I’m here to tell you being a toilet detective is in your best interests if you value your health and quality of life. And why would you want to do this you ask?
- What if you could assess the health of your digestive system just by colour, shape and frequency ?
- What if you could know whether adding more fibre will fix painful constipation?
- What if you identify and treat unfriendly bacteria in your gut?
- What if you could be informed about why more than one stool test is needed for an accurate test result?
- What if you could understand why all the effort you’re putting into preparing nutritious food is not working?
As simple as it may seem, the colour and shape of your stool is a solid (pardon the pun!) indicator of the absorption rate of nutrients from food and drink. Ninety nine percent of absorption occurs in the small intestine due to its large surface area, with the remaining absorption performed by the large intestine, along with reabsorption of water from the stool.
Although expert opinion varies, one to three bowel movements per day is considered normal . With approximately 2.5 milllion Americans complaining of constipation each year, this is a significant concern.
With digestion starting in the mouth, chewing our foods thoroughly (between 10 to 20 chews) allows saliva and digestive enzymes to begin breaking down our foods.
Once swallowed food is passed down the esophagus into the stomach for further action by different digestive enzymes based on the food type. For example, amylase for carbohydrate digestion and protease for protein digestion.
The small intestine receives mechanically and chemically broken down food, and bile from the liver assists in the digestion of fats and the collection of waste products to be excreted. The pancreas also plays a role in maintaining insulin levels and thereby, blood glucose levels as a result of digestion in the small intestine.
The large intestine is the last stop where water and electrolytes are reabsorbed , stool is formed and gut flora get to work on any remaining foodstuffs, especially complex carbohydrates.
Two of the most important processes impacting frequency of toilet visits, are peristalsis occurring in the small intestine and motor motility complex (MMC) occurring in the large intestine. Both of these processes move food through the digestive process.
The effectiveness of both can be inhibited by the overuse of laxatives or other stimulants shutting down the natural processes.
After all that, you’ll be happy to know there’s a simple way to assess your stool, complete with pictures! The Bristol Stool Chart below is the standard for assessing stool colour and shape:
If you’re in the 1 or 2 category, at the constipation end of the scale, the goal is to find ways to transition to category 3,4 or 5.
If you’re in the 6 or 7 category, at the diarrhea end of the scale, the goal is to find ways to transition to category 4 or 5.
Being at the constipation end of the scale, doesn’t mean you’re stuck there forever.
The following simple changes may help:
- Decrease or eliminate consumption of caffeinated beverages – coffee, cola, energy drinks are some examples
- Prioritize regular bowel movements. Putting off going to the bathroom as an inconvenience can lead to constipation as the regular rhythms are disturbed
- Eat at regular intervals especially breakfast. This encourages a regular cycle and regular movement through your digestive system
- Increase consumption of water. Hydration is needed to move things along especially during hot and humid weather or during exercise.
- Exercise – exercise massages the large instenstine or colon and stimulates the need to go. Ever been in a hurry after strenuous exercise? The goal is 30 minutes each day – your body will thank you!
- Fibre – Insoluble fiber is ideal. However both soluble and insoluble fiber occurs in nature. Consider supplementing with a natural fibre supplement like Acacia Fiber to progress gradually. Being dissolved in water, it’s another way to increase hydration.
- Decrease or eliminate the use of laxatives – they trick your body into becoming lazy and dependency is not a healthy choice.
- Increase the consumption of magnesium rich foods. Magnesium encourages normal movement in the large intestine. Magnesium rich foods include greens, nuts and dark chocolate! Chelated Magnesium supplements tend to be less abrasive to an already compromised system. Powdered magnesium supplements often cause diarrhea while irritating your digestive system.
- Manage your stress triggers. The gut and brain are intrinsically connected. Know your triggers and have a plan to de trigger – exercise, breathe, do yoga, pray, call a friend, write in your journal.
- Check your medications to ensure an increase in dose or recent addition is not the cause.
If you’re experiencing diarrhea, food is traveling too quickly through your digestive system and nutrients are not able to be absorbed. Some of the following suggestions may help
- Addition of fiber – as strange it seems, fibre can help both constipation and diarrhea! Soluble fiber absorbs water and slows the volume moving through our digestive tract, often used to manage diarrhea. Be sure to start slowly and adjust the dose gradually. Acacia Fiber is one of the few fibers suitable for the management of both constipation and diarrhea. If you have a tendency to suffer from gas or bloating, please avoid psyllium husks, FOS and inulin 
- A note on fibre. If digestion is compromised due to either constipation or diarrhea, powdered fibre supplements are recommended in preference to capsules or tablets. The powder is more readily assimilated by your body as it doesn’t need to be broken down in a compromised digestive sytem.
- Check for food allergies. Some of the most common causes are dairy and gluten (wheat, millet, barley, rye). Start by eliminating from your diet for 2-3 weeks and see if the issues subside. Your doctor may be able to help test also.
- Add fermented foods and/or probiotics Find a quality probiotic with at least 15B bacteria, and a multi-strand that includes S. boulardii, because these help normalize bowel function. You can also eat probiotics in the form of sauerkraut, pickled veggies, kefir, kombucha, etc. If you’re adventurous, try experimenting and making fermented products!
One of the most remarkable discoveries related to gut bacteria is not only its existence but also the importance of a balance between friendly and unfriendly bacteria. Unfriendly bacteria can occur due to parasites, food poisoning or a diet rich in processed foods.
Identifying the cause is the imbalance is the key to resolving it.
Testing is usually performed on multiple stool samples,cultured in the lab to determine the combination of pathogens, bacteria, yeast and other microorganisms.
However, the folk at SCD Lifestyle (www.scdlifestyle) recommend not one but two different stool tests to cover your bases.
Naturally commonsense prevails ..
if you experience either of these conditions for 2 or more days please seek medical help as there may be a serious problem or condition to be addressed.
 Lipski, Liz, ‘Digestive Wellness’ 4th edition, McGraw Hill, USA, 2012