No time to lose. Let’s dive into topic that is both taboo, but informative.
The reason stool is a hot topic in digestive circles is because it is a physical end-product that can be observed daily (if your digestive system is working as it should). It holds information pertaining to your last meal, and how well your body was able to digest it. If you consistently observe your stool, you will gain an understanding of the state of your digestive system. It can also act as an additional tool to determine whether your treatment plan is working.
What Your Poo Says About You
Below you will find the Bristol Stool Chart, developed in the UK by Dr. K. Hering and published in the British Medical Journal in 1990. The scale classifies stool into seven types based on appearance. The form of the stool depends on the time it spends in the colon, with Type 1 spending the most time and Type 7 the least.
Where does your poo fall within the chart? Can you guess which Type is normal? Do you even know what your poo looks like?
Or for a fun, chocolate-inspired look (created by Greatist):
With my patients, I always ask about their bowel movements to gain insight into the functioning of their digestive system. If your digestive system is working like a well-oiled machine, your stool will be a Type 3 or Type 4.
The Ideal Poo
How would you describe your experience during a bowel movement?
Ideally, the best bowel movements are painless, effortless and swift. The stool exits smoothly, intact, sinking to the bottom of the toilet, and remains intact when flushed. There is no blood nor mucous. Depending on what you ate, normal stool is brown in colour.
How many of us can proudly say that this is what we experience?
If you are thinking to yourself That sounds impossible! I assure you, it is not. I count myself as one of the lucky “swift bowel evacuators”.
Abnormal Poo – Constipation
If you are a Type 1 or Type 2, you are experiencing constipation. Stool at this end are hard to pass and often requires a lot of straining.
The first solution is always to increase your water intake (aim for at least 4 to 6 glasses a day), while cutting down on caffeinated or alcoholic beverages.
Eating fibre will add bulk to your stools and help them pass through the intestines faster. It also helps pull water from the colon, making the stool softer and easier to pass. Fibre is found in fruits and vegetables, and whole-grain products. Your body takes time to adjust, so to avoid gas and bloating, increase your fibre intake slowly.
It is important to note that there are two types of dietary fibre: soluble and insoluble. Insoluble fibre is not digestible and passes through your digestive system unbroken. It is found in the skin of fruits and vegetables, wheat bran, and whole grains. This is the fibre that will add bulk to your stool and result in quicker passage through your digestive tract. Soluble fibre on the other hand absorbs water and turns to gel during digestion, making stool softer. It is found in oat bran, barley, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, peas, and some fruits and vegetables. Both may be useful for constipation.
Usually, constipation is not an alarming issue, but chronic constipation can signal a real problem. A poorly functioning thyroid gland, diabetes, or Parkinson’s disease can cause chronic constipation. Some medications for pain, depression and high blood pressure also cause constipation as a side effect, as well as calcium and iron supplements. In rare cases, it can signal illnesses such as colorectal cancer or autoimmune disease.
It is important to see a healthcare professional if you have the following symptoms for more than two weeks: blood in your stool, severe pain with bowel movements, or unexplained weight loss.
Abnormal Poo – Loose Stool & Diarrhea
Stool at this end of the spectrum are too easy to pass – the need to pass is urgent and accidents can happen.
A Type 5 stool indicates that you should eat more fibre, specifically soluble fibre. Soluble fibre dissolves in water, and acts like a sponge, absorbing excess fluid in the bowels to firm up a loose stool. It has the added benefit of lowering cholesterol and controlling blood sugar. It is found in nuts, seeds, beans, peas, and other legumes.
The other type of fibre, insoluble fibre, is helpful for constipation, but may worsen diarrhea. Therefore, avoid insoluble fibre if you have frequent bowel movements.
A major concern with diarrhea is lost of fluids. Do your best to stay hydrated! Drink plenty of water. It is highly recommended that you drink coconut water to replace electrolytes. Why coconut water specifically? Its composition mimics your blood’s natural electrolyte balance.
Type 6 and Type 7 stools signal inflammation in the digestive tract. A common cause is an infection, which we are familiar with when traveling abroad. In addition to diarrhea, you may also experience gas, bloating, cramps, headaches, irritability or nervousness.
Certain foods may stimulate the bowels, such as fatty foods, and caffeinated drinks, by triggering the muscles in your digestive system to contract. Something simple like sugar-less gum can be a culprit due to the sorbitol content. Sorbitol (sugar-free sweetener) is not well-absorbed by the body and remains in the colon, where it is feeds gut bacteria, draws water into the colon, and causes cramping and bloating. Sorbitol is also found in sweets, syrups, cake mixes and even toothpaste.
If you are sensitive or intolerant to certain foods, ingestion of these items will cause irritation and inflammation to your digestive tract. Sometimes, the trickiest part is identifying these food triggers. Common sensitivities include milk, eggs, soy, and wheat. An Elimination Diet will do the trick, which a naturopathic doctor can easily guide you through.
Note that sensitivities are different from true allergies, which cause acute and severe symptoms such as hives, shortness of breath, and chest pain. Call 911 immediately if you experience a sudden drop in blood pressure, or have trouble swallowing or breathing.
Make it a Daily Habit
Your stools are informative messengers, offering a glimpse into the state of your digestive system. Pay it some attention. Monitor how your stools change with the food you eat, your mental or emotional state, and your level of physical activity. Learn something about yourself by observing your stools!
For more information on the digestive system, read my post here.