The Scoop on Poop
Unless you are a small kid and think that everything to do with poop and pee is hilarious, I’m guessing that you don't spend much time with friends talking about your bowel movements. Sure, it’s not exactly sparkling dinner conversation, but your bathroom routine can give you a great deal of insight into your gastrointestinal health and in turn your overall health.
Feces or stool (the clinical terms for poo) are comprised primarily of water (about 75%) along with a combination of undigested food (e.g. corn, peanuts, peas, carrots, cereal grains, and beans), live and dead bacteria (billions upon billions of cells), fibre, mucus, and miscellaneous cells. Usually, feces are medium to dark brown because of the bile from your gallbladder being metabolized by the bacteria in your intestine. Variations in feces colour palette is generally influenced by the specifics of what you eat as well as by the amount of bile in your feces. Most of the time these colour variations should not worry you unless your stool is bright red or dark black — which can indicate the presence of blood. However don’t panic because certain foods such as black licorice, blueberries and some iron pills can also cause black stools. Some fruits and vegetables (beets and tomatoes) high in carotenoids or even red food dye can also make your stool appear red.
When it comes to normal bowel movements there is not a generally accepted clinical definition for what is normal or unusual. Anywhere from three bowel movements a day to three a week can be considered normal; it varies from person to person. The best way for you to detect any problem is to notice a change in “your” normal. Your bowel movements are complex and easily affected by infections, medications, mood, stress, changes in diet, liquid intake and exercise. If your food has been digested properly, your stool should sink to the bottom of the toilet (denser than water) but if your stool floats to the surface it is usually caused by excess gas and malabsorption (poor absorption) of nutrients leaving them in the stool.
Diarrhea occurs when the food and fluids you ingest pass too quickly through your large intestine. This is the area of your digestive system that absorbs the water from your diet to get used by your body. The lack of water absorption can result from stomach viruses and food-borne infections, excessive spices, food allergies or intolerances or from any number of other digestive issues. On the other hand constipation occurs when you have infrequent bowel movements or if you have to strain or have difficulty passing stools. Here the stool is lacking water and the resulting feces is difficult and in severe cases, impossible to pass. Everyone gets diarrhea and constipation sometimes. As long as it is infrequent and does not cause pain there is usually nothing to worry about. When it is common, you need to seek out solutions to prevent long term damage.
You have to remember that digestion can take anywhere from 24 to 72 hours and more than 60 percent of your immune system is found around your digestive tract. Any inflammation in your digestive system caused by food allergies, stress, bacterial imbalance, and diet can negatively impact your digestion, your entire immune system and your overall health. Inflammation in your digestive system can cause gas, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea. When your bowels aren’t moving properly, waste builds up in your body, creating toxicity and hampering your overall health.
There are simple steps that you can take to keep your gut and your poop healthy:
1. Eat your Fibre Inadequate fibre intake is widespread and even though a daily intake of 25-38g of fibre is usually recommended, surveys showed that the average Canadian intake is below 14 grams daily. Fibre is vital for optimal digestive health but can also help lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels, improving circulation and reducing the risk of stroke and heart disease. Supplements are available but you should not rely solely on them. Eat a high fibre diet that includes both soluble and insoluble fibre.
A fibre-rich, whole foods diet should be rich in beans, nuts, seeds, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, all of which feed good bacteria. Unfortunately, even trying as hard as you can, it is virtually impossible to get the recommended amount of fibre daily. Luckily there are fibre supplements that are tasteless, go into virtually anything and high in fibre (97% fibre) so you only need a small dose. Talk to your local health store.
2.Take probiotics daily During your life, microbial colonization of your intestine and colon will be affected by many factors such as your diet, age, environmental factors, stress and medication just to name a few. A balance between the “good and bad” bacteria in your intestines needs to be maintained at all times for optimal health. When this balance is disrupted it often allows the harmful pathogenic bacteria population to grow. This is one reason why as a preventative measure, the daily intake of probiotics is recommended. Probiotics are found not only in yogurt but also to varying extents in milk, kefir, cheeses, and some fermented foods. As a supplement, probiotics can be taken in capsule, tablet and powder forms. These beneficial inhabitants will help keep your body's intestinal tract healthy. The ideal choice is a fibre supplement rich in probiotics. This way you get your daily dose of both digestive helpers in one step.
3. Maintain a balanced diet Diet has a large impact on your intestinal microbial balance (gut flora). Limit sugar and processed foods, and if possible try to avoid meat from animals that are routinely given antibiotics, steroids and other drugs which would damage your gut flora.
4. Exercise Physical activity helps move your food along your digestive system thus limiting the amount of water absorbed from the stool by your body. This keeps your stool softer and easier to pass. Regular cardio exercise will also help to stimulate the natural contraction of intestinal muscles to help move stools out quickly.
5. Drink plenty of clean fluids Water is crucial for your digestion. It keeps the food you eat moving along through your intestines and it keeps your intestines smooth and flexible. If you are dehydrated, your intestines absorb more water from your feces creating hard dense stools that are difficult to pass.
Next time you take a trip to the bathroom pay attention to how often you go, how long it takes, and what the end result looks like. It seems silly but it will help you gauge your overall health. Small improvements here can yield big health results.