The Chronicles of PoopTalk: Troubleshooting and Self Discovery
This blog series was written by our herbalist, Avery, during the Skin Reboot last April. As a practitioner, one of the most talked about areas in her clinic is digestive function. Avery is becoming a local expert on gastrointestinal health and all things poop! Get in touch with her through her private clinic here.
Ever wonder what your body is telling you? Well friends, pull up a stool and let's get into it.
You may have heard us go on and on about this before, but we think this information is just TOO good not to repeat!
Your skin health is more than what meets the eye! So much of what's going on in our body can be traced back through observing our internal state - and what better to look to, then something that comes from the inside.... yup, I'm talking about your poop.
So, how are we relating poop to our skin health? Since our skin is another organ of elimination, we want to make sure our MAIN elimination systems are working great and flowing freely. If they are not functioning optimally, there is a good chance our other elimination systems are feeling burdened as well! So let's take a load off of our skin, and have a look at the health of bowel movements!
Let's talk about the 4 main things to look for in a healthy digestive system.
Frequency is a really great topic to engage in, in a clinical setting. I've found that everyone's "normal" is quite different. When I ask the baseline question "How is your digestion?" I'm often met with a shy and reserved answer like, "Good". But with further investigation of what "normal" is to each person, there is a huge contrast and often a teachable moment.
I've seen people that have a bowel movement every 4-5 days on average, and others that will go up to 10 times a day. Some think that this is normal, or that it's just something they will have to live with, but there is actually so much that your bowel habits are trying to tell you.
So what's normal?
Everyone's normal is different, and there are a lot of things that can interrupt your normal bowel routine. On average, it would be ideal to have at least one bowel movement a day. Though things like traveling, or changes in diet can disrupt the daily bowel movement and that's okay. But as a practitioner, if someone is coming in to see me about a chronic condition - particularly a skin condition - I like to focus on digestive function and work towards at least one bowel movement a day. Healthy and consistent elimination is a great place to start when healing the skin.
What does it mean if I don't have a bowel movement every day?
Constipation can mean a number of different things:
- Dehydration - Try increasing your water intake, this is essential for improving bowel motility and digestive function
- Food allergies/sensitivities - Unaddressed food sensitivities create inflammation in the digestive tract and decrease bowel function.
- Dietary fiber - Are you getting enough fiber in your diet? Increasing soluble fiber with foods like sweet potato can help bulk up the stool and promote a healthy bowel movement.
- Healthy fats - Fats and oils help to lubricate the intestines and create a slippery slope for your stool! Choose high-quality fats like coconut or olive oil.
- Liver congestion - If your liver is working overtime due to other factors, it may need some support. Your liver is one of the hardest working detoxification organs, and it deserves some serious love! Try eating bitter greens or taking bitter herbs like Dandelion, Burdock or Milk Thistle. Bitters by nature increase the amount of bile production and flow from the liver and help to breakdown our fats more efficiently.
- Stress and/or Anxiety - Modern medicine is now proving the incredible connection between the gut and brain, while ancient traditional medicine has acknowledged this for centuries. We know that the brain affects the gut, and the gut affects the brain. In clinic, I've seen numerous cases where addressing stress, anxiety and nervousness actually addresses the digestive function, including increased bowel movements and less gas/bloating.
- Too much raw - I might get some flack for this, but raw food can be difficult for some people to digest, and it can slow the tract down. If you are used to eating most of your food raw, but experience frequent constipation or loose stools, try lightly steaming or cooking your veg and take notice if this is improving your bowel movements.
IBS - Irritable bowel syndrome. This is a rabbit hole of a topic for a later conversation.
What does it mean if I'm going MANY times a day?
- Food allergies/sensitivities/lactose intolerance
- Bacterial/viral/parasitic infections - constantly having to run to the bathroom could mean your body is trying to purge something.
- IBS/IBD - Irritable bowel syndrome or the more serious inflammatory bowel disease (This must be diagnosed by a medical doctor)
- Too much spice! - We've all heard of this one, this isn't concerning, just scale down on the spice next time ;)
- Laxatives - Prune juice, herbs, over the counter pills and even too much oil can have a laxative effect.
- Stress - Just as mentioned above, stress can play a huge role in the state of our gut and bowel movements. Often addressing the stress in our lives can improve the function of out bowel motility.
There are other things we could add to these lists, but these are a good observational starting point if you are concerned about your bowel frequency. I always suggest seeking a trusted practitioner to help you troubleshoot your specific digestion.
Ever wonder what the colour of your poop is telling you? I certainly do! My favorite story about digestive investigation comes from my clinical practice, where I asked a client about the colour of her stool and she replied "brown". I acknowledged that brown is a sign of healthy poop, but asked if she could she go into a bit more detail on what shade of brown, you know.. dark, light etc..where she replied "ahh.. poo brown?" and we both had a really great giggle at that response. I also had a teacher once say that in her clinical practice, she has paint swatches on hand so that she can get a really detailed answer. I think I'll start doing that.
So what is your shade of poop telling you?
- Brown - Yes, of course, we are all aware that a nice medium shade of brown is a healthy poop! That may fluctuate as you eat darker foods, or they may get lighter if your diet isn't particularly nutrient-rich on certain days, but it's nothing to be concerned about.
- Black - Black stool can happen due to iron supplementation, but if you are not taking iron and are having black stools, it could be a sign of blood high up in the digestive tract. Best to seek professional guidance if this is regular for you.
- Light/white - White stool can be a sign of malabsorption. This happens in celiac patients who aren't getting the nutrients from their food. If this is you, it is also best to seek out professional guidance.
- Red - This can be a sign of blood somewhere in the digestive tract, but before you feel concerned ALWAYS ask yourself "Did I eat beets?!" I'm sure we all know this feeling! But in all seriousness, if you have not consumed beets or food with red food colouring, there may be bleeding happening. If it is fresh bright red blood, this could mean an anal fissure or hemorrhoids. If you see blood within the stool, it could mean a bleed is happening further up in the tract. This should always be investigated by a medical professional to rule out anything more serious.
- Green - This can simply be due to eating a large quantity of greens or can be due to your liver needing some extra support.
- Orange - May be due to orange coloured foods, or certain medications or supplements.
- Bright Yellow - This can be a sign of a bacterial/parasitic infection (if concurrent with abdominal pain, diarrhea, fever) or something happening in the liver. Best to seek medical guidance.
- Blue - Ask yourself if you've eaten a large amount of blueberries?!
If you have ANY questions or concerns regarding the colour of your stool, it is ALWAYS good to have it checked out! Usually, if you have a stool that is an unusual colour for you one time, it's not often something to be concerned about. But, if you are having recurring abnormally coloured stool, it's best to call your doctor for further exploration.
Consistency and shape of the stool are equally as important as the rest, but to skip the gritty details, I'm only going to mention a few.
What is normal consistency?
The best case scenario poop would look like a medium brown, nicely shaped banana, this is basically molded to the shape of your colon. Hard pellets indicate constipation and dryness that needs to be addressed, while constant loose stool or diarrhea will need to be addressed in a different way. That being said, "normal" is different for everyone, and fluctuating poops are nothing to be alarmed of.
It's all in the details
If you've been shy about looking at your stool before, I hope by now that I've encouraged you to take a look at the potential of internal health self-discovery! Here are a few other things to take note of when you are glancing down at that porcelain palace.
- Mucous - Mucous shows up as a thin strip of white/clear jelly around the stool or in the toilet bowl. I know, it's a gross image, but mucous tells a larger picture that there is some inflammation happening somewhere in the digestive tract.
- Floating or sinking? - This isn't often something to be concerned about, as it is mostly due to the weight or consistency of the food that has been consumed. Some food is denser and will sink, while others will be fat-heavy and float. Think of when you pour oil into water - the oil floats right to the surface. Sometimes after ingesting an oil-heavy meal, your stool may float. This can just be due to a particularly oil-dense meal, or, can mean there is a malabsorption of fats happening, so the majority of the fats in your diet will be excreted with the bowel movement. This is a good indicator for bitter foods and herbs to help breakdown your food for better absorption.
So that's it!
I hope I've inspired you to investigate your own digestive health via the textbook of your poop! This is meant to empower you to make adjustments using the food that you eat to improve your health, but if at ANY time you question the health of your poops, I encourage you to seek professional medical guidance!
Sending happy vibes for healthy poops!