We all do it, don't deny it. We all look at our poo. Whether it's with a casual glance or a long, hard stare, we all stop for a moment to witness what our body has produced. And for the record, I'm glad you do!
As a naturopathic doctor some of the most important, albeit sometimes awkward, questions I ask are about your bowel movements, a.k.a. your poo. Our digestion is truly a glimpse into the health of the whole body and asking these questions helps me get a better understanding about your individual health concerns.
Don't be surprised if during a visit you are asked whether your bowel movements are hard or soft, easy or difficult to pass, or how often you have a bowel movement. When it comes to uncovering the root cause of your health concerns your poo says a lot about you.
Bowel movements are our body's way of eliminating the indigestible parts of the foods we eat, the byproducts of the medications we take, as well many other waste products we accumulate through our daily living.
Our poo is typically composed of:
• Bacteria from our intestinal flora
• Indigestible fibre, such as cellulose
• Inorganic salts
• Dead cells
While "normal" is different for everyone, on average most people feel their best with one to two bowel movements daily that are easy to pass, fully digested and have a toothpaste like consistency. And yes, the occasionally piece of corn or tomato skin is totally normal!
Just as shape, consistency and timing of our bowel movements are important indicators as to the health of our digestive system, so too is the colour of our poo.
Brown, red, white or green, these colours tell us much about not only the foods that we eat, but whether you're absorbing important nutrients or have a bowel condition such as IBD, an organ dysfunction, or simply that you've really been into the kale smoothies.
So I encourage you to have more than a peek the next time you find yourself on the loo. Below I've listed seven shades you may encounter when you inspect your number two, as well as what these colours (and poo) might be trying to tell you.
1. Medium to Light Brown:
If peering into your toilet has you seeing a poo a shade of chocolate brown you're in luck: this is considered a healthy colour when it comes to your poo. Ever wonder why your poo is brown?
This is due to the release of bile from the liver and gallbladder, important for the breakdown and absorption of fat, which is then metabolized in your intestine by the bacteria normally present. This result of this metabolism is a byproduct known as stercobilin, which, in turn gives poo its brown appearance.
A shade of red may indicate you have a lower gastrointestinal bleed, but can also be from red-coloured foods (i.e. beets). If you notice this more often than not, it's important that you make an appointment with your primary health care practitioner to determine the cause.
Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis are inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) that can present with bloody or red stools, and may also be accompanied with symptoms such as cramping, bloating and diarrhea.
3. Red Streak on Toilet Paper:
If you're noticing a red streak when you wipe after a bowel movement this is typically due to a rectal bleed, associated with hemorrhoids or a fissure. Constipation is a well-known cause of hemorrhoids, the result of straining to have a bowel movement.
But before you reach for the laxative, try increasing your water intake as well as getting more fibre in your diet, such as with ground flax seeds or psyllium husks, as well as with plenty of organic fruits and vegetables. This helps to bulk up your stool, making it easy to pass.
Don't be automatically alarmed should you notice that your bowel movements are a shade of green. It could simply mean that you've been eating lots of healthy leafy vegetables.
Green, however, can also indicate that the food you've eaten has passed through the intestine faster than normal. As bile makes its way through the intestine, this green colour changes to yellow and eventually brown, as previously mentioned.
Any condition that causes diarrhea, and thus decreases bowel transit time, can result in green stool, and some examples include:
• Food poisoning
• An infection such as traveller's diarrhea
• Food allergies, sensitivities or an intolerance
• Inflammatory bowel disease
• Laxative use
A yellow appearance may indicate that you have insufficient bile output due to a blockage of your gallbladder. It may also indicate the presence of undigested fat in your bowel movements, such as with pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas), which can prohibit the absorption of fats by the body, resulting in fat-laden and pale stool. This will often be accompanied by a greasy texture and foul smell.
Giardia, a parasitic infection of the intestinal tract, is also known to cause yellow diarrhea in some individuals.
6. White, very pale or a grey clay-like:
A poo that seems to be lacking colour may also be indicative of a block in bile flow from the liver and/or gallbladder, liver disease, as well as a pancreatic disorder. A pale appearance of one's bowel movement can be due to liver conditions that impair the production of bile, such as:
• Alcoholic hepatitis
• Viral hepatitis
• Fatty liver
• Cirrhosis of the liver
The contrast agent barium sulfate used for X-ray exams and some medications containing aluminum hydroxide (antacids) may also produce white/pale-coloured stools.
7. Black and tarry or 'coffee grounds':If you've noticed that your bowel movements are very dark in appearance, or have a grainy, coffee ground look to them, this is most commonly due to an upper gastrointestinal bleed (esophagus, stomach, small intestine) when blood and bile mix to produce black.
Conditions that may produce bleeding in the upper GI track include:
• Peptic ulcers
• Esophageal varices
• Gastroesophageal reflux
Black stool can also be caused by high meat consumption, as well as iron supplementation.
Digestion is key when it comes to your health.
What we eat, how we process it, and the eventual elimination of waste products impacts every facet of our health and wellness. We might not always want to admit it, but we all take a look after we go number two, and I for one encourage it!
The appearance of your poo tell us so many things about the inner workings of your body, and if you're consistently seeing anything but brown when it comes to your bowel movements it might be time to see your health care provider.
So take a closer look (just not too close) at this healthy, hopefully everyday function, and find out just what the colour of your poo is trying to tell you.
To get your very own poo reference book, complete with cartoon drawings of the Bristol stool chart, check out www.dralisonchen.com/poobook.
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Do you ever look in the toilet before flushing? I know it sounds gross, but your poo can be the very thing that helps clue you into living a healthy, energetic and well-balanced life.
Constipation is a key sign that you are dehydrated. Make sure to drink 6-8 glasses of water a day and practice deep belly breathing while eating and on the toilet.
Avoid the urge to strain with the Torpedo Bum. This hefty poop can cause irritation to the colon and anus. Often increasing hydration, vegetables and fiber, while limiting additives and sugary foods (including wheat, starchy veg, refined sugar and other simple carbohydrates) will do the trick. Stress is also a major contributor to constipation, so take some time out of your day to meditate, deep breath, laugh and be active.
Just a little on the dry side, but this poop is pretty healthy. Just a few little cracks on its sausage shaped body mean it's well on it's way to being a Mr. Happy. Load up on your fluid intake of water, coconut water and nut milks.
Just a little bit on the wet side, the Stick-n-Slide is one that you might need to wipe a few extra times. Still considered normal and healthy, just a little bit more healthy greens and fiber might be all you need to have yourself pooping happy.
Diarrhea happens every so often and it's no big deal. Maybe you ate some spicy Thai food or left overs that sat out for too long. Make sure to take a few days to clean up your diet, hydrate well and get your rest.
Having watery diarrhea is no joke. You've eaten something that has most likely caused a whole lot of pain, discomfort and probably embarrassment. The key is to stay hydrated and rest! With more serious conditions you may need to get IV re-hydration at the hospital.
If you have trouble absorbing fats this can show up in your poo as a Greasy Floater. Not only are healthy fats critical for every cell in the body but also proper neurological and brain function. There are several vitamins that are fat soluble - vitamins A, D, E, K - and if you're having trouble absorbing fat you will also likely be deficient in these vitamins as well. Heal up your gut by watching for food allergies, intolerances and sensitivities with a Hypo-Allergenic Diet.
Do you eat at your desk? On the road? While multi-tasking? Or simply in a hurry? Digestion starts with the proper mindset. Eat to nourish your body, not just to satisfy your cravings or gurgling stomach. A healthy parasympathetic nervous system is required to break down, digest, absorb the nutrients from the food you are eating. So take a moment to relax, breath and eat mindfully. It only takes 20 minutes, so take your time.
The Pencil Poop can indicate a very serious problem, especially if there is any bright red blood or coffee ground-like reminiscence. The thin feature of this poop means that there is some obstruction pressing on the stool that is narrowing the diameter of the colon. This could be anything from a harmless polyp to an annoying hemorrhoid or enlarged prostate to a very serious condition like colon cancer. If you see the Pencil Poop make sure to visit your family doctor and get a colon screening.
This is what a perfect poop should look and feel like. A smooth sausage shaped poo that has no pain, discomfort or straining required. Depending on the amount of solid food you eat, your poop can range from 8-18 inches long and be a medium to dark brown color. If you happen to eat a lot of dark, leafy green veg, expect your poop to be a bit green. And if you've had beets recently, then a red tinge is normal. Every time you eat a meal your parasympathetic nervous system is stimulating the digestive process. It takes 24-72 hours for your food to make its way into the toilet bowl to ensure you are absorbing all the nutrients out of your meals. Remember to feed your body with lots of vegetables, fruits, lean protein, fiber, healthy fats and lots of water to continue having Mr. Happy poos. Also, breaths deeply before eating and while on the toilet, wait 20 minutes before deciding if you're still hungry and practice a healthy posture while on the toilet for an easier poop.
Get your copy of "What Your Poo Says About You" and start sharing the magic of POO. This is a 32-page easy-to-read, fun-to-share and fully illustrated cartoon rhyming book about poo... try saying that 5 times fast! This book is now available on AMAZON so get your copy today. Great for people of all ages, including: Health care practitioners Parents, Aunts, Uncles and Grandparents Teachers Bathroom enthusiasts Health advocates Get you own copy at Amazon.com and Amazon.ca now!
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