What's your poop telling you?
Poop...its a "shitty" but important topic. It is a direct message from the body that "reports" back to you the condition of your gut, hydration, transit time and how well you are tolerating certain foods. It can also be a warning signal for disease.
Digestion and elimination is a multi layered process with many factors affecting it. Ideally - from a Functional Medicine stand point - we should eliminate our stool approximately every 24 hours - give or take 6 hours. Typically - it takes your food between 6-8 hours, on average, to pass into the large intestine where it will spend approximately the next 10 hours to several days before being eliminated by your body.
Transit time - (The time it takes from entering your mouth to exiting your body) can be varied dependent on metabolism, diet, medications, disease process, stress, speed in which you eat, how well you chew, hydration etc.
The process starts in your mouth - where chewing - with the addition of enzymes in your saliva start the process of breaking down your food. Chewing well - is very important for the digestive process as swallowing large , un-chewed particles of food will make it difficult for the stomach to adequately break down and absorb the nutrients. Chewing should take approximately 30-60 seconds - followed by a 4-8 second traverse down the esophagus to the stomach. Chewing well also signals your digestive system that food is coming - and it prepares your stomach to receive the food via increased acid and enzyme production.
Once the chewed food reaches your stomach, it grinds and churns the food, mixing it with acids and digestive enzymes for the next 2-4 hours before pushing it through to the duodenum, the beginning of the small intestine.
An Adult small intestine is approximately 20 feet long. It is where 90% of your digestion and absorption of nutrients occurs. Digestion is a two part process- "mechanical" -which involves the process of chewing, grinding, churning and mixing which takes place in the mouth and the stomach. The second part is referred to as "chemical" digestion wherein the food material is broken down to be absorbed via enzymes, and bile acids.
The remainder is then transferred to the colon where the water is absorbed and bacteria in the colon break down the remaining material to be excreted by the anus via the rectum.
According to Author Susan E Goodman in the book "The Truth about Poop", an adult human produces one ounce of poop for each 12 pounds of their body weight. Therefore, the more you weigh - the heavier your poop will be. However - keep in mind that the weight of stool comes from the combination of water, fiber and bacteria. Fiber holds a lot of water and water makes up about 75% of the weight.
With respect to transit time - some people suffer from either hyper motility - or hypomotility.
Hypermotility is when food moves too quickly through your digestive tract that can potentially lead to nutritional deficiencies due to limited absorption times. This can lead to dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, and low levels of vitamin and mineral that can affect your energy and overall health. Anything under 12 hours may indicate a malabsorption issue.
Hypermotility can be caused by medications, some supplements, bacterial overgrowth, parasitic infections, stress, the fight or flight response, and diseases such as Crohn's or Ulcerative colitis.
Hypomotility is a transit time over 24 hours. Slow transit time increases the risk of colon disease. Waste products that sit for too long in your colon create the risk of re absorption of toxins back into your system where they can irritate and cause inflammation, acne, fatigue, headaches, gas, bloating, allergies and muscle and joint pain.
Hypomotility can be caused by medications, delayed gastric emptying, bacterial overgrowth causing methane gas, disease such as Parkinson's, Crohn's and Ulcerative Colitis.
Aside from transit time, identifying your stool type via the Bristol stool chart will help you determine if you are experiencing digestive issues, require more water or fiber, or are experiencing serious health issues.
Ideally - we want to strive for type 3-4.
Constipation - causes and treatments : Lack of fiber in your diet, poor hydration, consuming a lot of dairy products, inactivity, overuse of laxatives, some medications
(narcotics, antidepressants, iron pills, antacids that contain calcium or aluminum), eating disorders, hypothyroidism, neurological conditions such as MS and Parkinson's affecting the nerves and muscles of digestive system, diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome.
To relieve constipation - drink more water, and try warm liquids - especially first thing in the morning. Add fruit and vegetables to your diet. Exercise regularly, even if its just some stretching that helps activate your intestines. Chew your food well and limit foods that cause you gas and bloating.
Loose stools - causes and treatments : Infrequent loose stools do not typically require treatment and can have causes such as dietary changes, (alcohol , rich or spicy foods, coffee, magnesium) or infections or food poisoning. Chronic loose stools can be caused by disease processes such as Crohn's, colitis, celiac disease, hyperthyroidism, bile acid malabsorption, chronic pancreatitis, cystic fibrosis, dumping syndrome. Diet and lifestyle - chronic stress, can contribute to chronic loose stools
Natural remedies for infrequent loose stools include dietary changes to avoid trigger foods, consuming high fiber foods such as vegetables and fruits, lentils and legumes, staying well hydrated and consuming a good quality probiotic .
Any prolonged episodes of loose stools greater than 1 week warrant a visit to a medical professional to determine if any disease process is present.
Also consider the color of your stool.
Being aware of your stool shape / consistency, color and transit time will help you optimize your gut health and digestion. Any deviation from the norm is indicative of something requiring attention, be it diet or lifestyle changes or a trip to your medical / healthcare provider.
Consider seeking help from a Health Coach, Dietician, Nutritionist or Health Care provider to optimize your digestion ! Sometimes it's as simple as how and when you eat, not just what you eat.
How can you test your transit time at home?
-Eat a 1/2 to 3/4 cup serving of beets or corn - take note of the date and time
-Record the date and time the corn or beets first show up in your bowel movements
-Be cognizant of your "type" on the Bristol stool chart
-Note the date and time the test foods no longer show up in your stool
* Remember that ideal digestion transit time is 12-24 hours
As with any diet and lifestyle changes , always consult your health care provider first. This blog is meant for information purposes only. and not to replace medical advice from your Health care provider.