Proper digestion is a very important aspect of healthy living. If we are not digesting efficiently and effectively, we cannot absorb nutrients or rid the body of waste.
Our bowel movements can tell us a lot about the health of our digestive tract. Poor digestion and elimination may lead to serious diseases, such as cancer (colon, breast), anemia, rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, etc. It is also important to remember that abnormal bowel movements are not a disease, but rather a symptom of imbalance somewhere else in the body.
What is considered normal?
Often, when I ask my patients about bowel movements, the response is generally “normal” or “regular.” What we need to consider is that normal/regular for you may not be physiologically healthy or normal. A healthy bowel movement resembles the following:
- One solid long curved piece
- Medium brown colour
- No food particles, mucous or blood
- Easy to eliminate, with no pushing or straining
- Drops once it hits the water
- Occurs at least one time daily
What does it mean if your bowel movements are not “normal and healthy?”
- Straining and difficulty passing stool, even if you are going once daily
- Feeling of fullness, bloating, and incomplete voiding
- Stool may be dark brown in colour and/or resemble small pellets
- Lifestyle component: lack of fibre (vegetables, nuts, seeds) and/or water; too much animal protein; food allergies; lack of exercise; ignoring the urge “to go”; chronic laxative use
- Emotional component: holding feelings in and never expressing them; unable to “let go” of negative feelings
- Stool is not well-formed, and breaks up in the toilet
- Lighter brown in colour
- May contain food particles or mucous
- Causes: lactose intolerance; gluten intolerance; ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease; food sensitivities; medications; antibiotics; anxiety; stress
- Consequences: nutrients are not absorbed as the food moves quickly through your system; inflammation in the bowel leads to wide-spread inflammation in the body; lowered immunity
Alternating bouts of constipation and diarrhea
- Termed IBS by the medical profession (a catch-all diagnosis for “we don’t really know what’s causing it.”)
- Often related to food sensitivities and/or emotions
- High fat content in diet
- Digestive system is not breaking down or absorbing fat (could be a pancreatic or small intestine problem)
Stool that sinks rapidly
- Not enough fibre in the diet
- Bright red – originates in the large intestine or colon; often associated with hemorrhoids or anal tears (caused by or due to constipation)
- Dark red/black – originates in the stomach or small intestines; often caused by ulcers or inflammatory bowel diseases
Mucous in stool
- Intestinal inflammation
- Causes: ulcerative colitis; Crohn’s disease; food sensitivites
Pencil-thin or ribbon-like stool
- Causes: a polyp in the colon or hemorrhoid is blocking the passage of stool
- Imbalance of intestinal bacteria
- A gallbladder or liver problem (bile is not being excreted)
What can you do to encourage healthy bowel movements?
- Eat more dietary fibre found in whole foods (vegetables, whole grains, fruits.)
- Increase consumption of fermented foods to promote healthy gut bacteria (tempeh, miso, organic plain yogurt.)
- Limit caffeine and refined or fried foods.
- Drink plenty of fluids (water, herbal tea, diluted fruit juice.)
- Exercise daily (brisk walking is enough.)
- Do not eat on the go or while doing something else. Digestion occurs when we are in a relaxed state. Overstimulation will hamper digestion.
- Use the bathroom when your body tells you it is time.
- Find a healthy way to deal with stress: meditation, yoga, journaling, etc.
- If you are constipated, do not regularly use laxatives because this will train your body to rely on an outside source for stimulation and impair the innate ability to pass stool.