Your Poop = A Blueprint of Your Health. What Does Yours Mean?
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Everybody poops.

It’s a fact of life. And a NECESSITY of health.

If we aren’t pooping well, we aren’t able to properly eliminate toxins and keep our body’s systems running smoothly.

And while most of us feel comfortable discussing issues tied to everyday health-related topics like eating and sleeping, pooping seems to fall in that category of, as my mom would say, “T.M.I.!” (too much information).

Especially for you men out there that like to pretend that ladies just don’t do the dirty deed, news flash!

We are (super)human, too.

Sure, it’s not a topic that exactly gets your appetite roaring with your morning coffee, but listen up!

Poop: A Neglected Vital Sign

Bowel health (or lack of) is a vital marker that our culture has been ignoring for too long.

Just like a car has “vital signs” with its gas tank, engine, and tire pressure, we also have signs to see if things are going well internally or not:

Blood sugar. Cholesterol levels. Triglycerides. Blood pressure. Temperature.

Notice that these are all measured at a doctor’s office (and typically cost money to do so). 

For you Dutch folks out there, there are several vital signs that don’t involve measurement and money, too. These can be red flags to internal issues that need attention:

Fatigue. Brain fog. Sleep issues. Weight trouble. Skin problems. Heart burn…and our BOWELS!

Lovely people, we can learn a lot about our digestion and absorption of food from our stools.

It’s one thing to properly DIGEST and break down food (chew your food, people!), and it’s another to be able to actually ABSORB and utilize the nutrients for health.

Paying attention to the following stool-related markers can help indicate whether you have an issue that should be addressed (i.e. chronic diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, etc.).

It’s time to stop ignoring this less-than-appetizing topic, and to view it as an important message from our bodies!

Important Bowel “Vital Signs”

1) BOWEL TRANSIT TIME

What is bowel transit time, you ask?

How long it takes from the time you eat a food until it comes out the other end (Lipski, 2012). 

Experts vary on what the ranges of poor to optimal bowel transit times are, but these are what expert Liz Lipski, Ph. D., CCN, CHN discusses in her book Digestive Wellness:

  • Less than 12 hours = Possible malabsorption problems. Indicates you’re not absorbing all the nutrients you should from your food. 
  • 12 – 24 hours = Optimal. 
  • 24 hours + = Too long. This indicates wastes are sitting inside your colon too long, and substances that were supposed to be eliminated now are absorbed back into the bloodstream and can interfere with your system.

Self Experiment: Bowel Transit Time Test

I actually had the pleasure of testing my own transit time 2 months ago for my class, and suggest you do the following if you’re not sure where you are on the spectrum.  

I’ll spare you most of the details (hehe), but the test involves:

  • 3 days of eating a “marker” (2 small beets!) at varying times (4 hrs later each day)
  • Recording the bowel movements that include the “marker” (typically the next day; look for beets in your stools)
  • Determining your average transit time based on your recorded results

The whole process was quite interesting, but was helpful in giving me a feel for where I’m at on the spectrum.

It will help you, too!

2) FREQUENCY 

Frequency is also an important indicator of health, and with 2.5 million Americans complaining of constipation each year, it is definitely a concern with the general public.

What is an optimum frequency?

Though frequency is quite varied depending on biochemical individuality, 50% of people have at least one bowel movement daily. Many do not have one every day, nor at the same time(s) each day.

In integrative medicine circles, it is considered normal to have 1 – 3 soft bowel movements each day (Lipski, 2012).

Remember, we want to be eliminating the toxins that our colon accumulates at regular intervals to keep our systems running smoothly!

If we are only using the bathroom once every three days, our body is most likely reabsorbing the toxins that were meant to be eliminated, which can interrupt hormone pathways and may lead to colon cancer.

And yes, the word “soft” is important, too, because bowel movements should be painless. According to Lipski, pain could indicate a structural abnormality, hemorrhoid, or more serious issues. Contact your physician if you have any pain associated with elimination!

3) BOWEL SHAPE/SIZE

Is this too detailed for you? Well, we’ve already gotten this far; may as well finish the gamut!

In all seriousness, this infamous Bristol Chart helps indicate how your body is digesting and absorbing food.

  • Type 1–2 indicates constipation.
  • Type 3–4 are ideal stools as they are easier to pass.
  • Type 5–7 may indicate diarrhea and urgency.

bristol_stool_chart

We discussed the negative effects of constipation, but there are definitely negative issues on the opposite of the spectrum: chronic diarrhea.

The small intestine is 99% responsible for absorption, and the large intestine is tasked with absorbing the remaining nutrients, but also reabsorption of water from the stools to recycle back in the body.

If diarrhea is present, that means that, 1) food is moving too quickly through your small intestine – inhibiting proper absorption,  and 2) waste is moving too quickly through your colon, not allowing it to reabsorb the body’s precious water back into the body.

What Are Some of the Causes!?

Now that you know what constitutes healthy bowels, you may be wondering the WHY and the WHAT causing bowel issues in the first place?

Diarrhea: Food poisoning, imbalance/overgrowth of bad bacteria in the gut (parasites, bacterial infection, etc.), bowel and/or autoimmune disease, food sensitivities, and sugars in dietetic candies/sweets (sorbitol, mannitol, etc.).

Constipation: Aging, low-fiber diets, medications that interfere with normal bowel function (antidepressants, iron supplements, calcium channel blockers, antacids), lack of bacteria balance in the gut, magnesium deficiency, hormone imbalance, underactive thyroid, neurological issues, and even overuse of laxatives! 

What to Do to Improve Bowels!?

Diarrhea: If you’re dealing with acute diarrhea that lasts less than 3 days, your body is trying to rid itself of something, so stay well-hydrated and stick to the BRAT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce, toast).

If you’re dealing with chronic diarrhea, I suggest you consult with a physician or functional medicine doctor to have some testing done on possible underlying causes.

In the meantime, a few tips:

  1. Take probiotics! Find a quality probiotic with at least 15B bacteria, and a multi-strand that includes S. boulardii, because these help normalize bowel function. You can also eat probiotics in the form of sauerkraut, pickled veggieskefir, kombucha, etc.
  2. Look for food allergies and sensitivities (dairy and gluten, especially!). Some of the most common causes are dairy and gluten (wheat, millet, barley, rye); eliminate from your diet for 2-3 weeks and see if the issues subside. Test for sensitivities with your doctor as well!
  3. Increase fiber to help bulk up stools (psyllium, oats, flax, etc.).

Constipation: Believe it or not, one of the worst things to address chronic constipation with is laxatives, because they can cause the bowels to become lazy and reliant in order to have a movement.

A few tips from expert Liz Lipski (2012):

  1.  Increase fiber intake to get the stools moving (fruits, veg, beans, whole grains, psyllium, oats, flax, etc.)!
  2. GET MOVING! Exercise massages the colon. Exercise at least 30 minutes each day (Walk! Yoga! Shovel snow!).
  3. Eat foods high in magnesium, which helps normalize the movement of food in the colon. Think GREENS!, nuts, seeds, beans, whole grains, and dark chocolate (80%+).
  4. Improve gut flora by eating fermented foods and taking a probiotic. See #1 above.
  5. Hydrate! The digestive system needs to be well-watered in order to move things along properly!
  6. De-Stress. Yes, the brain and gut are connected, and when we are stressed, it can affect our ability to eliminate properly. Breathe. Do yoga. Go for a walk. Pray. Call a friend. Turn off technology, and find a way to relax!
  7. Take Vitamin C, which can help flush out your system.
  8. Check medications, which can contribute to constipation.
  9. Improve bowel habits. Yes, it isn’t always ideal if the urge strikes at work, on the road, etc. But, ignoring these signals can lead to constipation. Carve out time each morning (or whenever you gotta go) to listen to your body’s signals!

:::

And that concludes my dissertation on poop. I hope you all have lovely weekends with lovely, ahem, movements. :)

References
Lipski, Liz. Digestive Wellness 4th Edition. New York, McGraw Hill: 2012.

Note: Jules’ Fuel uses affiliate links in some blog posts. If you make a purchase using one of these links, which costs the same either way, it’s a very, very small way to help me cover the cost of running this website. So, thanks!

39 responses on “Your Poop = A Blueprint of Your Health. What Does Yours Mean?

  1. I have noticed that parents of young children (in diapers still) are not shy about talking about their kids’ poop, either! Just like dogs, it’s an important measure of health since the kid can’t communicate when something is wrong. Loved the chart, btw.

    • Ha! So true as well. Though I don’t have kids yet, I can only imagine that it is an important marker when communication is lacking.. Thanks for your thoughts!

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  3. Yes, having 3 kids ages 6 and under…poop is the main topic we seem to be always talking about. I’ve never been so aware of everyones’ poop issues until I became a parent. This is a great article! Thanks!

  4. This article has great advice, especially the hypothyroidism, dehydration and magnesium deficiency being connected to constipation. I agree that probiotics and vitamin C are invaluable. I disagree about the high fiber part. It’s a complete myth. If you consume psyllium while constipated you will create a brick! It can cause small bowel obstruction in a small child. I also do not agree with eating rice or any other grain.

    • Hi Chris! Thanks for your thoughts! Good point. I do think it comes down to treating the individual based on their history and current health status. Some cases may benefit from fiber, while others may not.

  5. After years of following a mostly gluten-free diet I now know that eating gluten causes a large swing in my bathroom needs. First I get constipated then a day or so later I might have stomach cramping and loose stools. Any idea why I have both these issues? I often think of it as my body over correcting from the first issue.

    • Interesting. How long has this been going on? It sounds like you might be eating something that doesn’t agree with you if you have cramping? Have you been tested for food allergies or food sensitivities? I would definitely suggest taking a multi-strand probiotic to boost the good bugs in your stomach and colon, but it’s best to ask the advice of your {naturopathic) physician. :)

  6. Timely article just when i had a really bad case of a day’s poop madness. Thanks for this news

  7. What about those friends I travel with who can’t go poop when they’re away for a weekend or more? It seems terribly unhealthy. Is there something they can do?

    • That could definitely be attributed to dehydration and lack of movement. Staying hydrated, moving as soon as possible when the flight lands (and/or standing up in the aisles when possible!), and a eating a diet high in magnesium (greens!), which helps relax the colon, should help!

    • P.S. Taking probiotics pre- and post-flight is crucial, too! Often, travel introduces different bacteria and possibly traveler’s diarrhea, so this could help keep things regular.

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  9. Hi Jules,
    Thank you for this article and important information. While I agree with most of it, there are a couple of points that as a believer in the Paleo/Primal diets, I would not recommend: eating whole grains (or any grains for that matter), nor eating beans, which are fresh legumes, and contain phytic acid, which is a toxin, eating psyllium, and lastly eating oats (which cause allergies in many people and can produce the same discomforts and symptoms as gluten-containing grains). What are your thoughts on this?

    • Hey there! Thanks for reading! I, too, eat mostly Paleo/Primal, but it isn’t the ideal diet for everyone. While I agree with you on the phytic acid and that whole grains may not be beneficial for some, they do provide nutrients when prepared in the proper way, and when eaten with a varied and balanced diet for others. My husband is very gluten and dairy-intolerant, and he finds oatmeal to be a great gluten-free option for breakfast, and it hasn’t impacted his bowels, for instance. As far as psyllium, I’ve found it to be beneficial as an aid when doing a detox (to make sure proper elimination happens and toxins aren’t redistributed again in the body). I appreciate you taking the time to write your thoughts! While we may agree to disagree, I really think it comes down to treating each person based on what’s best for their health history, gut health, level of constipation, etc. :)

  10. For some – like me – high fibre only makes the constipation worse. I have been tested to find the cause on various occasions and have tried all tips mentioned above. Somehow nothing seems to help. My doctor has concluded that there is nothing to be done other than laxatives. I will not go there again. My childhood was one with an ongoing use of laxatives (and other medicines) which in the long run made it all worse. Hopefully soon I will find the solution.

  11. Millet is a gluten free grain.
    And adding fiber when you’re already constipated is a bad idea, as fiber adds bulk – not something that is good if your stool is already so bulky it can’t pass. Look into “Fiber Menace.”

    • Thanks for the point on millet – you’re correct! And regarding the fiber…I agree that the huge push for fiber fiber fiber is excessive does more than good. On the other hand, so many Americans don’t eat ANY fiber in the form of veggies and fruits. Ultimately, I think it depends on each person’s scenario, what the cause of constipation is, and what stage they are in… :)

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  13. Phew, what a sh*itty topic(excuse the pun), hahahaha.A super great read, informative and well articulated.

    Reminded me of someone I knew long ago who bragged that he only goes to the loo for a poop once or twice a week, thinking that was cool, and not realising how dumb and ill-informed that statement was……needless to say, I never wanted to be seen with the person after that revelation.

    Judging from your article,I appear to be fairly healthy (I strive to be), and weird as it is, I cherish my more often than not routine visits to the lavatory as I always look around for a magazine, book to read or socialnetwork to go through during my quiet time ……….Eeeew!

  14. Help I have a problem with being constipated for three to four days, then having bowel movements for three to four hours, sometimes followed with one to two hours bleeding. Colonoscopy 8/13 incomplete exam due to a hairpin turn. have had normal exams. Currently taking Amatisa 8mg twice a day Miralax and fiber. Also taking clonidine three times a day.

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  17. Thank you for this topic. :) I have been having good luck, when things slow down, with a teaspoon of coconut oil, which melts at body temperature. Start with less until you know how it works for you.

    I also found out that eating avocado helps. It is soluble and insoluble fiber plus provides fat and potassium!

    I take an occasional probiotic, as you recommended, and eat full-fat plain greek yogurt.

  18. Hi there, I was wondering, does the time of day that you go to the loo mean anything? I wake generally every day and do poop according to your scale between 3_5 sometimes twice before I have my morning shower or walk the dog? I run about 3km most mornings and eat what I class as a healthy diet and only have a couple of glasses of alcohol at the weekend! My husband on the other hand goes very infrequently and not as routinely as I and he thinks I’m the weird one!!! I feel this is normal for me, is it? X

    • Hi! It’s normal and healthy to go at the same time every day, however, some variance is normal. As long as your bowel movements are healthy and you’re going at least 1-3 times per day, that’s a good sign!

  19. This was really helpful :) good article! I’m only 20 and never really worried about my colon or, the what I eat. Iv noticed some change recently and for the past couple years I can only poop every week to two weeks..my doc couldn’t tell me what’s wrong. It’s always a random type of poop to. I never know what lvl of your chart ima get lol. Please any info will help me out tons! Thank you!!

  20. I just had carne asada 2 hours ago and already see Cilantro in my poo. People tell me that’s impossible but I’d take a picture but that would be kind of nasty haha

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