Our bowel habit provides us with detailed information about our overall health and how our body is functioning.
A healthy bowel habit inclues:
- regular defecation, that is, around once a day. If you are only passing a stool every second day or less or numerous times each day, it’s time to start thinking about regulating your bowel pattern. Both slow and rapid transit time (the amount of time food takes to travel from the mouth to the anus) can be detrimental to our health. Slow transit time can be indicative of sluggish smooth muscle function and may be accompanied by constipation. Chronic constipation increases an individual’s risk of faecal reabsorption in the colon which causes toxins to be released and reabsorbed around the body via the bloodstream. These toxins can lead to systemic inflammation, liver disorder, headaches and skin issues to name a few. They can also be responsible for aggravating pre-existing health conditions. On the other hand, if the digestive transit time is too fast, the stomach and small intestines may not be breaking the food down efficiently and have time to absorb the nutrients adequately before they are excreted by the body. This scenario brings its own problems as the body is unable to absorb nutrients and transport them to the required systems of the body which can lead to nutrient deficiencies, malabsorption and trigger systemic imbalance.
- easy passing of a stool. If you find you are often straining and it is difficult or painful to pass a stool, some changes to your diet are necessary. The stool may be dehydrated or large in volume making it difficult to pass. This is commonly seen in children and is usually quite easily rectified by some small simple changes to the diet.
- a well formed stool. The stool consistency should be formed but quite soft. If you are passing a loose, watery stool or a hard, pellety stool, it is an indication of digestive imbalance. Loose bowel motions can be symptomatic of a wide range of issues in the body and may be associated with specific disorder such as hyperthyroidism, parasites, food intolerances or anxiety. A dry hard stool may be symptomatic of nutritional deficiencies, dehydration, hypothyroidism, pregnancy or poor dietary choices.
- a feeling of complete elimination. If defecation leaves you feeling like you have only partially emptied your bowels, you may have chronically retained faeces which can impact your health. This may be caused through sluggish bowels, anatomical obstruction, inflammation of the colon or inflammatory bowel disease.
- A stool that is mid brown in colour. Unless we have eaten something that can stain the stool such as beetroot, supplemental iron, blueberries or artificial colourings, a discoloured stool may indicate something isn’t right further up the digestive tract. Issues with bile production or liver function have the ability to change the colour of the stool to a pale brown, yellow or green colour. Some medications can change the colour and the appearance of the stool.
- free from blood, mucous and undigested food particles. If the stool contains blood it is recommended you consult with your GP immediately. If the blood looks fresh (bright red in colour), it may represent the presence of internal or external
haemorrhoids, anal fissures or a small tear/abrasion. In any event, it is best to have blood in the stool checked with your GP. Mucous in the stool can indicate food allergies, sensitivities or excessive mucous production elsewhere in the body all of which should be identified and addressed. More than minimal levels of undigested food particles in the stool can be caused through food allergies and intolerances, malabsorption disorders and impaired transit time. If there are minimal food particles such as corn or tomato skin seen from time to time, there is not cause for any real concern. Unusual components seen in the stool should be further investigated and treated accordingly.
Below is the Bristol Stool Chart which gives a basic representation of the various stool categories. The ideal stool is a type 4 – a well formed smooth stool that is easy to pass, mid brown in colour and not containing substances such as mucous, blood and undigested food particles.
If you have any concerns over your bowel health or would like to work on regulating your bowel habit or optimising your digestive health, feel free to contact our Naturopath for a comprehensive consultation including comprehensive digestive stool analysis (if required).