Medical myths: You should open your bowels daily

Dr Max Pemberton

What's the truth?

If you don't open your bowels daily, don't worry. Fewer than 50 per cent of people do, and it doesn't mean anything is wrong.

To diagnose constipation, doctors generally look for at least two of the following problems for three months of the year:

  • Hard, pebble-like stools making up at least a quarter of your motion
  • The need to evacuate manually
  • Straining to pass a motion
  • Feeling that you haven't emptied your bowels
  • Fewer than three stools a week

Where did the myth come from?

No one knows exactly—but some argue that it's been perpetuated by doctors, many of whom wrongly believe a daily bowel motion to be ideal.

So there's nothing to worry about?

Ninety-five per cent of adults have bowel movements between three times a day and once every three days. The entire range is normal. The key is that you're regular.

Drink plenty of fluids, exercise, eat a diet rich in fibre, and this should ensure your bowels are working properly, regardless of the frequency.

A sudden change in frequency either way can, rarely, indicate a problem and in those instances, it's best to go and see a doctor.