What Your Poo Says About You

Bowel Movements – something we all have experience with; good, bad or ugly!

How do we know what’s normal, what’s not and what’s worth worrying about?

There are a few aspects of your own bowel function you can assess and note – observing every movement you have can be a great way to gain insight into how your body is working and what’s going on in your gut!

Regularity

The regularity of bowel movements is down to the individual and their lifestyle.

As a rule of thumb, 1-2 bowel movements per day is a healthy number to have.

However, if you are on a nutritional program that involves consumption of a significantly higher amount of food than the average person (e.g. part of a high-level athletic performance training program), you might have a normal number sitting at 3-4 movements per day.

No matter your lifestyle, having at least one bowel movement per day is necessary. If you have not had a movement for 2 days or more, this sits within the diagnostic realm of constipation. If you have not had a movement for 3 days or more, seek professional advice. The naturopathic approach can help, regardless of whether this is a chronic issue or a one-time-thing.

If you are having 3+ bowel movements per day and you are eating an average amount of food, this is where the definition of diarrhoea begins. This symptom can have several different catalysts; it could be IBS, an infection or a result of antibiotic use – if diarrhoea is getting in the way of you living a comfortable life; seek professional advice – your guts could use some love!

Form/Consistency

The perfect poo will have the form and consistency of a ripe banana – it holds together, it’s easy to pass and comes through in 1-2 pieces.

If yours is coming through looking dry, cracked and thick, requiring some effort and time to pass, this falls on the spectrum of constipation. This can be because you’re not eating enough food, drinking enough water, or exercising enough.

If you’re drinking 2L water, doing 30 mins of moderate movement and eating 3-5 meals per day with lots of fruit and veggies and your bowel movements are still like this, there is something else going on. Seeing a naturopath would be the way to go.

If your bowel movements are floating, this is called steatorrhoea and this is a sign that there is fat in your stool. This is a sign that your gall-bladder function needs to be assessed. If your stool contains fats, it indicates that your bile acid has not done its job of breaking down and digesting the fats you are eating. Definitely seek professional advice if this is a regular occurrence for you – there is a lot that a naturopathic intervention can do for you!

If your bowel movements are mushy, liquid-like or coming through in small pellets, this is more likely to be an issue with fibre, hydration and electrolyte balance in the bowel. If these movements are coming through several times per day, there might be an infection present – if this is the case, definitely seek professional advice soon and try to stay hydrated.

The above style of bowel movement can also happen in conjunction with periods of constipation, as well – this is likely to lead to a feeling that your bowel is not completely empty after a movement. If this is your issue, along with some spasming feelings in the lower abdomen, there is likely an issue with your gut flora balance.

It is not as medically urgent as an acute infection, but if left unchecked, imbalances like this can lead to worse symptoms down the road and should still be treated by a pro – this could be a naturopath, GP, gastroenterologist or other relevant professional, like a physiotherapist or chiropractor that can address any underlying musculoskeletal aspects of your condition.

Colour

A healthy bowel movement will be dark brown in colour (think 70-85% dark chocolate).  

A lighter brown or even paler stool indicates a lower level of bilirubin is being secreted and released into the bowel. Bilirubin is what gives the stool its brown colour and it is the substance required for binding and carrying waste and toxic substances out of the body. It is very important for detoxification. Without it, waste products recirculate back into the body, causing toxic load to increase.

This symptom can indicate that the liver and the gall bladder are under pressure and might not be functioning very well. Definitely seek advice if you a) have one very, very pale bowel movement (urgent) or b) regularly have pale brown movements (milk chocolate or lighter in colour).

Other non-bowel-related signs to look out for are a yellowing of the sclera (white part of the eye) and yellowing of the skin – these are signs of jaundice which definitely needs the attention of a medical professional.

If you are having black bowel movements, this can mean one of two things:

1. You are bleeding somewhere further up in your digestive system (e.g. stomach, rather than bowel)

If you have a black stool and are not taking any iron tablets, seek medical advice as soon as possible. You need to find out the reason why you are bleeding in your gastrointestinal tract and get treated. If you delay this for too long, you may become nutrient deficient and you may develop more severe gastrointestinal disease over time.

2. You are taking a heavy-duty iron supplement

If you are taking an iron supplement prescribed by your doctor, it is likely that this is just a side effect. This situation is not cause for panic, but seek professional advice about alternative iron supplements. The fact that your stool is black means that you’re not absorbing what you’re supplementing with. Another colour that can occur in the stool when taking iron supplements is a greenish tinge – the same information applies if you find this sign.

Smell

Let’s face it, even a healthy bowel movement is not going to come up smelling like roses.

There will be an unpleasant and bacterial smell, yes, but it should not be overpowering, nor should it hang around for long after flushing.

If you have noticed a change in the smell of your stool, it likely means that there has been a change in the microbial balance of your gut. This could mean infection from an external source, or an overgrowth of your own bacteria into areas of the bowel that it shouldn’t live in.

Take note of the nature of the smell – is it sweet? Is it oily-smelling? Earthy, like mushrooms? The smell, when reported alongside the other details you will have noticed, will be the final guide to your practitioner about what might be happening in your gut – don’t ignore the signs!

Lauren Booth

Naturopath