” it makes it difficult for the colon to push the waste material out of the colon by peristalsis (wave-like motion).
According to Brown University’s health education website, these are some other common causes of constipation:
-Diets low in fiber
-Laxative abuse
-Use of certain drugs such as iron, calcium, antacids with aluminum or calcium, antidepressants, or cough suppressants and/or pain relievers that contain codeine
-An underlying disease (low level of thyroid hormone, diabetes, dehydration, or depression)
-Travel, especially to areas where bathrooms are unfamiliar, dirty, or not available when needed
-Change of routine (diet changes and illness)

How to treat constipation
Also, according to Brown University’s health education website, these are some ways to treat constipation:
-Increase your activity; try to exercise at least 30 minutes daily.
-Do not ignore a bowel movement
-Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables
-Drink 8 glasses of liquid a day, especially water.
-Gradually increase the fiber in your diet. The American Dietetic Association recommends eating 20 to 35 grams of fiber a day. The fiber acts like a large sponge in the bowel because it holds water and keeps waste moving.
-If dietary and exercise efforts fail, a non-digestible fiber powder such as Metamucil (psyllium) may help. It acts to increase the bulk in your stool but must be taken with plenty of fluids to prevent any problem with blockage in the bowel.