By Christal Blanchard, ND
Did you know that looking before you flush could save your life? Moms are constantly checking their baby’s diapers and pet owners are on the look-out for anything out of the ordinary. So then why as adults are we so quick to flush?
Our stool or BMs (bowel movements) is the end product of our digested food once the body has absorbed the nutrients it requires. Predominantly made up of waste/toxins, bacteria and water, it is probably one of the most important elimination organs in the body to prevent toxic build-up.
Everyone’s bowel habits will be different. According to the American College of Gastroenterology, three BMs per day to three per week is considered normal; any less is considered constipation and any more is considered diarrhea. Being aware of your daily habits can give you great insight about potential issues in the body when changes do occur. As a Naturopathic Doctor, I encourage patients to poop once per day. It keeps waste and toxins out of the body and tells us that your diet is optimal for your individual body type. Going three times per week however could be your normal, but there are other things to consider before making that statement. I’ve simplified the nine basic S’s of healthy bowel habits below to help you become a master of your own BMs.
BROWN – Medium to light brown is what we’re going for. The color comes from the bile acid produced by the liver/gallbladder which is very important in digestion of fats.
YELLOW/PALE – This color could indicate Gilbert’s disease, Giardia, or decreased production/excretion of bile acid; a sign of potentially poor liver/gallbladder function.
RED – Bright red specks in stool, on toilet paper or red toilet water means blood is coming from the lower part of the digestive track. Hemorrhoids, fissures and diverticular disease are amongst common causes.
DARK RED or maroon-colored is more worrisome than bright red since it suggests older blood coming from farther up in the digestive tract. Polyps, diverticulitis and Crohn’s are amongst some possibilities, yet further investigation is required. It could also be reflective of your recent diet if you’ve consumed beets, blackberries, etc.
BLACK – This indicates that the blood is coming from the upper digestive tract and could indicate a stomach ulcer, internal bleed or serious disease like cancer, which can also be associated with abdominal pain, bloating, weight loss and fatigue. Black stool is also seen during iron supplementation or with medications that contain bismuth subsalicylate. Although most often benign, any changes in your stool, particularly blood, for more than a few days warrants a visit to your doctor.
About a few inches to 18 inches long is ideal but the size can vary day by day, meal by meal. A high fibre diet will bulk up stool and act like glue to prevent it from breaking apart.
Formed and smooth like a banana and ideally shaped like an “S” (the shape of your lower intestine) is what were going for. If it looks like dark, dried up pellets, you could be dehydrated and lacking fibre. Also, the longer stool stays in the intestine, the more time the body has to re-absorb water from it, therefore don’t hold it. Go when you have to go.
Stool will never smell like roses, but a foul and repulsive smell that can clear a house may indicate that you are eliminating some very toxic waste. During a cleanse or a detox, this could be a normal side-effect as you eliminate unwanted toxic build-up.
Stool should be soft like a banana, but not too soft. If it is borderline mush/diarrhea, it could be due to a viral/bacterial infection, appendicitis, food sensitivity, or from consumption of artificial sweeteners like sorbitol. Warning signs include fever, abdominal pain and dehydration. If diarrhea hasn’t resolved within three days, make an appointment with your doctor.
Stool that sticks or leaves marks in the toilet bowl means that there is too much oil. The body is not breaking down and absorbing fats effectively either due to a pancreatic or gallbladder issue. You might even notice some droplets of oil floating on the surface of the toilet water.
Your stool should ‘gently’ sink and not dive to the bottom of the toilet bowl like a cannonball. If it floats, then you are consuming more fat than what is being absorbed.
It should take no more than two to three minutes to move stool out of your colon and require no strain at all. Sitting on the toilet while reading your morning paper may make you prone to hemorrhoids and rectal prolapse since you’re relaxing your pelvic floor muscles for longer than normal.
Take a look at the Bristol Stool Chart, which can give you an idea about what you’re looking for. Type 4 is the goal. Once you have identified where you generally fall in the chart, follow these basic principles to get you on your way to improving your bowel habits:
Fibre: Eat a diet with more focus on plant food rather than animal sources. Daily requirements vary for each individual but can range from 20 to 35 g per day. About half cup of most fruits and veggies contains up to three grams of fibre. It is best to eat fibre throughout the day instead of in one sitting since it could cause bloating, gas and worsen constipation. Adding something like flax seeds to your oatmeal, smoothie and sprinkled on salads is an easy way to incorporate more fibre into your diet.
Probiotic: Improve your intestinal flora by adding some ‘good bacteria’ to crowd out the bad. The right strain of probiotics can help with constipation or diarrhea and will balance frequency of bowel movements.
Water: Increasing your water intake should be your first adjustment if you’ve always struggled with constipation. It is particularly important if you are increasing fibre in your diet. A high-fibre diet with low water consumption can actually lead to constipation or worsen it.
Exercise: This is an easy way to kick-start your metabolism, increase your circulation and get your bowels moving. A walk would suffice; anything that allows the body to move and work up a light sweat.
Avoid laxatives: If you have a healthy balanced diet, you shouldn’t need to depend on these. Long-term use of laxatives can cause sluggish bowels and create chronic long -term bowel issues.
Castor oil: If you need some extra help, rubbing castor oil on the belly in a clockwise motion can help move things along. Never orally ingest castor oil.
Now that you know the 9 big S’s, you are well on your way to knowing what to look for and how to keep your bowels healthy. Just remember:
Don’t Rush to Flush!
Christal Blanchard is a Naturopathic Doctor in Sudbury and Toronto. She has a special focus in women’s health, digestive disorders and pain management.