Taking Out the Trash
This may not be your favorite chore, but it’s certainly something you need to do every day; especially where your health is concerned. I’m not talking about the household garbage today. We’re getting into some territory some of you may not want to talk about, but definitely need to learn more about.
If you guessed poop or stool, you get a gold star!! I know, I know, it’s a touchy subject. A lot of people are uncomfortable discussing poop. I never talked about it until ten years ago. I started a new job, in a new place, and I was recreating myself as a newly licensed attorney. The attorney in the office next door to me liked to talk about poop. I liked him, we became fast friends, and so I started talking about poop. Every morning. It was like, grab your coffee, sit down and talk poop. Why was I all of a sudden able to talk poop with someone I was just getting to know? I guess because it was casual, non-judgmental, and very educational. And it beat talking work first thing in the morning.
Why is it Important?
What’s so important about poop anyways? In my 30-day program I cover the excretory pathways for ridding our bodies of toxins. The colon, and poop, are a main excretory pathway. What goes in must come out, and the excretory systems take toxins filtered by organs like the kidneys and liver right along with the sweat, urine and poop.
Poop, a.k.a. bowel movement, is a readily accessible window to your overall health. The contents of a bowel movement are mostly water, along with microbes, mucus, fiber and exfoliated gut lining. Right, you really didn’t want to know that. I eased you in with a little story, so now I’m jumping right into the facts you need to know about the importance of healthy bowel movements.
You can tell a lot about your health by the appearance of your skin, your urine, your breath and your poop. All are excretory pathways that show us what our bodies are trying to rid themselves of, both good and bad. Today we will cover what your bowel movements might be telling you about your gut health so you can get ahead of things before they become major health issues.
Would you be surprised to know that bowel movements are affected by both diet and lifestyle? For example, eating on the run or while stressed out is linked to improper digestion. Our digestive system takes in information from our brain and hormonal activity. When that information indicates we are in what is referred to as “fight or flight,” our body shuts down the digestive process to focus more energy on the crisis at hand. What does that mean? Fight or flight is the colloquial name for the process our bodies undergo when faced with danger; historically, that was from a real physical threat like a lion. This process invokes what’s called the sympathetic nervous system, resulting in a rush of adrenaline, pupil dilation, increased sweating, increased heart rate and blood pressure, dilation of the bronchial tubes, muscle contraction, decreased urine output and decreased salivation and stomach activity. Basically, the body shuts down all non-critical functions, like digestion and elimination, in order to focus on the threat at hand.
This is an innate, life-saving response. The problem is that too many of us are living at such a high level of stress that we are invoking the sympathetic nervous system far too often. We are living in a state of fight or flight. If you have ever heard of adrenal fatigue, this is a huge factor. The adrenal glands produce adrenaline (also called epinephrine). When they are constantly churning out adrenaline, it starts to burn out the adrenals. Why is this happening when there is no lion? Our bodies respond to our perception of the world. And if we are constantly sending the message (via stress) that we are under threat, the body will react in kind by preparing you to deal with the threat. Stress is a lifestyle factor. There are also diet related factors, and that’s what we’re going to focus on here.
What are You Looking for?
If you are not one for looking at your poop before you flush, you are missing out on some helpful cues to your health. Let’s cover what you should be looking for and what you can learn from your observations. There are four things you should be aware of when it comes to your poop: form, frequency, color and behaviour.
The shape or consistency of stool is commonly identified using the Bristol Stool Chart, a diagnostic medical tool for classifying stool into seven categories that are used to tell if an individual is constipated, has normal stool or unformed stool (diarrhea). With this knowledge, one can take steps to make changes to diet and lifestyle to help bring the gut back into balance. The following chart can be used as a reference.
By Cabot Health, Bristol Stool Chart – http://cdn.intechopen.com/pdfs-wm/46082.pdf, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=41761316
Type 1 stool is frequently difficult to pass and the effort put into doing so often leads to hemorrhoids. Digested food is staying in the colon too long and the colon is soaking up the extra water and drying up the stool. Some possible reasons for Type 1 stool include inadequate hydration, microbiome imbalance, antibiotics, and/or a diet low in fiber.
Type 2 stool has also been in the colon too long and has a slow transit time. It’s not as bad as Type 1, in that it moves a little faster to retain more water. It is still difficult to pass and the straining can result in hemorrhoids or diverticulosis. The addition of fiber here could make things worse because the colon is already full. Less straining and more relaxing will help coax this type along.
Type 3 stool is represented by a shorter transit time; more like 1-2 weeks. It is considered minor constipation. It has more water than Type 2, but still dry enough to result in the cracking on the surface.
Type 4 is what you are aiming for as truly normal, healthy stool. Transit time on this is around 72 hours, accompanied by adequate water and bacteria. The larger the stool, the more fiber in the diet; such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
Type 5 borderlines the normal range but is likely lacking in fiber. It may also be the sign of a fast digester or a mild case of diarrhea. This type is seen more in people who have more than one bowel movement daily. With fast digesters, it’s likely that the quicker transit time does not allow for the stool to achieve the compaction that would create one long movement.
Type 6 is a type of diarrhea. Here, everything is moving through the colon too quickly. This can be caused by stress, spices or stimulants (including herbal laxatives).
Type 7 is diarrhea. It is mostly, if not all liquid, and not good. The loss of fluids can lead to dehydration if this occurs frequently. Alternatively, in some cases, it is the body’s way of eliminating bacteria or pathogens. It can also occur after taking antibiotics, as bacteria contribute to fluid retention.
No matter what you’ve heard about how often you should have a bowel movement, you need to take all factors into consideration before determining you are having too few or too many. If you have Type 4 stool once every day, you probably have nothing to be concerned about. A healthy number would be 1-3 times a day. Anything less than that could be a sign of constipation. Anything more than that may fall in the loose stools types. Keep in mind that constipation can affect your skin or breath, as the body is looking to rid itself of toxins that are being held hostage.
Your poop should be brown. The only exception to that is if you have eaten something like beets, which could cause your poop to look red; or an insane amount of green vegetables or spirulina , which can make your poop look more green. Otherwise, poop that leans toward green or yellow could be a sign of too much bile, which means your poop is moving too quickly. When it moves too quickly, bacteria doesn’t have time to break down bile. If the bile isn’t being broken down, you may not be absorbing fats very well, and fats are an important nutrient. If this is occurring, you should talk to your doctor. It’s possible you are lacking in adequate levels of stomach acid.
Black and red (not caused by beets) are colors you definitely need to be aware of and talk to your doctor about. Red can be indicative of blood in the colon or from hemorrhoids. Black is a sign of old blood, which may originate from bleeding higher up in the small bowel, stomach or esophagus.
Mucus in the stool may be a sign of dehydration, constipation, or inflammation in the body.
We’re not talking about poop behaving badly here. This is more about what it does upon exit. Does it float, plop or gently descend? Floating may be a sign that there is either air (gas) or too much fat in the stool. Too much air can result from swallowing too much air or from bacteria. Too much fat can be due to malabsorption or an infection, again, something you want to discuss with your doctor; unless you are eating a high fat diet, which may not be cause for alarm in and of itself.
Finally, undigested food may or may not be an issue. Corn is not digestible and will frequently be seen in stool. Seeds can show up too. However, if you are regularly seeing undigested food particles in your stool other than corn or seeds, you should talk to your doctor. This can be a sign that your digestion or bacteria aren’t breaking your food down properly, which can lead to a lack of nutrient absorption. Also, if you are passing food faster than 24 hours, this can also hamper nutrient absorption or be a sign of a larger intestinal issue like IBS or an autoimmune condition.
Well that was a lot. But I don’t want you to experience anxiety over your poop. If you do have some concerns, start logging your bowel movements and keep a food diary. If you notice anything alarming, talk to your doctor. If nothing alarms you but you know you should be making improvements, the first thing I would recommend for instituting good bowel hygiene is to slow down. When you eat your meals, do just that, eat your meals. Don’t eat while you’re working, driving or doing any other activity. We call this slower, present eating mindful eating. Pay attention to what you are putting in your mouth, chew it thoroughly to the point it is liquified, and then swallow. Give your body 20 minutes to process what you are eating. That way you will feel full without gorging yourself, and your digestive process will be able to function the way it is meant to function.
Next, get into a bowel movement routine. In the free Habits manual on have on my homepage, I have a section on oil pulling. Read up on the benefits of oil pulling as a detoxifying method. Remember, the mouth is the beginning of the digestive tract. Use this time as an opportunity to slow down in the morning and coax you bowels through mere relaxation. I know this doesn’t evoke a pretty picture, but do your oil pulling while sitting on the toilet. This way you can relax, train your bowels to know this is the time to move, and get a detox step in at the same time.
I encourage you to be open and communicate with your doctor about your bowel movements. The health of your colon is tied to the health of your gut and your bowel movements; so don’t overlook this important area of natural behaviour.
Yours in Wellness,
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