Did you know that your bathroom habits, especially your stool, can tell you a lot about your health? While this particular topic may be embarrassing or even disgusting for most people, natural health expert Dr. Joseph Mercola advises paying attention to the shape, size, color, and other features of your stool because it can give you an idea as to how your gastrointestinal tract is functioning, and provide you clues regarding infections or diseases that could be hiding in your body.
Characteristics of ‘Normal’ Stool
Your stool is made of 75 percent water and a combination of fiber, live and dead bacteria, as well as miscellaneous cells and mucus. Fiber is responsible for the bulking up of stool, as it functions as a glue to keep the stool stuck together. If you notice your stool is soft, short of diarrhea, it may be caused by certain conditions like lactose intolerance and poor lifestyle choices.
So the next time you go to the toilet, observe. Normal or healthy fecal waste has the following characteristics:
- It has a medium to light brown color.
- It is smooth and soft. The stool should be formed into one long shape and not separate lumps.
- It should be about 1 to 2 inches in diameter and up to 18 inches long.
- It should have an S-shape, mimicking the form of your lower intestine.
- It dives into the water with the slightest sound – without a loud splash. It should also sink slowly.
- It should have a natural, tolerable smell and a uniform texture.
On the other hand, there are signs that may be a cause for concern. Consult your physician if you experience any of these symptoms, especially if they’re recurring:
- Emptying your bowels is painful and your stool is hard to pass and may require straining.
- Fecal matter is split into lumps or pieces that are mushy and watery, or difficult to clean off.
- Feces dives into the water with a loud splash and floats.
- Stool is narrow, pencil or ribbon-like. On a frequent basis, this may be a sign of an underlying problem like a bowel obstruction or tumor.
- It’s black, tarry, or bright red. Black stools may be the product of taking certain medications or supplements, or consuming black licorice, while red stools may mean bleeding in your GI tract.
- If you have white, pale, or gray stools, you may have low bile production, indicating problems in your liver (hepatitis or cirrhosis) pancreatic disorders, or a blocked bile duct. It is highly recommended to consult your physician. Using antacids may also cause white stools.
- Yellow stools may be a symptom of a giardia infection, a gallbladder problem, or Gilbert’s syndrome. Call your doctor immediately if you have this.
- If you see increased mucus together with your stool, it may be related to an inflammatory bowel disease like Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, or colon cancer, especially when accompanied with abdominal pain or blood.
Stool Odor Is Important, Too!
If your stool has an extraordinarily bad odor, then it should not be ignored. Dr. Mercola explains that stool with an intolerable stench may be an indicator of a malabsorptive disorder or celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, chronic pancreatitis, or even cystic fibrosis.
Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a disease characterized by a defective gene that causes your body to produce abnormally thick, sticky mucus which can build up in your lungs, leading to serious lung infections and digestive problems. This dangerous condition is usually diagnosed before age 2, making this a common issue among infants and toddlers.
If you’re worried about gas, Dr. Mercola explains that passing gas or flatulence is normal. It’s your body’s way of telling you that the trillions of gut bacteria in your gut are working optimally. On average, people pass gas 14 times a day – anywhere from one to four pints of it. Ninety-nine percent of gas is odorless, so it’s possible you’re not aware you’re releasing it.
Another Factor You Need to Pay Attention To
The frequency of bowel movement can vary from person to person. According to Dr. Mercola, three bowel movements per day to three per week is considered the normal range. However, he says that the ease with which you move your bowels is more important than the regularity.
Pushing or straining is a sign that something is amiss. Moving your bowels should not require any effort, similar to urinating or passing gas. If you notice changes in your bowel movements or experience constipation or diarrhea, many factors may be at fault, such as diet, sleep patterns, hormonal problems, lack of exercise, drugs, and even stress.
Gastrointestinal issues can be avoided or resolved through simple lifestyle changes. Dr. Mercola recommends these strategies, which can also contribute to optimal overall health:
- Avoid gluten, which come from wheat, barley, rye, spelt, and other types of grains
- Limit your diet to fresh whole foods, especially organic fruits and vegetables that are rich in fiber
- Avoid sugar (especially fructose), artificial sweeteners, chemical additives, MSG, caffeine, and processed foods, which contain all of these ingredients
- Eat more fermented foods, such as sauerkraut, pickles, and kefir, to promote digestive health
- Add more sources of fiber to your diet, such as psyllium and freshly ground organic flax seeds
- Drink plenty of pure, clean water
- Exercise regularly
- As much as possible, avoid pharmaceutical drugs, such as painkillers, antidepressants, and antibiotics, which can inhibit bowel function
- Address stress with emotional tools like the Emotional Freedom Technique, an acupuncture-like technique that uses positive voice affirmations and finger tapping
- Consider squatting, when you move your bowels. Dr. Mercola explains that squatting is the ideal position during a bowel movement as it straightens your rectum, relaxes your puborectalis muscle, and encourages the complete emptying of your bowel without straining.
For more information on bowel movements, read Dr. Mercola’s article “What You See in the Toilet Can Give You Valuable Insights Into Your Health.”