Quite often in clinic I spend time asking and talking about my patient’s poo! Many people squirm in their seats and apologise about this conversation, but this is so important! It says a lot about the person’s digestion and health. If you find that you never look in the toilet, it’s probably time you started having a second glance. The stool is made up of water (75%), bacteria, fibre, dead tissues and other waste material and the way it looks can tell you a lot about what’s going on inside your body.
The stool can shed light on a person’s intestinal health, electrolyte and hydration status, fibre intake, overall dietary intake, bacterial health, iron status, liver health and bile production, how well a person is digesting their food and it can also highlight simple things like poor chewing and stress. This is a subject that never phases me, is very normal and we all do it.
In rural areas in Africa the average person’s stool motion per day was 2 cups versus a standard American’s at 1/2 cup per day! Plus the stool transit time for the westerner was more than double.
The larger and fatter the stool the better! The easier it is the pass the better! The stool must not be too soft or too hard, too light or too dark, it should have a medium brown colour. It is ideal to empty your bowels daily and even twice daily with the sensation of feeling completely empty effortlessly.
Did you know that there is a relationship between slow bowels with lack of complete emptying and depression? Surprising? But we make so much of our serotonin in our digestive systems and an unhealthy gut creates an environment for an unhealthy mood.
What your poo says about your digestion and health!
- Undigested food – This can mean that you are eating in a stressed state or environment and/or you are not chewing your food properly therefore your food is not being able to be digested adequately. Undigested food can also indicate lack of digestive enzyme production and hydrochloric acid (Hcl). It is important to chew your food well and eat in a stress-free environment with little distractions. To improve digestive acids and enzymes including lemon in warm water and apple cider vinegar. Consume papaya, pineapple and kiwi fruit and other raw fruits and vegetables for their naturally occurring enzymes.
- Light coloured stools (pale, clay or grey) – this can mean that you may have low iron levels, fat malabsorption or poor bile production and in some cases it can be a sign of liver disease. So if this one persists it would be highly recommended to see your doctor.
You can improve your iron status with plenty of dark green leafy vegetables in your juice. Liver and bile production can also be supported with liver loving foods such as cabbage and onion family vegetables with lots and lots of vegetables/juices daily.
- Thin stools – lack of fibre and adequate bowel emptying. Increase your fibre intake with extra servings of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds and plenty of hydration.
- Dry pebble like stools – this is constipation. This can be caused from lack of fibre, hydration, exercise, stress, food intolerances, food allergies and/or IBS. Tips above will improve the dry stool along with adequate exercise and relaxation techniques. Probiotic foods and/or supplements are also very beneficial for improving stool regularity.
- Watery soft unformed stools – This is caused from irritation and digestive inflammation. Food intolerances or allergies, gastro-intestinal infections, IBS, stress, inflammatory bowel disease and other disorders. If the stool is very watery there will be loss of electrolyte leaving a person feeling fatigued and lethargic. A high electrolyte juice and/or a coconut water can help hydrate you quickly. Investigate food allergies if you feel that this may be the issue and/or see your doctor is this persists. Here is more on what to do for diarrhoea.
- Dark stools– this can indicate plenty of dark greens in the diet, lack of hydration, iron supplements or a more serious problem and it might be a good idea to see your doctor.
- Bright red stool or colouration – this can be an indication of anal fissures, haemorrhoids or beet juice. Beet juice has had many a person jump off the toilet in a panic but be assured this is normal for many folk. If the stool or water in the toilet bowl has some bright red blood and you haven’t had beets then it may be advisable to have a checkup!
- Mucus – if you see any mucus or phlegm like substances in the toilet or on the toilet paper it may indication gastro-intestinal inflammation. This is also something to speak to your doctor about.
- Should it float or sink – this is a common question but the most preferable one is the floater which indicates plenty of fibre thus allowing the float! If yours is sinking try adding in extra fibre such as chia, flaxseeds and more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and other seeds!
- Painful to pass stool – this can indicate inflammation, constipation, haemorrhoids, fissures, food intolerances or allergies.
- Greasy stool or stools that skid the toilet bowl – this can indicate fat malabsorption which means that you may not be producing adequate bile which means the fat in the diet has not been adequately broken down and remains in the stool and down the toilet. To improve bile production see tips below.
- Foul smelling stool – undigested food, fat malabsorption and fast transit time which can be caused from inflammation and poor digestion, poor bile production and liver health, stress and lack of good bacteria.
Other helpful tips for a great poo!
When sitting on the toilet remember to relax, breathe deeply to allow the bowel to relax, and never push! Also remember not to sweat the small stuff too much as anxiety and stress play such a role in poor digestion and poor bowel habits.
Liver and bile production can be improved by including lemon or apple cider vinegar in warm water sipped slowly before meals. This will improve your digestive acids and enzyme production due to the acetic acid and citric acid content. Include bitter foods to stimulate healthy bile production such as endive, radicchio, chicory (witlof), bitter melons, limes, beetroot leaves, collard greens, watercress, rocket (arugula), dandelion leaves and olives.
If you suspect you may have food intolerances a reboot can help to identify any possible allergens. Here is more on the Reboot as an Elimination diet.
If you are worried or have any concerns about your bowels or health it is always best and highly recommended to have a check-up with your doctor.