Some people are pretty shy about toilet talk, but everybody poops. It’s important to keep tabs on the toilet – a change in bowel movements can give you important indications about your overall health.
The scoop on healthy poop
A brief overview of digestion
Digestion starts before food even gets to the mouth. When we see and smell food, our digestive juices start flowing.
After food does enter the mouth, we begin to break it down by chewing – an incredibly important part of the digestive process that is within our control.
When we swallow, food goes down the esophagus and into the stomach where it combines with hydrochloric acid. Circular muscles surrounding the intestines contract and relax (a process called peristalsis), squeezing the food down into the large intestines. The main function of the large intestine is to absorb water and get rid of waste.
The purpose of bowel movements is pretty simple: get rid of anything that wasn’t absorbed from your food.
What’s considered “normal”?
- Regular bowel movements (1-3 per day)
- Minimal gas
- No bloating or pain
- No undigested food (the outer shells of corn kernels are an exception)
- Ideally types 3 or 4 on the Bristol Stool Chart (below)
- Snakelike, smooth, light to dark brown
- Should pass with ease – no straining
Bristol Stool Chart: Types of poop
Opposite ends of the spectrum
Our digestive system reacts not only to the food we eat, but also to our stress levels, medications and how much exercise we get in a day. So what’s happening at either end of the Bristol stool chart spectrum?
Your stool doesn’t have to look like types 1 or 2 on the stool chart for you to be considered constipated. If you have to strain during a bowel movement, or you’re not going at least once a day, chances are, you’re constipated.
This could be due to:
- Diet (lack of hydration and/or fibre)
- High stress levels
- A longterm reliance on laxatives
- Thyroid dysfunction
Not to worry! Here are some tips for dealing with constipation.
If you’re rushing to the washroom and seeing types 5, 6 and 7, you may not be fully absorbing your nutrients.
Some causes include:
- Food intolerances or sensitivities
- Not enough fibre
- High stress levels
- Unwanted bacteria, virus or parasite
- Irritable Bowel Disease (Crohn’s, celiac, colitis) or Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Stimulants such as caffeine from coffee, tea or energy drinks
If you’re experiencing longterm diarrhea, be sure to get in touch with your healthcare provider.
Stool colour: When to worry
Generally, stool should be brown to dark brown. When you have colourful stool, it can often be the result of something we’ve consumed in the past 24-48 hours. Beets, green leafy vegetables, food colouring or a high dose iron supplement are common suspects; but it could be a sign of something more serious.
Red or black
If you haven’t eaten beets in the last 24 hours, red and black stool can indicate blood in the digestive tract. Black stool can also be caused by a high dose iron supplement.
Yellow or pale
This could be a sign of inflammation, infection or gallbladder issues.
If kale isn’t the culprit, green stool could be the result of a new medication, unwanted bacteria or gallbladder issues.
Easy ways to stay regular
Dietary tips to keep things moving
Getting enough fibre from fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and legumes helps clean up any build up in the bowels and keeps things moving nice and smoothly.
Fermented foods like sauerkraut and cultured yogurt offer up a natural source of probiotics.
Proper hydration is important to keep the bowels healthy and regular. How much water do you need to avoid dehydration? Take your weight in pounds and divide by 2 to get the number of ounces that you should consume daily.
Take into consideration the weather and your activity levels. If it’s a hot day and you’re running a marathon, you’re going to want a few extra glasses!
Bowel-friendly lifestyle habits
- Make sure you’re thoroughly chewing your food
- Prioritize daily activity and exercise
- Manage stress
- Get an adequate amount of sleep
Supplementation: Preventative remedies
The magic of magnesium
Magnesium is involved in hundreds of reactions in the body. It plays a role in proper sleep and stress management, both of which affect our bowels.
Most importantly, the intestines undergo peristalsis; they contract and relax to keep things moving down the pipes. Adding magnesium into your routine can help to maintain proper muscle function of the intestines.
Be proactive with probiotics
There’s a whole ecosystem of trillions of microscopic bacteria living in our digestive tract. Keeping the ecosystem topped up with a dose of healthy bacteria keeps the gut feeling great.