HEALTH: Get your digestion on track for the holidays – Part 2

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By Dr. Lydia Thurton
January 1st, 2014 Edition

What is something that we all do, but we are all shy to talk about? Bowel movements. As a naturopathic doctor, I discuss poop habits with my patients frequently. Why? It is an important indicator of overall health. Furthermore, people afflicted with either constipation or diarrhea are not happy campers and when their bowel movements are corrected back into a healthy state they experience a tremendous amount of relief.

There is a lot of controversy over what constitutes a normal stool and the frequency we should be using the washroom. Generally, I ask my patients if the stool is easy to pass and if they feel like their bowel movements are complete. Not everyone has to defecate multiple times per day, some only go three times per week and this can be normal for them. As with many factors of your health, it is important to know what is normal for you. When unexplained changes occur and persist then that warrants a trip to your health care provider to undergo further examination.

The quality of stool should be formed and pliable. Hard stool that is pebbly and fractured into many pieces is too dry and indicates that your stool is lingering around too long in your large intestine. Either more fiber or more water can usually remedy that situation. Watery or mushy stool that is difficult to clean off your bottom is also an indicator that your stool quality could use improvement. Loose stool can also be a sign of difficulty digesting lactose, gluten or artificial sweeteners.

As mentioned, your feces can be an important indicator of potentially serious health issues. Let’s discuss some things to look for. For starters, black stool that looks like coffee grounds can indicate that there is bleeding higher up in your digestive tract. This should always be followed up on with your doctor. Certain medications, like iron supplements and aspirin can cause black stool as well. Brighter blood can be a sign of a bleeding hemorrhoid or a small tear closer to the anus, usually a result of having to strain or having to pass larger, painful movements. If the bright blood persists this also warrants a check up. And lastly, narrow stool that is long and skinny can be normal, but also can be a sign of a bowel obstruction, and even colon cancer if this shape persists over the long term. Again, get checked.

Seeds and corn can be difficult to digest and can appear, in their original form, in your stool. This is normal. However, larger pieces of undigested food indicates that your body is not properly breaking down food, making it impossible to absorb nutrients from what you are consuming. This can lead to malnutrition over the long term and should be corrected. Another red flag is visible mucous in the stool. This can be an indicator of inflammation and bowel diseases. Also worth a check up with your health care provider.

While you poop will never smell like roses, very foul odorous stools can also be an indicator of bacterial infections and malabsorption diseases. If your stool has a drastically different smell than you’re used to, it is more than likely related to a food product recently eaten, however, if the odor persists, again, get a check up.

Now that you know what to look for, next week we will discuss supplements and herbs that can better your bowel movements. There is also an interesting visual, called the Bristol stool chart that can help you analyze the health of your poop. This chart is easily found on the internet. Until next week!

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