Being in integrative medicine, we talk about the gut a lot… like A LOT. It’s the first system that our outside environment sees as it enters into our body. It’s the system that provides us the ability to nourish our bodies. It’s the system that helps us eliminate from our bodies what is not needed, or is toxic. We want to know everything about how your digestion is functioning, how well you’re breaking down and absorbing your food, how fast (or slow) is that moving through your system, and then… How well is it all coming out the other side?
Publicly talking about your poo can be a bit taboo, but in our office your stool is just as important as your meal plan. So let’s walk through—what is your poo telling you about your health?
“Normal” for everyone is just a little different, but there are few industry standards of what an award-winning poo should look like:
- Color: Medium brown, evenly distributed throughout.
- Shape: Similar to a snake, or a log, in a couple longer pieces.
- Consistency: Solid, yet slides out with ease.
That’s top-notch poo. But what if what you’re pumping out daily isn’t quite up to par? Here are a few ways your poo can tell us what’s going on in your gut.
Your poo comes out like marbles.
If your poo mimics that of rabbits, could be difficult to pass, or when you’re done, you don’t feel fully evacuated—your poo isn’t normal.
The common culprit: These dry stools could indicate that you’re super dehydrated. Your blood and cells are made up of about 80% water, and when they feel like they don’t have enough, they’ll start pulling water from your gut to replenish your cells. So this means you body will slow down your gut to pull as much water as it can.
If you feel like you’re drinking enough water per day (half your body weight in ounces is a good starting place), then look to your supplements or medications, as they could be drying you out. Supplements in high doses or over the long term, can cause the same issue. Dandelion or parsley leaf can be diuretics, and medications such as Benadryl, or actual diuretics (common in high blood pressure patients), could be the cause.
Your poo comes out like soft serve ice-cream.
You feel like everything just “runs right through you” but it doesn’t come out like water—this is also not normal.
The common culprit: These loose, and mushy stools are not good because it means your gut is pushing things through too quickly and you may not be absorbing all your nutrients and minerals. Some common reasons are not enough fiber intake. Fiber such as flax and chia help to bulk up the stool and create a more formed bowel movement. Fiber also slows down the peristalsis (the contractile movement of the intestines that moves the stool through), which allows your minerals and vitamins to be extracted from your food, and lets toxins and metabolized hormones be excreted by the body into the stool. Fiber also acts as food to your microbiome-buddies!
Sure you’ve got enough fiber already? Then we start to think about gut microbiome, and what other bad things could be living in your gut. This is where an at-home stool analysis can give us great information.
Things like antibiotic use can change your gut flora, causing you to have softer stools, or medications such as metformin (commonly given to PCOS patients, or diabetics), or overuse of supplements such as magnesium and vitamin C can loosen up the stools.
You can identify your meal in your poo.
It’s common knowledge that high cellulose foods such as corn are not absorbed by the body and you’ll likely find them as they exit, but if you can start to identify yesterday’s lunch of spinach and bell peppers, then things aren’t normal.
The common culprit: It’s the job of the stomach, pancreas, and gallbladder to break down foods so that your small intestine can absorb those nutrients. Low production of any of these digestive juices can leave your food un-churned, causing it to make its way through your system without its valuable nutrients being utilized.
What causes these systems to slow down? Stress, low nutrient status, or some medications (such as heartburn medications, or allergy medications). Once you’ve identified the cause, you can also try adding in digestive enzymes before meals to help your body break down your foods better.
Your poo smells like a toxic waste factory.
Your bowels are just one of the many emunctories (places where toxins exit your body) that your body has to get rid of environmental toxins, heavy metals, and waste products of detoxification. If your poo has a seriously foul odor, is really dark, or looks like toxic sludge it may be time to get worked up by a professional.
The common culprit: We see this type of poo in a few different scenarios.
First, if you’re losing weight. Your body stores toxins in your fat cells because its a “safe” environment, but when you start to shed those fat cells, all those toxins can come out of your body. During this time, supporting your liver and eating plenty of fiber can help to keep those toxins bound in the gut, and eliminated safely without resorption.
Second, if you eat a lot of highly processed foods, high amounts of refined and artificial sugars (think day-after-cocktail-drinking poos), are exposed to a lot of environmental toxins, or are a smoker, your poo can stink.
If you’re experiencing this, you should consult a professional and find ways to decrease your toxin load by eating organic when possible, supporting your liver through nutrients and herbs, and consuming enough dietary fibers to bind those toxins and keep them from getting back into the body.
Never thought you could learn so much about your health from sneaking a peek at your poo, did you? Next time you notice a change, pay attention—it’ll help us or your doctor dig deep to help you discover where imbalances lie. We don’t mind being knee deep in poo (talk)!
Got problem poo and don’t know how to fix it? Our expert doctor and dietitian can help get your gut function back to functioning optimally. Learn more here.
Dr. Cassie Wilder is a registered Naturopathic Medical Doctor (NMD) and founder of MIMC. Her passion is empowering her patients through education, understanding, and support through their healing journey. After graduating from Iowa State University with a Bachelors of Science in Kinesiology and Health, Dr. Wilder earned her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine & Health Sciences, a fully accredited and nationally recognized institution in Phoenix, AZ. During her clinical training, she received extensive hands-on training with many leading experts in the field of functional medicine and developed a passion for treating hormonal imbalances, thyroid disorders, cardiovascular concerns, and adrenal fatigue.