Unless you’re the parent of a toddler who has just mastered “going potty,” poop is probably not a hot topic in your household. But the composition of what you deposit into the toilet has important implications for health. Did you know the features of fecal matter—such as the size, color, shape, odor, and consistency indicate how well the gastrointestinal (GI) tract is functioning? Those same features also provide clues about how your body is (or isn’t) faring against threats of infection and more serious diseases like celiac disease, hepatitis, urinary tract infections, malabsorption disorders, inflammatory bowel disease, pancreatitis, and cancer.
To give you an idea of what healthy, normal stool looks like, check out the Bristol Stool Chart. The healthy range for fecal matter is of a consistency that is not too hard, not too soft, and mostly solid—as opposed to lumpy, pellet-like, or liquid. Normal stool color is in the light-to-medium brown range and is not offensively odorous. Also, bowel movements (BMs) should pass easily from your body to the toilet.
Unless you are aware of dietary changes or a medication that could produce the following types of stool, it’s advisable to seek medical attention if you observe the following changes in BMs.
1. Stool that is hard to pass, requires straining, or is accompanied by abdominal pain.
2. Black, tarry stool might indicate infection or GI bleeding, while bright red stool could indicate infection and/or bleeding in the GI tract or anus. Seek immediate medical attention.
3. White, pale, or grey stool could indicate problems with the liver, bile ducts, or pancreas.
4. Yellow stool could indicate serious infection or gallbladder problems.
5. Mucus in the stool can indicate inflammation, infection, or even cancer.
How frequently you have a BM is important, too. And, what’s typical for you may be different for other people in your family. For most people, three weekly BMs are considered the norm. No matter how often you poop, you should not have to strain or experience pain while excreting. Additionally, be aware that the appearance and frequency of BMs will vary based on what’s in your diet, sleep and exercise patterns, hormonal changes, travel, stress, hydration level, medications or supplements you are taking, and exposure to toxins (from nicotine to industrial toxins).
There’s also evidence that the position you take to evacuate the bowels has health implications for the physical structures of the GI tract. So much so that some scientists indicate sitting to poop is a contributing factor in the development of colon and pelvic diseases. Before potty training, young children squat to poop in their diapers—they don’t sit. Yes, there’s a difference between squatting and sitting. The modern toilet places the thighs at a 90-degree angle to the abdomen, whereas squatting has a much deeper angle that gives more motility to the intestinal muscles and organs. Evacuating the bowels is much easier on the body in the squatting versus seated position. Toilet position should be a consideration for everyone over the age of five, but is especially important for the elderly, the disabled, and individuals with compromised mobility.
You can learn more about proper toilet position in this video:
Fermented foods may be setting trends on The Huffington Post, but these nutrient-potent foods have been around for thousands of years in Japanese, Chinese, Indian, and German cultures. For people living without modern medicine and refrigeration, fermentation was a simple means of food preservation and a way to imbue foods with the health-enhancing properties of the live bacteria the gut needs to stay in balance. Fermented foods are a potent source of probiotics, which research has shown are essential to powering up the mucosal immune system in your digestive tract and producing antibodies to pathogens. Both are key to helping you maintain vibrant health.
You may not even realize just how many fermented foods you already enjoy in your diet (see list). Incorporate more of these probiotic powerhouses into your meals, and put those good-for-you organisms back into action in your gut.
• Cultured Dairy: Yogurt and kefir
• Veggies: Beets, radishes, tomatoes, onions, garlic, kimchi, green beans, sauerkraut
• Condiments fermented at home: homemade ketchup, relish, salsa, chutney
• Other: organic Miso, tempeh, tofu, soy sauce
• All fermented foods must be kept cool to maintain the live cultures.
• Food labels must be marked “fermented.”
• Fermented and “pasteurized” do not go together. Pasteurization kills live cultures.
• Pickled is not the same as fermented (unless indicated on the label). Pickled foods are soaked in vinegar or brine.
• Choose organic, non-GMO items or locally farmed products
• Start with small servings of fermented foods, one to two times a day
• Toss fermented veggies into salads; enjoy as a snack or as a side dish
• Add a spoonful or two to your morning smoothie (e.g., beets, kefir)
Kimchi (aka kimchee or gimchi) is a traditional fermented Korean main dish made of vegetables with a variety of seasonings. It is often described as spicy and sour. There are hundreds of varieties of kimchi made from napa cabbage, radish, scallion, or cucumber as a main ingredient. In traditional preparation, kimchi is fermented in jars stored underground for months.
Try turnips, okra, beans, eggplant, or other favorite vegetables that are in season.
1 daikon radish or a few red radishes, sliced into half moons
2 carrots, sliced into half moons
2 green tomatoes or tomatillos, chopped
1 medium onion (leeks, scallions, or shallots may be substituted, to taste)
6 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
2 medium-size chili peppers (jalapeno for mild heat, habanero for more kick), chopped
3 tablespoons freshly grated ginger
1 tablespoon any brand Himalayan pink salt
Mix all ingredients in a large bowl. “Massage” the mixture with your hands, grabbing handfuls and squeezing repeatedly until vegetables are wilted and excess water is squeezed out. Spoon kimchi mixture into a quart-size jar with a wide mouth. Pack tightly, pressing hard until brine rises; the vegetables must be submerged to avoid mold forming. Loosely cover jar with a lid. Allow kimchi to ferment at room temperature for about a week. Each day, press the mixture down to keep vegetables submerged in the brine. The longer it ferments, the more sour it becomes. When kimchi has fermented to your taste, store in the refrigerator.
With 80% of your immune system located in your gut, having balanced intestinal flora is a major factor in defending your body against disease. Balanced gastrointestinal (GI) flora is critical to the functioning of the immune system, synthesis of nutrients, and detoxification. Balanced GI flora is also necessary for regular and normal bowel movements.
Flora imbalances can be caused by poor diet, illness, use of antibiotics, and stress. Symptoms can include persistent gas, bloating, constipation, or diarrhea. To maintain or rebalance GI flora, consider adding probiotics to your diet.
Probiotics are live microorganisms (in most cases, bacteria) that are similar to the beneficial microorganisms naturally found in your GI tract. The most common probiotic bacteria come from two groups, lactobacillus or bifidobacterium, although many other types of bacteria are also classified as probiotics.
Two ways to boost healthy GI flora are to take a probiotic supplement or add probiotic-containing foods to your diet. Probiotic supplements come in liquid and capsule forms and many are sold refrigerated. Check with your doctor to be sure you select a product that meets your personal health needs. It is important to follow the storage instructions for your supplement—failure to do so could kill off the live, healthy bacteria it contains.
Probiotic-boosting foods include fermented foods and cultured dairy products. Be sure the food labels state “fermented” or, for dairy, “live and active bacterial cultures.”
Constipation and improper elimination seem to be at an all-time high in many societies today. As a result, people looking for natural solutions may turn to ongoing magnesium supplementation; foods known to move the bowels, such as prunes; and herbs, such as cascara and senna. There are some potential harmful effects of using cascara and senna on an ongoing basis, as they do not address the cause of constipation. Considered "natural laxatives," they can create dependency and disrupt peristalsis (the natural contractions of the bowel).
Instead, an herbal formula that can be very helpful to relieve constipation and restore normal bowel function over time is Triphala. This is a formula made of three herbs: Amalaki (Emblica officinalis), Bibhitaki (Terminalia bellirica), and Haritaki (Terminalia chebula). High in vitamin C, linoleic oil, and other nutrients, Triphala offers nutritional benefits, as well as blood and liver cleansing actions. It contains some anthraquinones that help to stimulate bile flow and peristalsis. Scientific research and clinical reports demonstrate Triphala to be an effective blood purifier that stimulates bile secretion as it detoxifies the liver, helps digestion and assimilation, and significantly reduces serum cholesterol and lipid levels throughout the body. As a result, it is regarded as a kind of universal panacea and is one of the most commonly prescribed herbal formulas in India.
As always, addressing the root cause of improper elimination is first and foremost. So, before starting on any substance or formula, discuss the best strategy for you with your doctor or qualified healthcare practitioner.
Colonic irrigation, also known as “colon hydrotherapy,” is the use of clean, temperature- and pressure-regulated water to flush out the lower intestines. This gentle flushing can aid in the elimination of toxin-containing waste in the colon, and relieve constipation by reestablishing regular bowel movements.
While the use of enemas is ancient, this particular therapy dates back to the early 1900s and has a long history of clinical evidence from physicians who routinely saw the difference it made in their patients' symptoms. It is also surrounded in controversy, as many alternative healers make wild and fantastical claims of its benefits.
Colon hydrotherapy is so gentle and effective that it is frequently used as an alternative to oral laxatives before a colonoscopy. In addition, this therapy is used to treat people who suffer from fecal incontinence, children with chronic constipation, and those diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Finally, it is used to relieve the multitude of physical and emotional symptoms that frequently accompany chronic constipation, poor elimination, and various bowel diseases such as IBS.
As with any health procedure, it is important to work with a trained and certified colon hydrotherapist. When this procedure is done by a trained professional with proper equipment, the rate of adverse reactions is extremely low. This is a helpful and scientifically supported therapy used by all different types of physicians around the world.
Find a certified therapist here.
The information offered by this newsletter is presented for educational purposes. Nothing contained within should be construed as nor is intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment. This information should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider. Always consult with your physician or other qualified health care provider before embarking on a new treatment, diet or fitness program. You should never disregard medical advice or delay in seeking it because of any information contained within this newsletter.