Discover more from True North by Christiane Northrup, M.D.
How Healthy Is Your Poop?
Yep! I’m goin’ there! Despite the fact that we all poop, it is probably one of those subjects that you don’t talk about – even with your health care practitioner. I want to change that because your bowel movements are your body’s natural way of detoxing, and your poop can tell you a lot about your health. In fact, it’s is one of the few reminders you get about your health on a daily basis.
Now, if you are an Ageless Goddess, I know that you are consuming healthy, whole foods. But, how do you know if you are digesting your food well? And what about when things aren’t working properly? Is it something to worry about, such as an infection or a more serious condition? Or, could it simply be due to a change in diet or your daily routine? The only way to really know is to look in the toilet every time you have a bowel movement! That’s because how your poop looks, smells and is shaped are direct indications of how well your digestive tract is working.
Keeping your digestive tract working well is important to maintaining your overall health. Have you ever been cranky or “off” when you haven’t had a healthy bowel movement? That’s because your brain and gut communicate directly so that trouble in your gut can lead to trouble with your mood. In fact, an unhealthy digestive tract can lead to an increased risk of many more serious health conditions, including neurological disease, autoimmune disease, and chronic inflammation.
Is Your Poop Normal? Here’s The Scoop.
(Image credit: FDA.gov)
Rather than having me describe in detail how your poop should look and smell, you will be happy to know that there is actually a stool form scale called The Bristol Chart. The chart was designed in the 1990s to be a guide for gastroenterologists. It classifies how your poop looks into 7 categories depending on the time that it takes to form in your colon – or the “transit time.” You can see that numbers 3 and 4 are what is considered normal. If your poop falls into categories 1-2, (constipation) or categories 6-7 (diarrhea), it is considered abnormal. You can use the Bristol Stool Chart to compare your typical poop to what’s considered normal and learn what may be causing a problem if you have one.
What is interesting here is that diarrhea (types 6 and 7) is classified as “inflammation.” So if you have diarrhea it means you have an inflammatory process going on in your gut. Unfortunately, many people consume a highly inflammatory diet. This can lead not only to bouts of diarrhea but also to what is known as “leaky gut syndrome” and even what we call “autoimmune disease.” (I’m questioning the names of these conditions these days because, according to medical medium Anthony William, your immune systems never actually attacks you. And, your gut doesn’t actually leak. But, whatever label you put on these conditions, they have one thing in common: cellular inflammation.) So, if you find you are typically in the 6-7 range of The Bristol Chart, first look at your diet and avoid common inflammatory foods, such as dairy, gluten, grains, soy, sugar, and corn.
Other Qualities To Check Before You Flush
In addition to how your poop is shaped, you want to pay attention to other qualities. One unhealthy bowel movement is usually not a reason to run to the doctor. But, if you consistently have unhealthy bowel movements, it’s probably worth mentioning to your doctor. Here are some other things to consider when checking your bowel movements:
How often do you poop? Research shows that we should all poop every day. The healthy range is typically 1-3 times per day. It makes sense that moving your bowels frequently is healthy because what you are doing is removing waste and toxins. Some people even have bowel movements every time they eat! If you find yourself pooping only a couple times per week you are most likely constipated. Likewise, if you are going 5 times per day, you have diarrhea.
How easy is it to poop? Many people in our culture take a newspaper — or a laptop! — into the bathroom and emerge 30 minutes later. This is not good on several levels. First, healthy bowel movements should only take a few minutes. You should not need to push hard. This could lead to hemorrhoids, which are all too common today. You should also not feel a sudden urgency like you have to run to the toilet. As far as the newspaper, laptop or phone goes, I suggest leaving it outside the bathroom!
Did you get it all out? Full evacuation is considered healthy. (My hilarious nephew calls this a “walk away.” You sit down, your poop comes out, you walk away). If you have to keep going back to the toilet, you are not having a complete bowel movement. Likewise, if you feel like there’s always something left behind that leaves you feeling uncomfortable then you’re not having healthy bowel movements.
Other qualities to check. Don’t stop there. Here are a few more things to check.
Color: If your stool is light to medium brown you are healthy. If it’s black, tarry, or pale you may have a serious health issue such as bleeding, hepatitis, pancreatitis, cirrhosis. If you see your stool is one of these colors consistently, or you see blood in your stool, it’s time to call a doctor.
Sink or float: Stools may float or sink, but stools that make a slow gentle dive tend to be indicative of healthy bowels. A high-fiber diet can make your poop float, which is fine. But floating stool can also be a sign of malabsorption.
Smell: Finally, be sure to take notice of how your poop smells. It should smell natural and not have an extraordinarily bad odor. Really smelly bowel movements may indicate malabsorption, Celiac or Crohn’s disease, or even pancreatitis.
When To See Your Doctor
You know that I am an advocate for giving your body the proper nutrients and environment for healing itself. But, unhealthy bowel movements are a message that something is not working properly and sometimes a visit to the doctor is a good idea. If you have any of the following warning signs, be sure to schedule an appointment with your doctor:
Sudden or persistent change in normal bowel movements (what’s normal for you)
Blood or excess mucus in your stool
Constipation, difficult or infrequent bowel movements for three weeks or longer
Frequent diarrhea or an urgent need to move your bowels
Constant feeling that you cannot empty your bowels completely
Stools that are oddly shaped (see the Bristol Chart)
Frequent abdominal discomfort, gas, cramping or bloating
Unexplained weight loss
Pain before, during or after bowel movements
Chronic bowel leakage or lack of bowel control
Abnormal bowel movement accompanied by pain, fever, nausea, or dehydration
11 Tips for Creating Healthy Bowel Movements
If you have had a recent change in your bowel movements and you don’t have a serious health condition, it can be easy to get things back on track. Here are my recommendations for keeping things moving smoothly:
Increase Fiber In Your Diet. Fiber adds bulk to your stool and increases transit time so it can help you stay regular. The minimum daily recommended amount of fiber is 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men under age 50, and 21 grams for women and 30 grams for men over age 50. I suggest getting your fiber from a plant-based source, such as psyllium.
Watch your eating habits. Your bowels will respond best when you eat whole foods on a regular schedule. Be sure to eat smaller meals at regular intervals several times per day to help ease digestion. Large, infrequent meals can be harder to digest. Chew your food slowly and thoroughly. Stop eating when you are full. Avoid eating late at night. If you still have problems, try keeping a food journal to track what you eat along with any uncomfortable digestive symptoms. You may have a food sensitivity. If you think you are reacting to a certain food, eliminate it from your diet for 21 days and see if you notice a difference.
Reduce Stress. Stress can create problems in your digestive tract by interfering with the neurotransmitters found in your intestines. Practice stress-reduction techniques such as yoga, deep breathing, and meditation. You will help your mind and your gut.
Reduce or Eliminate Caffeine and Alcohol. Both of these dehydrate your colon.
Drink lots of Water. The average adult should aim for a minimum of 64 ounces (about eight glasses) of fluids each day. Water is best. You may even want to try warm water with a bit of lemon. This can be very soothing. You may also drink tea and naturally-sweetened juices.
Get Enough Exercise. Exercise stimulates the muscles in your digestive tract so food keeps moving through your intestines at a healthy pace. It also is an important part of maintaining a healthy weight, which may reduce your risk of colon cancer. Aim for 30 minutes of exercise every day and try doing it at the same time. This will also help your body stay regular.
Eat Fermented Foods. Fermented foods such as sauerkraut, real pickles, and kefir contain probiotics and prebiotics, which help to restore the bacteria in your intestines. You may also want to try taking pro- and prebiotics in supplement form, especially if you suffer from diarrhea, IBS or other digestive issues or if you take medications, such as antibiotics that can destroy your gut flora.
Go When You Need To. Always respond in a timely matter to your bathroom urges. Putting off a bowel movement can cause constipation, abdominal pain, gas and more. Try to stick to a schedule, but don’t force it. For many people, the ideal time to go is 30 to 60 minutes after a meal, when your intestines are in motion.
Avoid OTC Medicines. Laxatives, stool softeners, anti-diarrhea medicines, and other over-the-counter products may help your symptoms in the short term, but overuse can actually make things worse or cover up an underlying health problem. For occasional constipation try bulk-forming fiber supplements, such as psyllium. Magnesium is also very important for healthy bowel function. The recommended amount is 400-1000mg/day. Loose stools from magnesium indicate that you should cut back a bit.
Change Your Position. Many people strain to move their bowels. That’s because the way we sit on a standard toilet seat does not make elimination easy or natural. Straining can lead to hemorrhoids and over time can even damage pelvic floor muscles! Instead, try breathing deeply and putting your feet up on a stool, or get a Squatty Potty. This creates a position that is closer to a natural squat, which unkinks your colon and makes elimination easier.
Try a coffee enema. Coffee enemas have been used for centuries to relieve constipation and improve health. They are typically used today to help to flush out bacteria, fungus, yeast, and other toxins from the digestive tract, including the colon, lower intestines, liver, and gall bladder. When used regularly, coffee enemas can lower inflammation and restore healthy bowel function. You can perform a coffee enema at home and inexpensively by purchasing an enema kit. These can be found in health food stores, drugstores, and online. Then, make your coffee using certified organic coffee beans (caffeinated) and filtered water. Allow the coffee to cool for 15 minutes before using. Lie on your side and try to keep the coffee liquid in for 30 minutes. For more information on coffee enemas, check out Kelly Brogan M.D.’s website.
5 Natural Remedies for Constipation
Everyone experiences constipation at some point. Travel, change of routine, dehydration, and certain medications (such as OTC antacids, painkillers, analgesics, and diuretics to lower blood pressure) and certain medical conditions (such as hypothyroidism) can contribute to constipation. Anyone who has experienced constipation knows It can be frustrating and uncomfortable. Chronic constipation can also pose more serious health issues and keep your cardiovascular, endocrine and immunes systems from functioning properly.
Fortunately, there are many natural ways to relieve constipation and get things moving again:
1. Take ascorbic acid (vitamin C). If you have ever taken too much vitamin C, you know that loose stools are a result. That’s because vitamin C has a laxative effect that is proportionate to your body’s need for it. Most healthy people can tolerate between 2,000-4,000 mgs of vitamin C in their gut. If you notice loose stools at 2,500 mg, then that is your limit. However, if you are fighting a cold, you may need more vitamin C before you notice a change in your bowel movements.
2. Try probiotics. Healthy gut flora protects your colon from pathogens and supports your overall immunity. Studies show that probiotics can help keep your gut flora healthy by reducing gut transit time and improving stool frequency and consistency.
3. Eat prunes or kiwis. Prunes and kiwis have long been used to treat constipation in children and adults. They help increase frequency of bowel movements and stool consistency and are on par with psyllium in effectiveness.
4. Get enough magnesium. Magnesium has a positive effect on just about every system in your body and just about everyone on the planet is deficient in this mineral. If you have ever taken “too much” magnesium, you have probably experienced its laxative effect. When it comes to your gut health, magnesium may reduce your risk of colorectal tumors.
5. Increase dietary fiber. Increasing dietary fiber adds bulk to your stool, which digested food needs to move through your digestive tract. Oat bran, flax seed, and psyllium are all good sources of fiber that you can easily add to stimulate bowel movement.
So now, don’t be shy. Share your scoop in the comments section below.