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Did you know your poop can reveal a lot about your overall health? We don’t often talk about this subject because it feels uncomfortable or inappropriate, but in the world of functional medicine, it’s not only unavoidable, but so important! 80% of your immune system is located in your gut, so it’s imperative that you keep your bowels healthy and moving along consistently. Healthy poop means a healthy you!
Everything about your bowel movements can be analyzed— its color, shape, frequency. Is it soft or hard? Green or brown? Do you go once a day? Once a week? Does it float or sink? White film or oil layer? In just a few short minutes, you will have thought more about your poop than ever before. I’m also willing to bet, you’ll learn a little something new about your health too!
Healthy stool should be sausage shaped, easy to pass, and medium brown in color, a similar shade to milk chocolate.
When analyzing your bowel movements, it’s important to look for red flags, like:
These symptoms are a sure-fire sign that something is off within the body. If you notice a sudden change in your bowel movements such as persistent diarrhea, constipation, sudden changes in color or texture, talk to your doctor as it could be indicative of a deeper health issue.
If your poop is dry, hard, painful to pass, more infrequent than usual, or you’re unable to eliminate completely, you’re suffering from constipation. Constipation prevents the body from detoxing as it should. As a result, toxins are reabsorbed and recirculated into the bloodstream, leading to a host of symptoms.
Some causes of constipation include:
Oftentimes people are unaware that they’re even constipated. Even if you are going once a day, but are still suffering from abdominal discomfort, gas, and bloating, you could be having incomplete bowel movements. Which still means, you guessed it… you’re constipated. This is why it’s so important to pay close attention to the texture, consistency, and ease of your bowel movements as well as the number of times you’re going.
On the other hand, if your poop is loose and watery without any solid pieces, you’re suffering from diarrhea.This is often indicative of your body trying to expel something from your digestive system at a faster rate.
Most of the time diarrhea won’t last more than a day or so and will go away on its own. However, frequent diarrhea can be quickly dehydrating and can serve as a sign of infection.
Some causes of diarrhea include:
To help determine if your poop is healthy, I recommend using the Bristol Stool Chart, which is a thorough, but easy-to-read guide.
The Bristol Stool Chart breaks down various kinds of bowel movements, which can help identify potential imbalances or dysfunctions in the body. Type 1 is considered to be a constipated state, while Type 7 is diarrhea. Ideally, bowel movements should be somewhere in the middle— as close to Type 4 as possible.
These stools are often called “pebble poops.” This occurs when you’re very constipated. Your stools have been sitting in the large intestine and colon for a long time. While it’s in the colon, water and nutrients are stripped from the poop which causes it to harden and break. It also lacks the healthy bacteria that is typically found in healthy stools.
These stools are held together in sausage form, however are very dry and lumpy. It hasn’t spent a long enough time in the colon to break apart, however it has been in there long enough to dry out. If your poops resemble this description, you are still constipated.
Type 3 is almost there in terms of health, but not quite at its optimal form yet. These stools are even, round sausage shaped, and not difficult to pass. However the cracks on the surface indicate the stool has sat in the bowels just a bit too long before passing.
Healthy poop! This is what your stools should look and feel like if you’re going every one to two days depending on your unique digestive system and diet. This healthy poop has an optimal amount of water and nutrients.
These stools are slightly loose and could indicate a lack of fiber in your diet. When there’s too much water and not enough fiber, your poop can become a bit too soft. Type 5 isn’t soft enough to indicate diarrhea or inflammation however.
This is considered an early stage of diarrhea. The poop hasn’t spent enough time in the colon, which means it still has too much water. These stools are also often hard to control the timing of, as it passes through the intestines very quickly.
This is your classic case of diarrhea. The consistency is liquid and it passes without control. These stools have not been processed and liquid has been forced into the small intestine. This is typically due to inflammation such as bacteria or a virus.
By using the Bristol Stool Chart, you can gain a better understanding of your bowel movements and habits to best support your overall health. In a perfect world, bowel movements would feel comfortable (not painful or strenuous) and occur at least once a day around the same time without any prompting (like coffee).
Consistent poops are a sign of a well-functioning and balanced gut. Routine and rhythm is key when it comes to bowel movements. If you’re going to the restroom at the same time each day, say at 8am before you leave for work, AND your stools are consistently the same color and texture, this is huge for your gut!
The color of your stool can also reflect a lot about your health. It can indicate the speed of your digestive system, what foods and nutrients you’ve consumed, and indicate any medical issues you may be experiencing.
BROWN- This is a healthy color of stools caused by bilirubin, which is a pigment released by the breakdown of hemoglobin.
BLACK- This can be an indicator of gastrointestinal bleeding. However, your poop can also become black from certain foods or medications such as black licorice, blueberries, or iron supplements. If this is the consistent color of your poop or if it has a sticky appearance, it’s best advised to see a medical provider.
RED- Blood in your stool can cause your poop to appear red. A tiny bit of bleeding can be a result of constipation or menstruation. More than a small amount of blood can also be a sign of more serious health concerns such as hemorrhoids, intestinal bleeding or cancer.
YELLOW, WHITE, OR PALE- This indicates that the intestines didn’t properly digest and absorb fat and the stool contains too much of that fat. This could be caused by medical conditions such as an infection of the gallbladder or disease of the gut lining such as celiac or pancreatitis.
GREEN- Certain plant foods can actually cause your poop to turn green! Green stools are actually pretty common. They can also be caused by too much bile. If your poop moves through your intestines too fast, the bilirubin, which causes the brown pigment, doesn’t have time to process and your stool ends up green due to the overabundance of bile.
So, where do you fall on the Bristol stool chart AND color spectrum?
I hate to say it, but healthy bowel movements are hard to come by. Gut dysfunction and digestive distress is more common than not, and while many of us are working to change this, there are ways to help you get back on track to being “regular” that you can start right now. If you experience chronic constipation or loose stools, it’s important to look for the underlying cause. Here are some good places to begin:
Gut imbalances occur in the form of dysbiosis or infection. You can use a GI Map Stool Test to get a close-up look at your gut microbiome and address any imbalances. This is what I personally use with clients because it is the most accurate way to detect where gut and autoimmune imbalances are originating. If your stool is off in color, texture, or in frequency, I can almost guarantee the balance of gut bacteria in your microbiome is off as well. Identifying those imbalances is the best way to get to the source of the problem. Rather than working from the symptom (irregular or unhealthy bowel movements) to narrow down the source, we identify, work from, and heal the source (specific gut imbalances) in order to address the symptom.
Food sensitivities and intolerances create more stress on the body, especially in the gut. This often leads to bloating, diarrhea, or constipation. When a food sensitivity is present, the immune system reacts to the proteins in the food that release chemicals called mediators, which causes inflammation. When a food intolerance is present, as the food is consumed, it isn’t digested properly and begins to ferment inside the gut. Eating foods you’re either sensitive or intolerant to can definitely lead to either loose or strained stools.
By removing these foods, you can reduce inflammation and allow your gut to heal. A healed gut leads to healthy bowel movements. When you first detect intestinal permeability in your microbiome (AKA leaky gut), there’s usually a longer list of food sensitivities that are best to avoid. These foods can even be healthy foods too— such as fruits, vegetables, seafood, or lean meat. But once these you heal the gut the right way, these sensitivities improve and often reverse!
Fiber is a necessary nutrient for healthy bowel movements. It’s the part of whole plant foods that your body can’t digest or absorb. Instead, it passes through your stomach, small intestine, colon, and out of your body. It absorbs water, increases the bulk of your stool, and speeds up movement through the intestine. Too little fiber can lead to constipation, which allows toxins to be re-absorbed into your bloodstream, causing inflammation.
Unfortunately, most Americans do not consume enough fiber daily. To reach your daily fiber goal, eat plenty of fiber-rich foods, like flaxseeds, chia seeds, and seasonal fruits and veggies like leafy greens, root vegetables, and squash. It’s also important to make sure you’re getting a variety of fiber. If you feed your gut with more diversity, it fuels diverse bacteria, leading to a more balanced and healthy microbiome.
Prebiotic resistant starch actually FEEDS the good bacteria in your gut! In order for the good gut bugs in your microbiome to thrive, they need food too! This is why incorporating resistant starch in your diet is so important when it comes to keeping your digestive system working properly. It’s necessary for a healthy gut microbiome and helps regulate bowel movements.
Resistant starch functions similarly to fiber, as part of it passes through your digestive tract unchanged. Your body isn’t able to digest resistant starch but the enzymes in your gut bacteria can, which is what makes it such an amazing food source for those good gut bugs. You can find resistant starch (also known as prebiotics) naturally occurring in foods like green bananas or plantains, cooked and cooled potatoes, or soaked white rice and beans.
Most of us are deficient in magnesium, which helps to explain the chronic occurrence of constipation today. An estimated 50% of Americans consume less than the average requirement for magnesium and on top of that, stress, alcohol, processed foods, and antibiotics deplete our magnesium stores. This is why I personally take magnesium supplements and recommend them to my clients.
Magnesium actually relaxes the muscles of the digestive tract and pulls water into the intestine, making your stool softer and easier to pass. Of all the forms of magnesium, glycinate is the most helpful in regulating bowel movements. This is because it uses an amino acid glycine, which allows more magnesium to be absorbed into the body. Metagenics Mag Glycinate is my personal favorite!
In short, your poop holds a ton of insight into your overall health and the health of your microbiome. It’s a reliable indicator of what might be going on in your gut. Poop is no longer an avoided topic or the punchline of a joke, but rather a valuable window into your health. If you’re struggling to regulate your bowel movements on your own, I encourage you to seek out help. After all, experiencing irregular and unhealthy bowel movements is a sign of imbalance or dysfunction, which should be addressed as soon as possible. To learn more about how my approach as a functional medicine registered dietitian can help you heal your gut, check out the programs tab above!
"When it comes to balancing our body, healing the gut, reversing autoimmunity, and achieving optimal health—we are a lot like a car that won’t run right. In order to fix the problem once and for all instead of relying on jumper cables, we must get underneath the hood, run the diagnostics, and replace the battery so that it runs good as new."
-Nikki Yelton, RD
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