Your bathroom habits may not make dinner table conversation, but understanding what your poop says about your health merits discussion. Your stool can provide important indications of how your digestive system is operating and provide cautionary signs if something is wrong. Below we’ll discuss how to assess your digestive health, and explore ways to get that “train” moving again.
Bristol Stool Scale
Maybe you have seen the scale mounted in your doctor’s office, or as a meme on Twitter. But, simply put, the Bristol Stool Scale is a comprehensive guide to help categorize your stool, in order to better understand how your GI tract is functioning.
With types 3 and 4 stool indicating normal digestive health, stools ranging above or below these numbers, show the degree that your stool may be overly hard or liquid. More water present in the stool will cause types 5–7, with type 6 and 7 classified as diarrhea. Greater water absorption from the stool will cause it to dry out, such as in stool types 1 to 3, with type 1 indicating constipation.
Constipation (Types 1–3)
If you find yourself spending an unusual amount of time trying to pass stool, the big culprits could be dehydration and your diet. Certain medications can also firm up your stool, such as Benadryl or pain-relievers like ibuprofen, which can slow the mobility of your GI tract.
Diarrhea (Types 6 & 7)
On the other hand, overly liquid stools could indicate certain underlying health conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), acute illnesses caused by a stomach virus, or food poisoning.
Signs to watch for:
Healthy stools get their brown colour due to bile salts from the liver. Being mindful of the normal colour of your stool can quickly help you notice if something is wrong, and guide you to seek medical attention if necessary.
Certain foods such as black licorice, blueberries or Pepto-bismol can cause blackening of the stool and are not a cause of concern. However, black stools can also indicate bleeding of the upper intestinal tract, such as in the stomach, which requires immediate medical attention.
Bleeding of the lower GI tract can cause your stool to be red or maroon in colour. Some conditions that can cause reddened stools include hemorrhoids, infection, and inflammatory bowel diseases. However, consuming beets and other brightly coloured foods, such as tomatoes, can also taint the stool red.
Pale — Clay colour
Pale to white coloured stool may indicate issues with the liver’s function to produce bile, or the gallbladder, which holds the bile. If bile production from the liver is stopped or blocked, the stool can appear white. Liver infection from hepatitis, for example, or gallstones, could cause this type of stool colour.
Normal stool frequency has been shown to vary from three bowel movements per day to three per week, a 2010 study found, with most people having one or more bowel movements a day. Interestingly, your gut microbiota, may also regulate your unique bowel movement frequency, according to a study by Hadizadeh et al.
Bacteria in the intestines are responsible for the normal, yet unpleasant odour of the feces. Sudden changes in the smell could indicate a recent dietary change, or may indicate an underlying health problem, such as lactose intolerance, or inflammatory bowel disease.
It is important to note that if you notice rapid changes in your bowel health, it is always recommended to seek medical care.
How to Improve Intestinal Health
Eating live-cultures found in probiotics, or in fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut or kombucha, can help ramp up the digestion process, thereby improving the breakdown of your consumed food. A 2010 study found that patients with soft stools who drank fermented milk products containing Lactobacillus casei showed significant improvement in the frequency and quality of their stool.
2. Eating more fiber
Fiber is an essential component in improving intestinal health. Fiber acts like a sponge in the digestive tract, pulling water into the feces which can reduce constipation. Female adults should aim to get at least 25 grams of fiber and 38 grams for males, in order to meet daily recommendations.
High fiber foods include:
- Pear (with skin)
- Black beans
- Steel-cut oats
- Brown rice
3. Keeping hydrated
Increasing your water intake can help keep things moving in your digestive tract.
General guidelines for total water intake (from all foods and beverages) are 2.7 litres for women and 3.7 litres for men.14 It is important to note that hydration is satisfied by consuming water, and not other drinks like cola or coffee.
Studies show that getting active helps stimulate the gut’s mobility, allowing digested foods to move through the intestines more effectively.15,16 You might consider going for a jog with a friend, taking your dog for a brisk walk, or doing yoga.