As the famous children’s book states, everyone poops. It may seem a little off-putting to some, but analyzing your own stools can be a very helpful tool in measuring aspects of your overall health. I had always thought that regularity was the most important factor when thinking about bowel behavior but it turns out that there is quite a bit more to it.
The frequency or regularity of your bowel movements is a very important health marker. Going less than at least one time per day usually means that you have some level of constipation. Constipation is that awful and unfortunate symptom in which the digestive system has not been able to eliminate the waste matter in enough time, so it starts to harden and become much more difficult to pass the longer time goes on. In addition to the physical discomfort afforded by constipation, it can also have a negative effect on your hormonal balance. What does poop have to do with hormones you ask? Well, after hormones are deactivated by the liver through the conjugation process, they are then to be ushered out of your system. The problem with a “backed up” digestive system though is that if those deactivated hormones do not get disposed of quickly enough, they can be re-absorbed back into your blood stream and circulate just as they did before. This can then cause an excess of certain hormones and thus put you out of balance, which can cause a whole host of other problems.
On the other hand, going too often can result in diarrhea-like waste which is watery and passes through the digestive system too quickly. Often diarrhea can be the result of ingesting foods that your body has a negative reaction to or cannot properly absorb the nutrients from. Expelling it as quickly as possible is your body’s way of telling you, “we don’t like this food!”
Neither of these situations (constipation or diarrhea) are optimal and if you suffer on either end of the spectrum, there is likely something going on with your digestive system.
There is actually a very handy chart called the Bristol Stool Chart which can help you to identify where your particular BMs fit in terms of appearance and texture.
The closer you are to having no. 3 or 4 s on the chart, the more ideal your poop is. If you are currently not experiencing ideal bowel movements that look like those, then you may need to take some action.
I think that most people realize that poop is supposed to be brown. It can come in a variety of colors for different reasons however, and some are more concerning than others. Here is another handy chart:
Other than the shape and color of your stools, another good barometer of health would be the smell that accompanies them. Now, of course everyone knows poop has a distinct odor that most would not label as “pleasant”, but if your stools start smelling worse or even just different than usual it may be cause for concern. A foul smelling odor can indicate anything from a slight bout of indigestion to more serious conditions like Celiac, Chron’s or Ulcerative Colitis.
No matter if you are already very healthy and have no concerns about your toilet time, or you have been suffering from some bathroom related issues, there are a few things you can do to make your bowels perform optimally.
#1 Drink Water
Part of the problem with individuals who are often constipated is that they could be de-hydrated. Drinking enough water really helps to move things along (pun intended) and prevent the lack of moisture found in hard stools that are harder to pass.
#2 Pro-biotic Foods/ Supplements
Pro-biotics can go either way when it comes to helping with Bowel Movement issues. Some people find them incredibly helpful, but others actually get worse so it is definitely a personal “try and see how it works for you” type of thing. In my personal experience, pro-biotics (both foods and supplements) have helped with regularity. I will caution that if you do go the pro-biotic supplement route, go for the highest quality you can afford to ensure that you are actually getting a product that will do what it’s supposed to do. Some brands that are highly recommended are Prescript Assist, Hyperbiotics and Jarrow. A higher CFU per serving will mean more “good bugs” available to populate your gut flora. The number of strains listed are the number of different types of good bacteria in that particular mixture of pro-biotic.
There are actually 2 different types of fiber, soluble and insoluble. Insoluble fiber is responsible for adding the bulk to stools and speeding along bowel movements, aiding in their frequency. Both soluble and insoluble fiber stimulate the bacteria in the colon which may also create more frequent bowel movements. You might think that Fiber is only helpful for those struggling with sluggish bowels, when in fact it has not been proven to cause diarrhea and is still an important component of a healthy diet.
Did you know that the modern toilet used by most of the western world actually impedes your ability to poop most effectively? If you’ve heard of “squatty pottys” or perhaps have used one while traveling you have experienced the difference that comes with having your body in the most optimal position for eliminating with ease. While sitting on a modern toilet, the angle at which we force our rectum into puts pressure on it which then creates a need to strain, even if just ever so slightly.
Try putting your feet up on a stool and essentially squatting on your modern toilet and see how much easier it is! There are actually companies that make squatty potty contraptions, but I think a simple stool can do the trick just fine.
So, how does your poop stack up?