Tips for keeping your bowel healthy

24 April 2024

Person holding cut-out diagram of intestines

Many people with MS experience problems with their bowel movements, whether that’s constipation, loose stools or diarrhoea. There are many things you can be doing to improve your bowel function and keep your bowel as healthy as possible. Here we share some tips from an MS specialist nurse, a dietitian and a physiotherapist.

Keep a bowel diary to find your normal

It can be useful to know what’s normal for you in terms of your bowel movements. There’s quite a range of what’s considered normal when it comes to how often you should be pooing. It varies from up to three times a day, to up to three times a week. Make a note of how often you go in your bowel diary. Also, keep track of the consistency of your poo using the Bristol Stool Chart. A soft, smooth sausage shape is considered a healthy poo.

Improve your position on the toilet

Having good posture on the toilet can really help when doing a poo. Make sure your knees are slightly higher than your hips. (You may need to use a footstool to achieve this.) Then lean forward. This position helps to straighten the angle of your bowel so you get more downward pressure. Try not to strain on the toilet as this puts pressure on your pelvic floor.

Make sure you’re drinking enough fluid

Drinking enough fluid is important for keeping your poo soft and your bowel movements regular. It can really help to improve constipation. Aim to drink around two litres of water a day.

Increase the fibre in your diet

Getting enough fibre is important for keeping your digestive system healthy. All fruit and vegetables are an excellent source of fibre. Try to eat at least five portions a day. Wholegrain cereals, beans and pulses are good sources of fibre too. Flaxseeds/linseeds are an easy addition to meals which provide good fibre. You can sprinkle a teaspoon on cereal and salads, for example.

It’s important to drink plenty of fluids before you start increasing fibre in your diet. Increasing fibre without enough fluid alongside this can cause you to become constipated.

Eat a rainbow to improve your gut health

Your large intestine is full of lots of different bugs, known as your gut microbiome. Keeping your gut microbiome healthy is important for bowel health. To keep those bugs happy, eat a good variety of fruit and vegetables – or as some say, eat a rainbow!

Some foods, such as asparagus, bananas and oats – are what’s known as prebiotics. When your body digests these foods, the bugs in your large intestine think it’s party time! They ferment them and multiply, meaning you get even more good bugs in your gut.

Get moving!

Movement and exercise are important when it comes to bowel health and getting the contents of your bowel moving. Consider what type of movement is right for you. If you sit down for large portions of the day, even standing for short periods is thought to help get things moving. Gravity may help things along and standing also helps relax the digestive tract.

If you are experiencing bowel symptoms, speak to your MS nurse or your local bladder and bowel service for advice. 

Read more about bowel problems

Thank you to the following health professionals for your contributions to this blog:

  • Claire Fenlon, Dietitian, Chilterns Neuro Centre
  • Lou Grace, Physiotherapist, Chilterns Neuro Centre
  • Grace Hazlett, MS specialist nurse, Central London Community Healthcare NHS Trust.