Let's talk about poop. No shame, no awkwardness, just good ol' poop talk. While it is estimated that 10-15% of Americans have some degree of irritable bowel syndrome, many people still feel silly or self-conscious about talking about their difficulties in the restroom. When your bathroom experiences are off or out of whack, your whole world can feel off. Let's look at the process of digestion, the different types of poopies there are, what they may mean for you, and how to have happy poops!
But first, a little anatomy:
The digestive system has two main functions: to convert food into nutrients your body needs, and to rid the body of waste. To do its job, the system requires the cooperation of a number of different organs throughout the body, including the mouth, stomach, intestines, liver and gallbladder.
Bowel transit time should be about 8-12 hours. An easy way to test this is to eat a good amount of beets and just wait to see how long it takes to come out.
Poop should be soft, but formed, and not overly foul smelling. Normal stools are solid, molded in the form of sausage, moist, have a brownish color, do not cause pain to go out and have no other changes, such as mucus, pus or blood.
Types 1 and 2 suggest constipation, with 3 and 4 being the ideal stools, as they are easy to defecate while not containing excess liquid, and 5, 6 and 7 tending towards diarrhea.
Very foul-smelling poop could indicate a lot of putrefaction or fermentation is present in your colon.
Let's talk about the wide range of colors you may experience with your poopies:
Here is a bit more about constipation:
Constipation is present when any of the following occur:
1. At least half (about one foot long) of the colon does not naturally empty each and every day. In other words, it does not matter if a person has one large bowel movement daily or several smaller ones. The number is less important than the fact that the colon is emptied completely of solid material.
2. The bowel transit time is greater than about 20 hours. This means that from the time one eats a meal, it passes through the entire intestinal tract in less than about 20 hours or so.
3. There are many pockets or diverticuli in the colon. Most people over age 20 have some, so this means that most adults are constipated. However, many children have them today too.
Consult with your doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms during your bowel movements:
1. You have diarrhea with pain.
2. You have constipation with pain and bloating.
3. You’re alternating between painful constipation and diarrhea.
4. There’s blood or mucus in your poop.
5. You've been getting a fever and cramping with diarrhea.
The gut-brain axis:
We understand that our Brain is like a central message center, sending and receiving chemical and electrical signals all over your body. But did you know there is an intricate network of 80-100 million neurons embedded in the gut wall; and so, it too has the ability to send messages right back to the brain, influencing our behavior and mood. It is amazing!
The gut wall also houses 70% of the cells that make up your immune system. For that fact, it is important to make note about the types of bacteria that are living in our gut. The type of bacteria in your gut can influence your stress and anxiety levels. They build and maintain your gut wall, which helps protect you from invaders that can make you sick. It does this by producing anti-microbial chemicals that defend the host against pathogens.
The biochemical signaling that takes place between the gastrointestinal tract (GI tract) and the central nervous system (CNS) is a concept that most people are not aware of, but if they recognized this amazing partnership, they may give more love to their gut by eating better.
Researching more about leaky gut syndrome may be of interest to you if you feel like your insides are just a total mess. You may also want to consider the idea of having parasites...as there are actually an alarming number of people who have them and don't even know it. More about that here.
Ways to help constipation and encourage regular awesome poopies:
1. Drink Water- this is an obvious, but some people forget to drink enough throughout the day. I love our Berkey Filter at home, which filters out fluoride and other chemicals. In stores, I love finding Mountain Valley Spring Water. Most people could use about 8-12 glasses of quality water per day. This of course depends on physical exertion, weather, body size, etc.
2. Fiber foods, cooked veggies, some Fermented Foods, Probiotic foods- sauerkraut, yogurt and kefir are good options.
* Cooked leafy greens, cooked vegetables are preferred to raw as many people can digest cooked veggies more easily than raw. I have been following a Nutritional Balancing program, where I eat mostly cooked vegetables, and I am feeling so much better. More on that in a different article...
* Chew thoroughly. This will assist in the digestive process, and allows for absorption of minerals and nutrients.
* Identity and avoid food allergens.
* Alcohol, caffeine, and refined carbohydrates, like table sugar, should be avoided, but you already knew that!
This website, The World's Healthiest Foods, gives a simple yet detailed description of the digestive system and its process.
4. Avoid Stress- easy, right! A wonderful guided meditation that is really helpful is the pushing down exercise on Dr. Wilson's website. You can create your own meditation or mindfulness program that suits you. Some people prefer journaling, talking about it with someone else, exercising, whatever flows with you.
5. Gentle exercise- walking and Tai Chi are so great for getting the blood to flow, assisting in a successful bowel movement. Move to get it moving!
6. Elevate feet, bring knees to chest, or other simple stretches or yoga.
7. Squatty Potty- I have recommended it to some of my clients, and some have purchased one, and later told me that they are going so much easier now and it is a must in their house now. It's been in my personal bathroom for years and I just love it.
8. Quality Sleep- I wrote an article about how sleep is your body's most powerful antioxidant, and it affects poopies too!
9. Relaxation Massage Therapy, of course! Helps to calm the parasympathetic nervous system. Stress is not a cause of IBS but being stressed can aggravate the condition. If you are under stress, or experience negative emotions or anxiety, you may notice that symptoms suddenly appear or get worse.
10. Self Massage- the Perineum. In a study out the University of California, 72% of people with constipation who gently pressed and massaged their perineum, which is the area between the anus and genitals, had a more successful bowel movement. This simple technique works by breaking up hard stools, relaxing muscles and stimulating nerves responsible for bowel movements, according to the study. I do not perform this massage on you, but you can try it for yourself if you wish! :)
11. Natural Calm Magnesium- This has been a wonderful addition to my routine. I love the Natural Calm powder that I mix with water and have it at night before bed time. It helps to calm my mind and body and helps to get things moving in my system so when I wake up, I have a wonderful poop!
Why is it important to observe your poopies and watch out for the health of your digestive system?
Unfortunately, each year, more than 270,000 Americans develop a cancer of the gastrointestinal tract, including cancers of the esophagus, stomach, colon and rectum. In 2009, colorectal cancer killed almost 52,000 people in the U.S., more than any other cancer except lung cancer. The digestive system is home to more cancers, and causes more cancer mortalities, than any other organ system in the body!
Give love to your body, gut, brain and whole self. You can do it! I have found that keeping a journal documenting your food and beverage intake and how your mood, body and mind feel has been helpful to notice patterns. Then you can make adjustments to better your situation.
I hope this helped to answer questions you may have had about your poops! As always, please message me with questions, comments or concerns.
Thanks, and Happy Pooping!