Let’s talk about poop
Unfortunately, our society finds it embarrassing to talk about a basic and very important physiological need like this. However, knowing about your bowel movement and how your stool looks is the best, simplest, and cheapest health indicator. So don’t be embarrassed, examine your stool! There is a strong correlation between poop and health.
My Poop Story
During my teenage years and until my late twenties I was constantly constipated. I remember lingering in the bathroom and ending up bleeding from how hard and big my poop would get. On several occasions, I even clogged the toilet by the wide shape and the hard consistency. On one occasion I decided I needed help and started taking a homeopathic laxative medication, how crazy is that? Needless to say, I ate very badly and drank very little water at that time. I am living proof that the human body is resilient and recovers very quickly.
Poop is still Taboo
As a good well-educated girl, I grew up not talking about this subject and not knowing that it was even important. After all, girls are not allowed to fart, let alone talk about poop! Well, it wasn’t until much later, in my early thirties after I started eating better, that I was able to get decent bowel movements. Currently, it’s like clockwork! I poop 2-3 times a day! To be quite honest there is no better sensation of cleanliness and accomplishment than the one I have when my poop is big and goes out with minimal effort. As a person that knows the other side this is quite an accomplishment.
Constipation and Mood
Think of it this way, if we don’t poop we stay full of feces, or shit. It literately means that we are not functioning properly. The gut is an organ that affects cognitive ability, immunity, and mood. This is all backed up by science and proven by several bodies of research including some from Harvard Medical School.
Poop is the body’s way of eliminating solid waste. Feces, or fecal matter, is made up of water, proteins, fats, polysaccharides, bacterial biomass, ash, and undigested waste (such as insoluble fiber). A normal poop contains about 75% water and 25% solids.
However, some people’s are quite hard (as was mine) and contain much less water than 75%. This may be related to slow transit in the GI tract. When fecal matter moves through the colon slowly, water continues to be absorbed, as this is one of the colon’s main roles. Then the stool becomes way too dry and hard. In other cases, hard poop may be due to a low-fiber diet. The fiber in the stool acts like a sponge attracting water to the colon. Both fiber and water add bulk to the poop.
Constipation and Diseases
Several studies show the correlation between constipation and oxidative stress. When we eliminate waste regularly, we decrease oxidative stress in the body. Not pooping often enough seems to increase the risk of several chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease and some cancers. When you are constipated, the contact time between the waste and the intestinal wall is longer, which can lead to the formation and absorption of fecal mutagens – substances that cause DNA changes and cancer. For example, the correlation between constipation and breast cancer has been observed since the 1980s.
Women seem to Suffer More
Pooping is important for everyone, but male and female bodies handle poop a little differently. The female colons are longer because the reproductive organs in women take up more space than the equivalent in men. Therefore, the path of food between the mouth and the anus takes longer in women, which is why women suffer from gastrointestinal discomfort more often than men.
As the poop moves through the colon, water and the other components are reabsorbed by the body. If the process takes too long, it can cause reabsorption of toxins and even hormonal imbalance. Excess estrogen and other hormones are discarded through the stool and can also be reabsorbed, disrupting the balance.
Correlation Poop and Health
Your poop says a lot about your health. A few decades ago, a doctor named Bristol realized this. After lots of research, he created a scale named the Bristol Scale (of course!), which has seven different types of poop and what each one means. Without going into greater detail, what matters is that your feces are soft, expelled without great effort, in a sausage shape, without buds, and with a brownish coloration. Any other color is a sign of some malfunction. Yellowish, reddish, greenish, gray, all these colors are symptoms of dysfunctions. The amount is unimportant as long as you feel empty or relieved.
How much is healthy?
The frequency will vary greatly from person to person, depending on gender, age, and the amounts of fiber and water in one’s diet. But be aware, three or more days without going to the bathroom is a warning sign. Hippocrates, the founder of Western medicine, said the ideal would be to have 2 to 3 bowel movements a day. Which corresponds to the number of meals a day – what goes in comes out. Like me, this is the pattern of people who eat a plant-based diet.
How to Improve Constipation
First of all, the simplest trick, drink more water! Then increase your fiber intake. Fruits, vegetables, and legumes are rich in natural fiber, the best possible kind. Physical activity is also super important to activate the digestive system. Just walking makes a damn good. Another tip is to avoid medications, especially antibiotics since they are harmful to the microbiome. Another good tip is to try a bathroom footstool under your feet, such as the Squatty Potty, to shift your body into a posture that’s more conducive to pooping. Our ancestors squatted on the ground before people invented more “civilized” devices.
Foods for a Healthy Poop
According to Ocean Robins’ research reported on The Food Revolution Network blog, the top 13 foods that will help reverse constipation are apples, chia seeds, flaxseeds, plums, legumes (beans, lentils, chickpeas), bananas, artichokes, kiwis, oats, pears, pumpkin, leafy greens, and mushrooms. All of these are excellent prebiotics — or foods that feed the microbiome. They are rich in fiber and magnesium – which, among other things, is a natural laxative.
I don’t know if we’ll ever end the embarrassment, but we need to break the taboos little by little and I believe that talking about poop is a good start.
Remember: Good is what makes you feel well.
Read more about the importance of hydration in my blog Hydration: Key to good health.