Did you know that the appearance of your stool can reveal a lot about the health of your digestive system?
How much does having regular, healthy bowel movements matter? From a naturopathic perspective, your gut is essentially the second brain of your body. Not only does it house up to 80% of our immune system, but its essential for facilitating detoxification, synthesising hormones, absorbing nutrients and helping us grow.
Therefore, problems in the digestive system can have far-reaching consequences for our health.
Now, clearly every person's body is absolutely different and their metabolic processes will work at different rates, but there is a way to assess if your gut is generally functioning as it should be.
Considerations for Optimal Digestive Health
First, let's discuss the shape. A stool that easily plops into the toilet and settles to the bottom is preferable, as does one that has the consistency of a hard sausage.
Stools that are too hard to pass indicate dehydration and possibly an insufficient amount of water or fibre in the stool. If you strain when using the toilet, you may see fresh blood on the toilet paper and perhaps have fresh bleeding or haemorrhoids.
Again, a lack of fibre may be to blame, but in many cases of IBS, a bacterial imbalance, illness, food intolerance, insufficient digestive enzymes, or low stomach acid may be to blame.
A lack of digestive enzymes or an inability to adequately digest fats could cause the stool to float and leave a greasy film on the water. It's normal to have the occasional 'floater', but if your poos are always floating, you should speak to a gut health specialist or your doctor.
The Bristol Stool chart is a helpful tool for determining whether or not your stool looks normal. Ideally you want to aim for a 3 or 4 on the scale.
Ideally, your poo should be the standard 'poo brown' hue. A light or clay coloured faeces can indicate a problem with bile flow from the pancreas and should also be checked.
Consistent black or tarry stools should be brought up with your doctor, since they may indicate internal bleeding higher up in the digestive tract.
If you are constipated and see bright red blood in your stool, it may be the result of bleeding piles or, in more severe situations, anal fissures (small tears in the lining of the rectum). If you're constipated, you might not need to worry if you notice blood in your stool once, but if it happens again you should tell your doctor.
Poops stink no matter what, but there is a fine line between pleasant and repulsive. The most obvious warning sign is what I'd call a "toxic!" odour coming from your toilet.
This isn't just a "normal poo" odour; rather, it has undertones of sulphur, like rotten eggs, or methane, a bit like cow pats.
Since alcohol and some processed foods are actually 'toxins' that are being ejected, they often make faeces smell worse. However, on a daily basis, it is acceptable for faeces to have a 'non poisonous' odour or an odour similar to that of vegetables. An illness (like a parasite) or a bacterial imbalance (like SIBO) may be to blame for persistently foul-smelling faeces.
Regularity of bowel movements
This is one of the most often asked questions we get at the clinic, and the answer is....
The 'normal' frequency of defecation is somewhere between once and three times daily.
One meal in, one meal out would be ideal, but in reality everyone can vary.
Less than once a day would be considered 'constipated'. As a result, waste materials, poisons, and undigested food sit in the intestines and ferment. The longer it lies there, the more water is reabsorbed and the tougher the stool will be to pass. Constipation can also increase gas and bloating.
Going more than three times a day is concerning because it suggests that your digestive system is working too quickly and you aren't allowing enough time for your body to get enough of the nutrients you need from the food you eat.
Rushing to the toilet, or urgency, can also be a sign that something is not quite right with your gut. A frantic search for the nearest loo is usually indicative of a problem that needs further investigation if it occurs frequently.
Aiming to have 'regular' bowel movements is a common problem, and many people rely on stimulants like caffeine, alcoholic beverages, or fatty foods as a means to ensure they have their daily motion. However, this is not a good idea. Consider modifying your food, fibre intake, water intake, and exercise routine if you have trouble going to the toilet on a regular and comfortable basis.
Having to use the loo more than three times a day, especially with loose stools, is cause for concern. Infection, bacterial imbalance, intolerance, or an inflammatory immunological reaction are common causes. People with severe forms of IBD (Irritable bowel disease) may have to use the loo as often as six to ten times a day, which can lead to fast weight loss.
Pain on passing a stool
You should never experience Irregular or excruciating pain when going to the toilet. Again this would warrant further investigation.
No matter how icky all this poop talk may be, the next time you have to do a 'number 2', glance at your creation before flushing to make sure it's a nice brown sausage!
f you would like to discuss anything you've read in this blog in relation to your own concerns around gut health, please book a call with one of our IBS and Gut Health specialists.
Kelly is the founder of The Natural Balance. As a Nutritional Therapist she focuses on positive physical and mental wellbeing, achieved through diet, lifestyle, sleep and exercise. Having struggled for years with IBS and hormonal imbalance, and increasingly frustrated with the lack of support and helpful advice from conventional healthcare, Kelly began her own journey of healing the body from the inside out. After seeing huge improvements in her conditions following nutrition and functional medicine advice, she quit her job to retrain as a therapist and focus on harnessing the healing powers of food to help other people in similar situations.