Unless you’re the parent of a toddler who has just mastered “going potty,” poop is probably not a hot topic in your household. But the composition of what you deposit into the toilet has important implications for health. Did you know the features of fecal matter—such as the size, color, shape, odor, and consistency indicate how well the gastrointestinal (GI) tract is functioning? Those same features also provide clues about how your body is (or isn’t) faring against threats of infection and more serious diseases like celiac disease, hepatitis, urinary tract infections, malabsorption disorders, inflammatory bowel disease, pancreatitis, and cancer.
To give you an idea of what healthy, normal stool looks like, check out the Bristol Stool Chart. The healthy range for fecal matter is of a consistency that is not too hard, not too soft, and mostly solid—as opposed to lumpy, pellet-like, or liquid. Normal stool color is in the light-to-medium brown range and is not offensively odorous. Also, bowel movements (BMs) should pass easily from your body to the toilet.
5 types of Bowel Movements Requiring Medical Attention
Unless you are aware of dietary changes or a medication that could produce the following types of stool, it’s advisable to seek medical attention if you observe the following changes in BMs.
- Stool that is hard to pass, requires straining, or is accompanied by abdominal pain.
- Black, tarry stool might indicate infection or GI bleeding, while bright red stool could indicate infection and/or bleeding in the GI tract or anus. Seek immediate medical attention.
- White, pale, or grey stool could indicate problems with the liver, bile ducts, or pancreas.
- Yellow stool could indicate serious infection or gallbladder problems.
- Mucus in the stool can indicate inflammation, infection, or even cancer.
How Often Should You Go?
How frequently you have a BM is important, too. And, what’s typical for you may be different for other people in your family. BMs should be at least once daily, and can be up to 3 times daily. Your intake should be representative of your output and most people eat 3 meals a day. No matter how often you poop, you should not have to strain or experience pain while excreting. Additionally, be aware that the appearance and frequency of BMs will vary based on what’s in your diet, sleep and exercise patterns, hormonal changes, travel, stress, hydration level, medications or supplements you are taking, and exposure to toxins (from nicotine to industrial toxins).
How Low Should You Go?
There’s also evidence that the position you take to evacuate the bowels has health implications for the physical structures of the GI tract. So much so that some scientists indicate sitting to poop is a contributing factor in the development of colon and pelvic diseases. Before potty training, young children squat to poop in their diapers—they don’t sit. Yes, there’s a difference between squatting and sitting. The modern toilet places the thighs at a 90-degree angle to the abdomen, whereas squatting has a much deeper angle that gives more motility to the intestinal muscles and organs. Evacuating the bowels is much easier on the body in the squatting versus seated position. Toilet position should be a consideration for everyone over the age of five, but is especially important for the elderly, the disabled, and individuals with compromised mobility.
You can learn more about proper toilet position in
- Mercola, J. “What You See in the Toilet Can Give You Valuable Insights into Your Health.” Accessed February 2015.
- Monastyrsky, K. “Gut Sense: What Exactly Are Normal Stools?” Accessed February 2015.
- Sikirov, D. “Comparison of Straining During Defecation in Three Positions: Results and Implications for Human Health.” Abstract. Digestive Diseases and Sciences 48, no. 7 (July 2003): 1201-5.
- Step and Go. “Step and Go Ergonomically Correct Toilet Position.” Accessed February 2015.
Food for Thought
Fermenting foods on your own may seem intimidating and difficult. Here are some resources and recipes for beginners and pros alike.
Power Up your Gut with Fermented Foods
Fermented foods may be setting trends on The Huffington Post, but these nutrient-potent foods have been around for thousands of years in Japanese, Chinese, Indian, and German cultures. For people living without modern medicine and refrigeration, fermentation was a simple means of food preservation and a way to imbue foods with the health-enhancing properties of the live bacteria the gut needs to stay in balance. Fermented foods are a potent source of probiotics, which research has shown are essential to powering up the mucosal immune system in your digestive tract and producing antibodies to pathogens. Both are key to helping you maintain vibrant health.
You may not even realize just how many fermented foods you already enjoy in your diet (see list). Incorporate more of these probiotic powerhouses into meals, and put those good-for-you organisms back into action in your gut.
Fermented Foods Short List
- Cultured Dairy: Yogurt, kefir, buttermilk, sour cream, some cheeses
- Veggies: Beets, radishes, tomatoes, onions, garlic, kimchi, green beans, sauerkraut
- Condiments fermented at home or commercially: ketchup, relish, salsa, chutney
- Other: Miso, tempeh, tofu, soy sauce
Fermented Food Facts & Tips
- All fermented foods must be kept cool to maintain the live cultures.
- Food labels must be marked “fermented.”
- Fermented and “pasteurized” do not go together. Pasteurization kills live cultures.
- Pickled is not the same as fermented (unless indicated on the label). Pickled foods are soaked in vinegar or brine.
- Choose organic, non-GMO items or locally farmed products.
- Start with small servings of fermented foods, one to two times a day.
- Toss fermented veggies into salads; enjoy as a snack or as a side dish.
- Add a spoonful or two to your morning smoothie (e.g., beets, kefir).
- Chilton, S., J. Burton, and G. Reid. “Inclusion of Fermented Foods in Food Guides Around the World.” Abstract. Nutrients 7, no. 1 (January 2015): 390-404.
- The Huffington Post. Headlines on fermented food trend.
- Mercola, J. “Fermented Foods: How to ‘Culture’ Your Way to Good Health.” Accessed February 2015.
- Rawlings, D. Fermented Foods for Health: Use the Power of Probiotic Foods to Improve Your Digestion, Strengthen Your Immunity, and Prevent Illness. Fair Winds Press: 2013.
- Schwenk, D. Cultured Food for Life: How to Make and Serve Delicious Probiotic Foods for Better Health and Wellness. Hay House, Inc.: 2013.
- Williams, D. “Fermented Foods that Boost Digestive Health.” Reviewed February 6, 2014.
Kimchi (aka kimchee or gimchi) is a traditional fermented Korean main dish made of vegetables with a variety of seasonings. It is often described as spicy and sour. There are hundreds of varieties of kimchi made from napa cabbage, radish, scallion, or cucumber as a main ingredient. In traditional preparation, kimchi is fermented in jars stored underground for months.
Brine: For each cup of vegetables use 1 TBSP raw vinegar and/or fresh squeezed lemon and enough water to cover the vegetables.
Try turnips, okra, beans, eggplant, or other favorite vegetables that are in season.
- 1 daikon radish or a few red radishes, sliced into half moons
- 2 carrots, sliced into half moons
- 2 green tomatoes or tomatillos, chopped
- 1 medium onion (leeks, scallions, or shallots may be substituted, to taste)
- 6 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
- 2 medium-size chile peppers (jalapeno for mild heat, habanero for more kick), chopped
- 3 tablespoons freshly grated ginger
- 1 tablespoon any brand Himalayan pink salt
Mix all ingredients in a large bowl. “Massage” the mixture with your hands, grabbing handfuls and squeezing repeatedly until vegetables are wilted and excess water is squeezed out.
Spoon kimchi mixture into a quart-size jar with a wide mouth. Pack tightly, pressing hard until brine rises; the vegetables must be submerged to avoid mold forming. Loosely cover jar with a lid.
Allow kimchi to ferment at room temperature for about a week. Each day, press the mixture down to keep vegetables submerged in the brine. The longer it ferments, the more sour it becomes.
When kimchi has fermented to your taste, store in the refrigerator.
With 80% of your immune system located in your gut, having balanced intestinal flora is a major factor in defending your body against disease. Balanced gastrointestinal (GI) flora is critical to the functioning of the immune system, synthesis of nutrients, and detoxification. Balanced GI flora is also necessary for regular and normal bowel movements.
Flora imbalances can be caused by poor diet, illness, use of antibiotics, and stress. Symptoms can include persistent gas, bloating, constipation, or diarrhea. To maintain or rebalance GI flora, consider adding probiotics to your diet.
Probiotics are live microorganisms (in most cases, bacteria) that are similar to the beneficial microorganisms naturally found in your GI tract. The most common probiotic bacteria come from two groups, lactobacillus or bifidobacterium, although many other types of bacteria are also classified as probiotics. Scientific evidence shows these probiotics
- boost the immune system by enhancing the production of antibodies;
- support the synthesis of vitamins and other nutrients;
- relieve the effects of, and treat, intestinal illness (diarrhea, constipation, IBS);
- prevent and treat vaginal yeast infections and urinary tract infections; and
- may reduce the risk of colon or bladder cancer.
Two ways to boost healthy GI flora are to take a probiotic supplement or add probiotic-containing foods to your diet. Probiotic supplements come in liquid and capsule forms and many are sold refrigerated. Check with your doctor to be sure you select a product that meets your personal health needs. It is important to follow the storage instructions for your supplement—failure to do so could kill off the live, healthy bacteria it contains.
Probiotic-boosting foods include fermented foods and cultured dairy products. Be sure the food labels state “fermented” or, for dairy, “live and active bacterial cultures.”
- American Gastroenterological Association. “Probiotics: What They Are and What They Can Do for You.” Revised May 2013.
- Kiani, L. “Bugs in Our Gut: How Probiotics Keep Us Healthy.” Cambridge Scientific Abstracts: Discovery Guide (October 2006).
- Mayo Clinic. “Do I Need to Include Probiotics and Prebiotics in My Diet?” October 15, 2014.
The most important thing that you can do to improve and maintain your gut health is to feed the good gut bacteria, rather than the bad gut bacteria. A simple blood test can be used to determine what your food intolerances are. When a food intolerance is eaten, that food or combination of foods will feed the bad bacteria in your gut. Because the good bacteria will be unable to break it down then the food or combination of foods will decay in the intestinal tract and create a number of toxic chemicals.
Call today to schedule your blood test and make sure you’re feeding the good bacteria in your body.
Physical Signs of Digestive Disorders
Black Ridge on Nail
The black line usually usually indicate small vessel bleeding chronic hypertension, psoriasis, endocarditis, or bleeding in the prostate or within the digestive system.
The frenulum is the tissue that connects the upper lip to the upper gums. Cyst like growth on the frenulum indicates a digestive tract problem. Cyst closer to the gum refers to an issue with the colon or rectum, while a cyst closer to the lip refers to the small intestines or upper colon.
Different Formulas of Chinese Herbs
At the Portland Clinic of Holistic Health we have many tools to treat digestion including the use of different Chinese herbal formulas will aid the body by providing it with the extra the concentrates to help improve function and remove waste. They work in conjunction with your diet to ensure your body is receiving the nutrients it needs to function at its best. The herbs chosen for each formula are chosen because they all work to aid a specific section of the stomach or intestinal tract. This ensures that the digestive process goes as smoothly as possible.
Here are some examples:
Individualized Bio-Thermal Therapy® Treatments aid the body in the removal of waste from the intestinal track.
- Sine Wave- Works through the spinal nerves that control organs of digestion, specifically the liver, gallbladder, pancreas, stomach, and small intestine. Additionally, this therapy improves muscular function and chemical output of digestive enzymes.
- Diathermy- Uses radio-frequency waves to help calm the intestinal tract, often used for colitis and other forms of IBD to help soothe and relax the intestinal tract. This therapy can also locally eradicate bacterial infections that turn into gastroenteritis (stomach flu) by bringing more red and white blood cells to targeted organs.