By LOUISE CARR, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist
Among the most legendary "why did those words come out of my mouth" moments in the past decade was the time that the NBC weatherman Al Roker blurted out that he had "pooped in his pants" while attending a function at the White House.
Funny as it was, the incident helped to raise awareness of a problem that plagues millions of Americans --- fecal incontinence.
Not everyone is as vocal as Al about their embarrassing problem. So it may come as a surprise to learn that about 1 in 12 American adults suffer from fecal incontinence, according to the National Institutes of Health.
What Is Fecal Incontinence?
Fecal incontinence, also called bowel incontinence or a bowel control problem, is when you accidently pass a stool or liquid from the rectum. You may experience an urgent need for the bathroom and fail to get there in time, or you could pass a stool without even being aware you are doing so.
Fecal incontinence is normally highly embarrassing and can be intensely distressing to sufferers. You never know when it’s going to happen so you avoid eating out, social functions, and other public occasions.
But it’s important to remember that you can do something to treat fecal incontinence. In addition to conventional treatments, natural remedies can help you cope with this problem.
What Are The Causes of Fecal Incontinence?
People become fecally incontinent for many different reasons. You are more at risk of fecal incontinence when you have diarrhea or constipation – with diarrhea loose stools fill up the rectum more quickly and are difficult to hold in, and with constipation you can stretch the rectum and cause muscles to relax too much.
Conditions and injuries that cause muscle damage or weakness increase your risk, as does nerve damage.
Inactivity and obesity are also problems that can cause fecal incontinence, and it is more common in women after a difficult childbirth that caused problems with the pelvic floor muscles and the supporting structure for the rectum.
There’s no doubting that fecal incontinence can be a distressing problem. We looked at the recent scientific research to see which natural remedies can help when you are suffering from fecal incontinence.
Natural Remedies for Fecal Incontinence
1. Get Enough Fiber to Help Stop Fecal Incontinence
Getting enough of the right kind of fiber helps to prevent diarrhea and constipation, which in turn leads to a lower risk of fecal incontinence. A 2001 study from the University of Minnesota School of Nursing found that supplementation with dietary fiber from psyllium or gum arabic reduced the incontinent stools and improved stool consistency.
You can find fiber in many different vegetables, fruit, beans and whole grains. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics you should be getting 20 to 35g of fiber a day when you’re an adult.
But, unfortunately, American adults only consume 15g of fiber, on average, each day, according to the American Dietetic Association (2008). Increase your consumption of beans, shredded wheat, bran, oats, apples, pears, prunes, sweet potato, squash and green beans to make sure you are getting enough of this essential nutrient to keep fecal incontinence at bay.
2. Biofeedback for Treating Fecal Incontinence
Biofeedback for bowel problems is a way of increasing your awareness of the muscles you use in the rectum, which helps you to coordinate squeezing and relaxing the muscles in order to expel fecal matter when the rectum is full.
Using biofeedback for fecal incontinence, special sensors in the anus and the rectum produce measurements that are shown on a screen.
You see how the muscles you use creates an effect and over time you remember and use techniques for effective bowel clearing.
A 2008 study from Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Sydney, Australia found biofeedback was more effective than standard therapies for treating constipation related to bowel dysfunction.
3. Lose Weight and Reduce Fecal Incontinence Problems
Your rectum can only hold so much matter at one time and the increased weight of fat above the waistline pushes down on the rectum, making it more difficult to hold everything in.
In a 2007 study from Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, 90 percent of morbidly obese females experienced some kind of pelvic floor disorder, with 50 percent reporting that symptoms adversely impacted their quality of life – these pelvic floor symptoms include fecal incontinence.
Losing weight relieves pressure on the rectum and people who lose weight are also more likely to be more active, which reduces the risk of fecal leakage.
4. Try Bowel Training to Stop the Problem of Fecal Incontinence
If you suffer from bowel incontinence you can try to schedule bowel movements for the same time each day, which helps to cut down on the risk of accidents happening in between due to a full rectum.
Researchers B Engel and P Nikoomanesh in 1974 discussed a method of bowel training which helped six patients with severe fecal incontinence achieve normal bowel movements.
5. Traditional Chinese Medicine Can Help with Fecal Incontinence Problems
If constipation is causing incontinence, try a traditional Chinese herbal remedy.
A 2000 study shows that a combination called Daio-kanzo-to, which is made up of herbal extracts of rhubarb and licorice, helps relieve constipation which in turn leads to a lower risk of fecal incontinence.
6. Prevent Fecal Incontinence by Preventing Diarrhea
Diarrhea is a real problem – the weight and quantity of watery stools makes it more likely that they will be passed unplanned by the rectum.
Try to manage diarrhea with these tips from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence in the UK: limit your fruit intake to three portions a day and one small glass of fruit juice; cut down your intake of carbonated drinks and caffeine; avoid high-fat foods; and avoid eating the skin and pith of fruit and vegetables.
7. Pelvic Floor Exercises Help Treat Fecal Incontinence
You can help improve your bowel control with exercises designed to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles.
These pelvic floor exercises work by squeezing and relaxing the muscles up to 100 times a day.
A 2015 study from I-Shou University and Mackay Medical College, Taiwan showed that pelvic floor exercises helped to prevent fecal incontinence in rectal cancer patients after stoma closure.