Finding the clues to your overall health from the toilet bowl
We don’t really like to talk about it, but everyone does it. When you eat, you poop. It’s just a fact of life. But the next time you poop, you may want to sneak a peek at the toilet bowl before you flush. Sometimes looking at what you left behind will uncover clues to your overall health.
What you see: Rabbit pellet stools
What it means: If you see these sitting in your toilet, your poop is too dry. “Not enough water is being retained in the gut or things are moving too slowly,” says Dr. Jan Irvine, division head of gastroenterology at St. Michael’s Hospital. “You may need to eat more fibre.” Having more fibre in your diet will hold more water in your gut and help your stools move faster through your intestines, says Dr. Irvine.
Lisa Weeks, a naturopathic doctor in Toronto, recommends getting fibre through vegetables and fruits. Chia seeds, flax seeds, brown rice and any dark, leafy greens are also great sources. And always remember to stay hydrated by drinking lots of water. Dr. Irvine also recommends not skipping meals. “These are important things that could contribute to little rabbit-like stools.”
Toronto-based holistic nutritionist Tara Miller reminds people that fibre intake is about quality and not quantity. “I don’t think it’s good for someone to just get a big scoop of Metamucil. They are better off eating apples and vegetables or whole grains,” she says.
What it means: There is such a thing as too much fibre and it contributes to looser stools. “Fibre intake allows water to stay within your gut and it gets reabsorbed into your blood stream,” says Dr. Irvine. Too much fibre will mean too much water in your poop. Dr. Irvine considers a mushy bowel movement to be diarrhea. Most people alternate between having constipation and diarrhea, but Dr. Irvine says that 15 to 20 per cent of people with IBS will suffer from diarrhea symptoms alone. So what can you do? “If you’re eating a balanced diet low in refined grains and refined sugar, and you’re eating whole grains, fresh fruit and vegetables in every meal, you wont have an issue,” says Miller.
But if fibre isn’t the culprit, you may have a food allergy or intolerance. To determine any food sensitivities, Dr. Weeks and Miller do an “elimination diet” with their patients based on their lifestyle and family or medical background. This diet will take out all causes of allergens, such as wheat, dairy, soy, corn, sugar, alcohol and even caffeine. “Everybody’s different. Your body needs different foods then the next person,” Dr. Weeks says. An elimination diet lasts between two to four weeks while introducing a new food allergen to monitor your symptoms. “What you’re doing is trying to identify the sensitivity,” Miller says.
What you see: Hard stools
What it means: “If you eat a lot of junk foods, high fat food, pastries, desserts or carbohydrates you might get much harder stools,” says Dr. Irvine. “About 15 to 25 per cent of women have described themselves as having constipation.” If you’re leaving behind hard stools, you probably have to strain in order to go or you’re barely even going at all, Dr. Irvine says, “The usual frequency of stools that’s considered normal is somewhere between three a day and three a week.”
With constipation, Dr. Irvine recommends giving yourself the time to go in the morning. “If you’re rushing out the door with a bagel and a cup of coffee, you’re not taking the time to regulate your bowels,” Dr. Irvine says. When you eat food, there’s a reflex that goes to your brain and parts of your gut, stimulating hormones that stimulate the muscle activity in the colon. “So the most likely time people will have a bowel movement is within an hour of eating something,” she says. To help regulate your bowel movement, make sure you have magnesium. “If you are deficient in magnesium, the actual intestinal tract can tighten up,” Dr. Weeks says. Different essential fatty acids like fish oil will lubricate your intestines and make your process an easier one.Stress or lack of sleep is also a factor. “It affects the good and bad bacteria balance because the gut and the mind are so heavily connected,” says Miller. It may be the reason for your constipation or even diarrhea. “If you’re not sleeping properly, your body is burnt out and your hormones are imbalanced and it ultimately affects your digestion too,” Miller says.
What you see: Unusual colours
What it means: Before you start freaking out about the unusual colours you see, think back to a day or two of what you ate or if you’ve taken any supplements. For example, Pepto Bismol, iron supplements or multivitamins that contain iron can turn your stool into a greenish black colour. Black licorice can also alter the stool’s colour. The colours should clear up in a day or two. But if you’re having consistent black, tarry stools with a foul smell, you should see your doctor. “It could be a sign that you have a stomach ulcer or bleeding in the upper gut,” says Dr. Irvine.
You may also see the colour red, which occurs from eating beets. However, Dr. Weeks warns, “If it’s a bright red blood and you’ve been constipated, it’s most likely from hemorrhoids or on anal tear.” Before consulting your doctor, wait a few days to see if your symptoms go away.