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When we first started studying natural medicine, poo talk was – though an essential part of understanding one’s health – a squirmish topic. Too much information, nervous laughter, brushed off with vague details — that kind of thing. BUT bodily emissions are an important health topic that deserves serious attention, regardless of the “ick factor.” The shape, size, colour, whether it’s a ‘sinker or a ‘floater’ — these features can tell you a great deal about your overall health, how your gastrointestinal tract is functioning, and even give you clues about serious disease processes that could be occurring, like infections, digestive problems, and even cancer. Poo comes in just about all the colors of the rainbow… and please forgive us for using the words poo and rainbow in the same sentence.
Here is what you can tell from what floats in your toilet!
What is Normal Stool?
The Bristol Stool Chart is a handy tool that may help you learn what you’re going for. Ideally, your stool should approximate Types 3, 4 and 5, “like a sausage or a snake, smooth and soft” to “soft blobs that pass easily.” Type 4 is the Holy Grail.
- medium to light brown
- smooth and soft, formed into one long shape and not a bunch of pieces
- about 1-2 inches in diameter and up to 18 inches long
- quiet and gentle dive into the water – not a loud cannonball splash
- natural smell, not repulsive
- uniform texture
- sinks slowly
- hard to pass, painful or requires straining
- hard lumps and pieces, or mushy and watery, or even pasty and difficult to clean off
- narrow, pencil-like or ribbon stools — can indicate bowel obstruction or tumour, or worst case colon cancer
- black tarry stools or bright red stools — can indicated bleeding in the GI tract (keep in mind food eaten — beetroots can create red stools and certain medications and supplements can create black stools)
- white, pale or grey stools — may indicate lack of bile which can suggest a serious problem — always consult your doctor
- yellow stools — may indicate giardia infection, a gallbladder problem, or a condition known as Gilbert’s syndrome – if you see this, call your doctor
- undigested food
- floaters or splashers
Does Your Stool Have a Really Bad Odour?
If your stool has an extraordinarily bad odor, it should not be ignored. We’re referring to an odour above and beyond the normally objectionable stool odor. Stinky stool can be associated with a number of health problems, such as:
- A malabsorptive disorder
- Celiac disease
- Crohn’s disease
- Chronic pancreatitis
- Cystic fibrosis
Is Gas Normal?
Passing gas (flatulence) is normal. Not only is it normal, it’s a good sign that trillions of hard working gut bacteria are doing their jobs. People pass gas an average 14 times per day – anywhere from one to four pints of it!
How Often Should You Move Your Bowels?
What’s more important than frequency is the ease with which you move your bowels. If you need to push or strain, something is off – moving your bowels should take no more effort than urinating or passing gas. The thing to watch for is a sudden change in your bowel habits. Many factors can affect regularity, such as diet, travel, medications, hormonal fluctuations, sleep patterns, exercise, illness, surgery, childbirth, stress and a whole host of other things.
Constipation and Diarrhea
The average body takes between 18 and 72 hours to convert food into poo and pass it on out. When this time is significantly shortened, the result is diarrhea because your intestine doesn’t have time to absorb all of the water. Conversely, when transit time is lengthened, you may end up constipated because too much water has been absorbed, resulting in hard, dry stools.
Constipation is defined as passing hard, dry stools that you have to strain to move, and it’s typically accompanied by decreased frequency of defecation. Straining is not normal, nor are experiencing feelings of incomplete elimination, bloating, crampiness, or sluggishness after doing a number two.
Better Poo Naturally
Some gastrointestinal problems can be prevented or resolved by making simple changes to your diet and lifestyle. If you aren’t achieving poo perfection, or if you don’t feel right, then look at the following factors and consider making a few changes.
- Remove all sources of gluten from your diet (the most common sources are wheat, barley, rye, spelt and other grains)
- Eat a diet that includes whole foods, rich in fresh, organic vegetables and fruits that provide good nutrients and fiber; most of your fiber should come from vegetables, not from grains
- Avoid artificial sweeteners, excess sugar (especially fructose), chemical additives, MSG, excessive amounts of caffeine, and processed foods as they are all detrimental to your gastrointestinal (and immune) function
- Boost your intestinal flora by adding naturally fermented foods into your diet, such as sauerkraut, pickles, and kefir (if you tolerate dairy); add a probiotic supplement if you suspect you’re not getting enough beneficial bacteria from your diet alone
- Try increasing your fiber intake; good options include psyllium and freshly ground organic flax seed (shoot for 35 grams of fiber per day)
- Make sure you stay well hydrated with fresh, pure water
- Get plenty of exercise daily
- Avoid pharmaceutical drugs, such as pain killers like codeine or hydrocodone which will slow your bowel function, Antidepressants, and antibiotics can cause a variety of GI disruptions
- Consider squatting instead of sitting to move your bowels; squatting straightens your rectum, relaxes your puborectalis muscle and encourages the complete emptying of your bowel without straining, and has been scientifically shown to relieve constipation and hemorrhoids
If you are still experiencing poo abnormalities or problems with your GIT, it is worth having a consultation with your natural health practitioner.
How Can Natural Medicine Help?
1. Diagnostic methods can be carried out to determine what is going on, such as our Indicans urine test which detects bad gut bacteria levels, and our Food Detective test which can detect food intolerances to over 55 common food types.
2. Acupuncture is another key treatment option for digestive disorders. There has been extensive research on the effect of acupuncture on the digestive system, with data showing its influence on the physiology of the gastrointestinal tract, including acid secretion, motility, neurohormonal changes and changes in sensory thresholds. This means that many digestive symptoms can be treated. For example, bloating is reduced by acupuncture’s ability to increase acid secretion and improve the motility of the gastro-intestinal tract. This means food is broken down more effectively and moved through the digestive tract more efficiently.
3. Gut herbals are another key treatment tool and you can read more about them here.