What does your poo say about you?
So let’s jump straight into our second article for ‘Better Bellies’ month with a topic that is sure to spike your interest (and freak you out at the same time!).
As Naturopaths, we find ourselves talking about ‘poo’, ‘bowel movements’, ‘number two’s’ or ‘stools’ very frequently. While causing some awkwardness for our poor patients, we can gain a lot of information about your digestive and therefore overall health from your toilet habits.
Understanding how your digestive tract is functioning is so important as part of our goal to improve the health of our patients. Your overall energy, vitality and therefore quality of life is dependent on your state of health, and therefore dependent on how healthy your digestive system is.
However many of our patients don’t know the answer to our poo questions as they have not taken the time to inspect the toilet bowl (understandably). But we want to encourage to take a quick look at your number two whenever you can. What colour is it? Do you see any undigested foods? Does it float up in the toilet bowl, or sink and disappear? Do you notice any mucous or blood? Are you prone to constipation? Diarrhoea? Both? There is a lot that you can learn about your digestive health.
What to look out for in your poo:
An ideal stool should be large, soft, fluffy and easy to pass. Here’s what you should look out for if that’s not the case;
When diet and digestive health are not ideal, your stool may become more like little pellets. A slow transit time may be part of the issue because slow-moving stools will lose fluid, as the bowel absorbs more water from your stools the longer it’s in transit. This will make your motions much lumpier and harder. A lack of fibre in the diet may also to be to blame for a pellet type poo. This can be related to an eating plan that focuses on high protein and low carbohydrates. Since fibre holds onto fluid, a lack of fibre will lead to harder, pellet-like stools that may be difficult to pass. Topping your diet up with lots of fruit and veggies will help a lot. Try adding some psyllium husks (about 1 tablespoon) into your cereals, smoothies or yoghurt. Adding a few prunes a day can also help to fasten your transit time.
Hard and dry
As stated above, if food waste stays in the digestive tract for too long (a long transit time), fluid is re-absorbed into the body and the stool becomes harder and dryer. Being dehydrated can also cause this problem. A good test to measure your transit time is the sesame seed transit test. You may have noticed that sesame seeds do not break down and will pass through your bowel in their whole form. If you consume something with a lot of sesame seeds in it (stir them through cereal, smoothies or yoghurt), you will be able to time your own transit time by tracking how long it takes to note the sesames seeds in your stool. A healthy transit time is 8-16 hours, obviously depending on the time of day that you have eaten the seeds. Anything longer than 24 hours indicates a slow transit. It is useful to do the sesame seed test yourself as you may have daily movements but still suffer from a slower transit time which will not only cause hard stools, but may also be responsible for bloating, distention and discomfort. This can be address by staying hydrated as well as using nutritional and dietary strategies to speed up your transit time.
If your stool is suddenly black and looks sort of tar-like, the culprit could be your vitamins. Iron supplementation can have this effect. But if you haven’t recently started taking extra iron and you see this sort of change, you need further investigation. If there is bleeding higher up in the GI tract- such as in the stomach or intestines- the result can be stool that looks black and tar-like. Best to see your GP about this one.
Our number two’s should sink when they hit the toilet. In other words, not being able to see your stools properly as it is at the bottom of the toilet bowl is a good sign! But when the body isn’t properly absorbing fat from the food you eat, the fat ends up being excreted in your stool and this causes them to float in the toilet bowl. A stool that’s yellowish in colour, greasy in consistency and that floats is a sign of poor fat digestion and a good indication that your liver and gall bladder could do with some support.
Under normal, healthy conditions, the majority of fluid from your food and drink intake, as well as those fluids excreted by your saliva, stomach, pancreas etc to digest your food, is absorbed in the small and large intestines. This will result in leftover fluids being excreted in your stools and a nice soft, fluffy stool. But if food passes through the digestive tract too quickly, there isn’t enough time for all of that liquid to absorb and you are left with diarrhoea or loose bowel movements. The reasons for a super-quick transit could include a sudden increase in fibre in the diet, food intolerances, stress, IBS or an infection. While diarrhoea caused by infection will be short lived, food intolerances, stress and IBS can be on-going and these are all common causes of poor digestive health that we explore with our patients.
Pencil thin stools could possibly be an indicator of colon cancer, or its precursor, polyps in the colon. If you are seeing thin stools on a consistent basis, that it something you should have looked at by your doctor. It is always better to be safe than sorry, and with bowel cancer being one of the most common cancers in Australia is it important to get a medical check up.
Pale or grey stools
Normal stools can come in a range of colours. But if your stool is pale or greyish in colour, you could have some imbalances in your liver health. The liver excretes bile to help break down fats, and that bile also adds colour to the stool. But if there’s a lack of bile, your stool may take on a too-pale appearance. Your stool may also appear grey if you are lacking in pancreatic enzymes.
Some undigested foods such as corn and small seeds are considered normal. However, you should not be able to identify what you have eaten in the toilet bowl! A fast transit time that doesn’t allow enough time for food to be properly digested may be to blame and will also compromise your ability to absorb nutrients from your food. Improving digestive enzyme and acid secretions can help. It may also be a case of simply not chewing your food well enough.
We hope this article has given you some insight into your own digestive health.
We encourage you to come in and visit either Hayley or Kate if your bowel habits need a healthy helping hand.