What Your Stool Says About Your Health – Decoding Your Bowel Movements

Bowel movements are your body’s efficient and, quite honestly, impressively sophisticated way of removing waste and unusable food materials. Every single person you come across today has had a bowel movement sometime in the last few days.  Instead of being ashamed of normal bodily functions, we should take a moment to appreciate our bodies for being so wonderfully crafted!

While I don’t think every bowel movement deserves it’s own Tweet, FaceBook status, or Instagram declaration there would be no harm in becoming more open about them in general. The true shame would be in missing major clues about possible health conditions that your body is trying to communicate to you through your stool because you are too concerned about embarrassment to reach out for answers. Please keep reading for information on what is normal and what could be a red flag waiting to be discovered in your toilet bowl.

Shape/Consistency

Types 1-2Dehydration & Constipation
This could be indicative of constipation related to dehydration. Having bowel movements that are separate lumps or are long and lumpy indicate the stool is remaining in your large intestine too long, allowing too much water to be absorbed back into the body and making it harder to pass (think about how difficult it is to be wet and go down a dry water slide…)
Consider how much fiber is being eaten (25-30 grams/day recommended) and the possibility that a sudden and severe spike in fiber intake could be the culprit, and make sure to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! 💦
Types 3-4Normal! 
Unbroken and smooth, the stool is moving through your intestines in a good amount of time, has enough fluid, and is a good consistency. The stool may have cracks on the surface which is typically, as long as it is not formed around many large lumps (such as in Type 2)
Type 5: Lacking fiber
This type of stool should be passed without difficulty and appear as separate, distinct pieces. Although not ideal, this does not pose an immediate health concern. Try getting more fiber into your diet. Again, 25-30g/day is the recommended amount. There are two types of fiber: soluble & insoluble. Soluble fibers will form gel-like substances (like in your oatmeal) and insoluble fibers, like cellulose, are often found in ‘crunchy’ vegetables and fruits (broccoli, apples, carrots, etc.)
Types 6-7: Mild to Severe Diarrhea
Type 6 diarrhea may appear “fluffy” or seem to “float” in the water of the toilet bowl. This tells us that there is too much fluid and not enough solid material in the stool. While the term “diarrhea” is often used to describe one loose stool, bowel movements are considered to be diarrhea by definition when they number three or more loose bowel movements in a day and last for up to 2 weeks. Chronic or persistent diarrhea persists for greater than 14 days. Viral or bacteria infections are most commonly the causes of such ailments. Diarrhea could also indicate a sudden osmotic shift in the bowels due to increased sugar intake. Try cutting out excessive sugar or laxatives from the diet and make sure to take care of this problem as quickly as possible. As well as quickly ridding the body of vital hydration, diarrhea can also cause the intestines to be dumping food before the valuable nutrients are collected and can result in deficiencies over time.

The presence of “fluffy”, poorly formed stools that also presents with symptoms such as fatigue, brain fog, general indigestion, and most tellingly a white coating over the tongue could be pointing to a candida (yeast) overgrowth in the body. Consider adding a probiotic and fermented foods into the diet and consult with a medical professional about fecal testing for yeast. If the presence is strong enough it may warrant natural or prescription anti-fungals.

Color
Brown / Green – you are good to go! The bile in your stool will effect the shade of your stool as will the content of your diet (dyes in food or naturally green colored vegetables) can affect stool color as well. 
Black While black stool may a result of dark food (i.e. Oreos) or Pepto Bismol, it could also result from an unusually high amount of iron in the diet. Watch out for this sign especially if you are taking iron supplements and consult a practitioner right away. Dark reddish-black stool could indicate old blood in the stool. This should be assessed by a medical practitioner immediately as well. 
Yellow – This could indicate a bile shortage. Bile is produced by the gallbladder and aids in fat absorption and it is what gives stool its normal brown or green color. The bile shortage could be because the gallbladder is not producing enough, or possibly there is too much fat being consumed for the gallbladder to keep up with. 
Grey – This grey color may be the result of blood further up in the intestinal tract so that the red color has turned dark along the digestive process. See a practitioner to determine the cause. 
Red – This could be caused by bright red dyes or could be the result of blood closer to the rectum in the digestive tract that still presents as bright red in the stool. If this condition persists even when red dyed food is not consumed see a practitioner. 

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Frequency
This may be the hardest category to give metrics of “normal to abnormal” since the expected frequency of bowel movements depends on so many factors. An individual’s size, dietary habits, and metabolism will all have profound effects on their bowel movement schedules. As long as the stools are a food shape and color and there is no pain or difficulty passing, there is quite a bit of wiggle room inside the “healthy” range. Someone making three B.M. trips to the bathroom a day could be just as healthy as someone making only three in a week. The important thing is to know 
your own personal schedule and make note of when you deviate from it. 

Floating, Pain/Difficulty, Narrow/Thin 
These are several abnormal signs that could be easy to overlook.
-Stools that float could tell you that you are consuming too much fat in your diet and this is causing your stool to be over buoyant.
-While holding it too long to go to the bathroom could be the culprit for cramping and pain, passing a stool should not be painful or make you physically strain. Take note of this occurrence and speak with a medical practitioner.

Perhaps you could stand to benefit from a different position on the toilet. The research behind the Squatty Potty indicates that the unnatural 90 degree angle at which we sit could strain our bowels. Try using something to prop up your feet up to give you a more acutely angled position on the toilet.
-Again, everyone’s intestines are different and will result in differently sized stools. This is why it is so important to know what is typical for your body. Should you experience stools that are much thinner and narrower than usual, if persistent, this could indicate inflammation or constrictions in the bowels that are not allowing it to pass through normally. 

Any time you are experiencing disconcertingly abnormal bowel movements, it is best to err on the side of caution and present your concerns to a medical practitioner. Remember, these people have discussed stool so much in their career that they are more comfortable with it than you may ever be. Anticipate questions they make ask about, such as those topics covered here, and keep a food journal leading up to the visit. If you are comfortable enough, take a picture of the stool that is causing you concern.
Your body is amazing and performs tasks second by second that keeps you going. This is just another one of those functions, and it is incredible. Appreciate it for what it is!

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