It's been said that your bowel movements are like a crystal ball into the state of your health. If you’d like to be able to read yours, here are a few insights courtesy of nutritionist Michele Chevally Hedge and gastroenterologist Anish Sheth, co-author of What’s Your Poo Telling You?
What’s the difference between irregular and constipated?
It’s all down to what’s normal for you. While the popular wisdom is that everyone should go twice a day, some people only go twice a week. People with slow metabolisms also tend to have slow bowel movements. The important thing is to note your normal and then note changes. Some changes such as frequency or consistency are down to age, diet, medications or lifestyle. Others may be cause for concern.
Does it smell bad?
The healthier a person’s digestion, the less strain and the less smell. A low-sugar, high-fibre diet should keep stools relatively smell-free. If you suspect fruit is the problem, choose low-sugar fruits such as apples, pears and berries, and eat fruit away from main meals. Eating lots of red meat can cause stools to smell particularly rancid.
Does it contain mucus?
That’s often a sign of candida or thrush. Try building up good gut bacteria by cutting down on sugar and increasing the probiotic content of your food. Try a good quality yoghurt, sauerkraut, tempeh, miso and kefir. A good probiotic supplement can also help.
Are your stools pale coloured?
Light-coloured stools may indicate some disruption with your liver, gallbladder, bile or some medications. Bile is a digestive fluid produced by the liver and stored in our gallbladder. Stools get their normal brownish colour from bile which is excreted from the liver into the small intestines during the digestive process. Consider cutting back on excess alcohol, high-fat and highly processed foods and see your GP.
Are your stools dark or streaked with blood?
Any sign of blood in stools and you should see your GP. It could be a haemorrhoid but it’s essential to eliminate other causes such as bowel cancer, Crohn’s disease or stomach ulcers. Some red foods such as beetroot can also cause a change in stool colour, as can iron supplements.
Why does travel affect bowel movements?
We all have our own comfort time for moving our bowels and the change of time zones, environment, familiar toilet, food and drinking patterns can all upset our systems.
Do you produce skinny bowel movements?
See your GP for a colonoscopy if your stools are becoming thinner over several weeks. It can be a sign of rectal cancer.
Do your stools sink?
Ideally, a stool should half float, half sink. If it sinks quickly and completely, it may indicate some impaction in the colon due to longer transit time. Eat more fibre and wholefoods and make sure you stay well hydrated.
Why does exercise help bowel movements?
Exercise increases our metabolism and decreases the time it takes food to move through the large intestine. It also helps the natural contraction of intestinal muscles that contract efficiently to move stools out quickly.
Find more bowel movement tips in the August issue of Good Health magazine or subscribe at magshop.co.nz.