Our digestive system is one of the core pillars of health. Its job is to break down and transform food to provide energy for cellular function. If our digestive system is not working well, this can lead to poor breakdown of food and poor absorption of nutrients. This may feel like bloating, gas, or abdominal discomfort. Overtime, poor digestive function may lead to brain fog, fatigue, congested skin and aches or pains. Why? We are not providing the cells with basic nutrients to generate cellular energy. Improper breakdown of foods can aggravate our gut lining and result in inflammation that can impact other areas of our body.
Knowing your bowel movements is the first step to understanding how your digestive function is performing.
What do your bowel movements look like?
Some key questions to ask yourself when checking your stool are the following:
- What colour are your bowel movements?
- What shape are your bowel movements?
- Do you see undigested food in your bowel movements?
- Is there any blood or mucus present?
- Is there any discomfort while passing bowel movements?
- Do your bowel movements float or sink?
- How often do you have a bowel movement?
I encourage you to take a look each time you go. Eventually you’ll become aware of what is typical for your body.
What does a healthy bowel movement look like?
The Bristol Stool Chart provides a nice visual of normal stool types (Figure 1). Ideal stool should fall around a Type 4.
Figure 1. Bristol Stool Chart. M.R. Blake et. al. 2016
Form and consistency
A curved S shape (resembling a banana) which does not fall apart in the toilet bowl. Your bowel movement should pass with ease, and should float to the bottom of the bowl. There should be no undigested food bits, blood or mucus. Note: corn is generally not well digested, so corn bits can be a typical finding.
Colour and smell
The colour should be medium brown (although certain foods or medications may change this, check with your healthcare provider). The smell should not be noticeably malodorous.
The frequency of bowel movements can vary from person to person. It is important to remember that bowel movements are a method of detoxification; a way for your body to get rid of waste. Regular bowel movements prevent reabsorption of things our body wants to excrete. One example is high cholesterol. Elevated cholesterol is excreted via the stool. If you’re having infrequent bowel movements, the stool sits in the colon and your body begins to re-absorb cholesterol.
I like to see 1-3 bowel movements per day. Each bowel movement should feel “complete”, meaning you feel you have fully evacuated after you have gone. If there is a sense of urgency or sense of an incomplete poop, some investigations may be required.
Do I have normal bowel movements?
Knowing what is normal for you gives you the power to seek out help when things don’t feel right. As you become familiar with your poop, it can be a great tool for identifying internal imbalances. Your stool may change when there is excess inflammation in the gut lining, when there are food sensitivities, when there are stressors present, or when there are hormonal imbalances. If you have unhealthy bowel movements things can back up into other systems and lead to downstream health concerns.
Possible reasons to seek help from your naturopathic doctor or healthcare provider:
- Smelly poops
- Weird poop shapes (Types 1-2 or 5-6)
- Bowel urgency – difficulty holding your poop
- Constipation – going every other day, or a few times per week
- Blood or mucus in your stool
- Food in your poop
- Weird poop colours
Next time you have a bowel movement, get curious and take a look!
-Dr. Ashley Damm, ND
Naturopathic Doctor, Vancouver BC