(Video version can be found on my Facebook page – Peggy Smith Wellness, March 14, 2019)
I get it, talking about poop and anything having to do with your bowels can be awkward. But just remember what that adorable children’s book tells us: Everyone Poops!
Unlike many politicians these days, let’s try to all be adults for a few minutes and consider the fact that paying close attention to what you see in the toilet—from the color, shape, size, and smell—can tell you a lot about what’s going on with your health, so it’s important to take note, and to understand just what our poop is trying to tell us.
When it comes to poop there is no one way for it to look or smell that is considered normal. Everyone’s “normal” is different. How often, the texture and the smell of your poop, when you are not under any digestive distress, is your normal.
The idea that you must poop everyday to be normal is not true. The frequency with which we go varies greatly. For some folks three times a day is normal, and for others three times a week is what happens when they are in their normal pattern. Many believe that more important almost than your regular pattern of frequency is looking at the consistency of your stool.
Medical professionals use something called the Bristol Chart to classify bowel movements. As a funny aside, when I started my research for this topic I couldn’t remember off the top of my head what the chart was called and so I typed into Google – Poop Log and the strangest Christmas tradition from a region in Spain appeared, complete with songs and pictures. You seriously have to go look this up!!! Just type in poop log.
So back to our poop Chart. The Chart was developed at the Bristol Royal Infirmary as a clinical assessment tool in 1997, and is widely used to determine digestive health and also evaluate the effectiveness of treatments for various diseases of the bowel, as well as a clinical communication aid – it’s just easier to point at a picture than try to describe to a medical professional something as personal as what your poop looks like! The chart identifies seven categories, or types. Types 1 and 2 indicate constipation, 3 and 4 are the most ideal poops, and 5, 6, and 7 suggest diarrhea. “Generally, you’re looking for a type 3 or 4 range, they are soft and formed, and easy to pass without the need to strain. That is the key – being able to go without really thinking about it much at all.
If you have a hardened stool or separated lumps, this indicates constipation. This happens because the large intestine works to remove water from the stool as it passes through the gut. Decreased motility—either by problems with the muscles lining the intestines, or by a diet low in fiber—lets the stool sit in the large intestine longer, where more water is drawn, making the bowels harder.
Eating a diet that’s rich in fiber helps bulk up the stool, since fiber acts like a sponge to help retain some water.
Dehydration can also play a role in constipation because the intestines pull water into the bowels to make the stool softer and easier to pass and so if the body is low on fluids this is clearly harder to make happen. Food sensitivies, overgrowth of bacteria or yeast in the small intestine, and excessive intake of red meat or alcohol are other contributors to constipation.
The color of your poop can also tell you some things about what is going on in your body. If your stool is a color besides brown, it’s most often just due to whatever you recently ate, we have all had those experiences where we remember what we ate when we see it come out the other end! Leafy greens, red fruits and veggies (like beets), artificial food coloring, and some medicines and supplements can all change the color. But if the color change doesn’t bring back memories of a particular meal and persists for an extended period of time, it might be an indication there is something more serious going on. Keep an eye out for stools that are black, white, red, yellow or green for longer than would be the case from a particular medicine, meal or food recently consumed.
Regardless of the color, stools normally have an odor thanks to the bacteria in the colon that breaks down food. If the smell of your stool changes and has an extremely bad, abnormal odor, this may be due to infection. Other culprits can be inflammation of the colon from inflammatory bowel disease, or diseases that cause malabsorption, like celiac disease, chronic pancreatitis, cystic fibrosis, or lactose intolerance.
The color, regularity, and consistency of your bowel movements aren’t the only characteristics that can give you a real peek into what’s going on inside your body—there’s also a host of information available at the microscopic level. The bacteria inside your stool, which can be analyzed through laboratory tests ordered by your doctor or through specialized private companies, provide a snapshot of the microbes living in your intestines. One day soon, I’ll do a deep thoughts Thursday on this topic all by itself and tell you about my personal results from getting a Ubiome test done! It’s really pretty cool what they can detect from just a teeny tiny sample sent by regular mail!!
I am so proud of all of you that made it to the end with me! That wasn’t so bad, was it? I hope that this deep dive into the what lands in our toilet was helpful for you. I urge you to consider and take seriously anything that isn’t normal for you and talk to your doctor about it if it is causing you distress or discomfort. Like I said, the process of eliminating waste should be really straightforward and painless and so if it isn’t, perhaps it is your amazing bodies way of letting you know something isn’t quite right.
Until next time friends –
XO – Peggy