By Dr. Mercola
The size, shape and color of your bowel movements can tell you a lot about your health. This is why you should take a minute to observe what's in the toilet bowl before flushing it away.
The "perfect" stool should be shaped like a torpedo. It should be smooth, soft and easy to pass, as opposed to small and hard (pellet-like) or overly loose.
The appearance and frequency of your stool gives you clues about how your gastrointestinal tract is functioning and can even signal serious disease processes that could be occurring, like infections, digestive problems and even cancer.
Further, making dietary changes will often lead to significant changes in your stool, which you can use as a visual tool to monitor your underlying health.
Analyze Your Stool Online Using StoolAnalyzer
Because you're living in the 21st century, it's no longer necessary to make guestimates about what type of changes you should make to improve your health and, thereby, the condition of your stool. You can instead use an online tool called StoolAnalyzer to make these suggestions for you.1
As it says on StoolAnalyzer.com, "This program is designed to help you analyze your feces and change your diet so that you can achieve the 'perfect stool.'"2 The program takes just a few minutes to complete and includes visual images to help you analyze your poop, asking questions regarding your poop's:
- Behavior (floating versus sinking)
You'll receive a score based on a 100-point scale (with 100 being a perfect score) along with dietary recommendations to improve the health of your stool.
This is not a substitute for an ongoing relationship with a holistic health care provider, but it can give you an idea of what's healthy and what's not when it comes to your stool.
The Bristol Stool Chart
Another handy tool for gauging the health of your digestive tract and stool is the Bristol Stool Chart. Like StoolAnalyzer, this chart takes into account shape and texture of your stool, as well as how difficult or easy it is to pass.
Normal stool is shown in types 3, 4 and 5, "like a sausage or a snake, smooth and soft" to "soft blobs that pass easily." Type 4, however, is ideal.3
Signs of Healthy Versus Unhealthy Stool
The next time you have a bowel movement, compare what you see in the toilet with the information in the chart below. You should be able to accurately gauge whether your stool is healthy or unhealthy.
If yours is the latter, it's time to make some dietary changes and consult with a holistic health professional to figure out what's gone awry in your digestive tract.
|Healthy Stool||Unhealthy Stool|
Healthy Stool: Medium to light brown
Unhealthy Stool: Stool that is hard to pass, painful or requires straining
Healthy Stool: Smooth and soft, formed into one long shape and not a bunch of pieces
Unhealthy Stool: Hard lumps and pieces, or mushy and watery, or even pasty and difficult to clean off
Healthy Stool: About 1 to 2 inches in diameter and up to 18 inches long
Unhealthy Stool: Narrow, pencil-like or ribbon-like stools: can indicate a bowel obstruction or tumor; narrow stools on an infrequent basis are not so concerning, but if they persist, definitely make a call to your physician
Healthy Stool: S-shaped, which comes from the shape of your lower intestine
Unhealthy Stool: Black, tarry stools or bright red stools may indicate bleeding in the GI tract; black stools can also come from certain medications, supplements or consuming black licorice.
If you have black, tarry stools, it's best to be evaluated by your health care provider
Healthy Stool: Quiet and gentle dive into the water; it should fall into the bowl with the slightest little "whoosh" sound — not a loud, wet cannonball splash that leaves your toosh in need of a shower
Unhealthy Stool: White, pale or gray stools may indicate a lack of bile, which may suggest a serious problem (hepatitis, cirrhosis, pancreatic disorders or possibly a blocked bile duct), so this warrants a call to your physician.
Antacids may also produce white stool.
Healthy Stool: Natural smell, not repulsive (I'm not saying it will smell good)
Unhealthy Stool: Yellow stools may indicate giardia infection, a gallbladder problem, or a condition known as Gilbert's syndrome. If you see this, call your doctor.
Healthy Stool: Uniform texture
Unhealthy Stool: Presence of undigested food (more of a concern if accompanied by diarrhea, weight loss or other changes in bowel habits)
Healthy Stool: Sinks slowly
Unhealthy Stool: Floaters or splashers
Unhealthy Stool: Increased mucus in stool: This can be associated with inflammatory bowel disease like Crohn's disease, or ulcerative colitis, or even colon cancer, especially if accompanied by blood or abdominal pain
Unhealthy Stool: Very bad odor: If your stool has an extraordinarily bad odor, it should not be ignored.
I am referring to an odor above and beyond the normally objectionable stool odor.
Stinky stool can be associated with a number of health problems, such as a malabsorptive disorder, Celiac disease, Crohn's disease and chronic pancreatitis.
How Often Should You Poop?
There is a wide variation in what's considered normal bowel-movement frequency. Specifically, three bowel movements per day to three per week may be normal for you, and the frequency may change from day to day or week to week. This is because many factors influence your bowel habits, including:
✓ Hormonal fluctuations
✓ Sleep patterns
What's most important is to monitor how you feel and how easily your bowel movements occur. If you're not moving your bowels often enough, you may need to push or strain, and you may feel uncomfortably bloated or gassy. When you do go, the stool may be dry and hard or pellet-like, which are signs of constipation.
Straining is not normal during a bowel movement, nor is experiencing feelings of incomplete elimination, bloating, crampiness or sluggishness after going number two. If you're over the age of 65, your risk of becoming constipated increases significantly.
Chronic, untreated constipation can lead to fecal impaction, which can be a serious medical condition. Laxatives should be avoided at all cost and used only as a last resort, not only due to the potential side effects but also because your body may become dependent on them.
Laxatives may decrease your colon's ability to contract and can even eventually damage your large intestine's nerves, muscles, and other tissues. Fortunately, although constipation is very common, it is also usually temporary and relatively easy to resolve — without resorting to laxatives — by using the natural strategies at the end of this article.
You're Probably Missing Out on These Two Pooping Principles
If you're an adult, you may think you know all there is to know about moving your bowels. However, if you live in the developed world you may be missing out on a key strategy that could make pooping much easier: squatting.
Your body is designed to eliminate while squatting, while modern-day toilets put your body in an unnatural position. Sitting on a modern toilet is designed to place your knees at a 90-degree angle to your abdomen while squatting places your knees much closer to your torso.
This changes the spatial relationships of your intestinal organs and musculature, optimizing the forces involved in defecation. Squatting straightens your rectum, relaxes your puborectalis muscle and allows for complete emptying of your cecum and appendix without straining, which prevents fecal stagnation and the accumulation of toxins in your intestinal tract.
Non-westernized societies, in which people squat, do not have the high prevalence of bowel disease seen in developed nations; in some cultures with traditional lifestyles, these diseases are uncommon or almost unknown. Special toilets and stools that get your body into a more "squatty" position can help you get closer to the ideal even if you've been sitting for decades. What's the other pooping principle you may be missing out on?
A bidet! Bidets provide superior hygiene, are gentler on your skin and are better for the environment than toilet paper; with a bidet seat, you can even install one right on your existing toilet. Bidets are common in certain parts of Europe, South America, the Middle East and Japan; they haven't caught on widely in the U.S., but their use does appear to be increasing.4
Tips to Optimize Your Bowel Movements
The strategies that follow will help to optimize your digestive health, reverse and prevent constipation and support healthy bowel movements. They're safe for children and adults alike.
✓ Remove all sources of gluten from your diet (the most common sources are wheat, barley, rye, spelt and other grains)
✓ Eat a diet that includes whole foods, rich in fresh, organic vegetables and fruits that provide good nutrients and fiber; most of your fiber should come from vegetables, not from grains
✓ Avoid artificial sweeteners, excess sugar (especially fructose), chemical additives, MSG, excessive amounts of caffeine and processed foods as they are all detrimental to your gastrointestinal (and immune) function
✓ Boost your intestinal flora by adding naturally fermented foods into your diet, such as sauerkraut, pickles and kefir (if you tolerate dairy); add a probiotic supplement if you suspect you're not getting enough beneficial bacteria from your diet alone
✓ Increase your fiber intake; good options include psyllium and freshly ground organic flax seed (shoot for about 50 grams of fiber per 1,000 calories consumed daily)
✓ Make sure you stay well hydrated with fresh, pure water
✓ Get plenty of exercise daily
✓ Avoid pharmaceutical drugs, such as painkillers like codeine or hydrocodone, which will slow your bowel function.
Antidepressants, and antibiotics can also cause a variety of GI disruptions
✓ Address emotional challenges with tools like the Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT)
✓ As mentioned, consider squatting instead of sitting to move your bowels, which has been scientifically shown to relieve constipation and hemorrhoids