Q&A: Could infrequent bowel movements be hurting your health?

Consumer Reports News: March 26, 2010 06:08 AM

I’m a 58-year-old man who has a bowel movement only once in three days or so. Could that be hurting my health? —W.B., Waukegan, Ill.

Possibly, though the evidence is mixed. Researchers have long theorized that infrequent bowel movements could increase the risk of colon cancer by prolonging contact between the feces and the colon lining. At least two large population studies seem to support that theory: One found that people who didn’t move their bowels daily had a one-third higher risk of colon cancer; the other linked fewer than three movements a week with more than double the risk. But two other studies, including the largest and longest one, which followed some 85,000 women for 12 years, found little or no connection.

Whether or not infrequent bowel movements increase the chance of colon cancer, they might be a symptom of that disease as well as of ovarian cancer and Parkinson’s disease. So tell your physician about any change in your bowel habits that doesn’t resolve itself within several weeks. To stimulate bowel movements, exercise regularly and consume lots of fiber.

For more on infrequent bowel movements, see our free Best Buy Drugs report on constipation .

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