For a related and more in-depth article on steps to heal your digestive center, go here.
Getting Down N' Dirty
Although not the most fun topic in the world to talk about, what comes out of your body is just as important as what goes into it. To truly work on our health means we aren’t shy to get down and dirty when we need to, and one of those areas is with our own poo.
It's good to start practicing the comfort level now, because you’ll have to get friendly with your poop for all those exciting stool tests coming your way as you journey into the world of optimizing your health, reshaping your gut microbiome and operating at peak digestion. In any case, your poop can tell you a lot about whether you’re operating at top notch levels or dealing with something that needs your attention ASAP, and in this article we'll take a look at several considerations.
Part of the Territory
If you’re supplementing, know that it just comes with the territory to suddenly find yourself invited to a surprise diarrhea party because you either took too much of something, your body is detoxing from the added nutrition or it simply didn’t agree with you for whatever reason.
Unfortunately, everyone is different in this area and there is no magic formula for avoiding diarrhea when you are healing your center or going on a complete nutrition program and balancing your nutrients. As you intervene and change supplement doses, try new things or remove toxins from your body, it is just part of the territory to have unexpected changes in your stool and that's alright.
Usually this will mean diarrhea, but constipation may happen too. I’ve dealt with these phases many times, and while frustrating, it’s just another opportunity to learn about your body and develop patience and sensitivity. Observe carefully and remember that a little diarrhea here and there is not that big of a deal.
Everything I recommend in my articles, books and my BodyHacker Basics Masterclass is generally safe and beneficial for your body with a very low risk and high reward. But the reality is that practically each and every nutrient can lead to diarrhea in some way or another if it’s used too much, if you’re sensitive to it or if it releases something from your body. It’s nothing to panic over. It’s just a blip on your radar to take notice and adjust accordingly by toning it down, adding fiber (like psyllium husks), stopping altogether or simply observing yourself for a week or more to see what the pattern is.
You may find yourself interrogating a bunch of supplement bottles on who the culprit for the potty-pants was, and this may happen more than once. I’ve had to do this on numerous occasions and take things out one at a time, reintroduce them and observe patiently. It’s a pain, but more often than not, it is a harmless situation. If you stop altogether, work your way back into your supplements with the least likely to offend based on what you’ve observed in the past and slowly add one at a time from the list of probable offenders.
You can also do a 1 or 2 day water fast to let your colon heal, then run a Flora Blitz 100 program to boost the bacteria in your gut. Diarrhea, especially prolonged over a period of time, can purge your colon of beneficial bacteria, so it’s good to have ways to restock your gut microbiome for these kinds of situations. Even if there is no inflammation or other serious concern, this purging can lead to an imbalance which will cause other problems down the road, so make sure you have some probiotic insurance regardless.
The Color of Poo
Besides watching for diarrhea parties, knowing what the color of your stool represents is also important. If it’s very dark blackish for example, that could mean a serious issue like bleeding, but if you’re taking iron than this is normal. Another important note about bleeding is that the tissues surrounding your anus can tear and bleed. Sorry, but it's true. These are called anal fissures, and they can give a false positive on a stool test that you have blood in your stool (which is a serious issue). Sometimes they are microtears and pretty harmless, so this is important to understand so you don't panic.
Hemorrhoids also can give false positives on stool tests, so understanding what you're working with if and when you do take a stool test is important so that you don't freak out if you get a positive for blood in the sample. If you know that occasionally you have blood when wiping because of this condition, don’t get freaked out if you find blood in your stool unless you have other reasons to suspect a more serious condition.
If your poo is super light yellow, it may mean some bile or digestive issues, but it’s not
something I would start Googling necessarily before you speak to your functional medicine doctor and establish a recurring pattern. If your stool is too soft, greasy or messy, that’s usually an indicator of some kind of inflammation. One of my favorite products to help this out is Opti GI taken in the morning and evening on an empty stomach. If you are on a high fat diet, too much can also lead to a soft and messy stool that floats. In these cases, extra lipase (fat digesting enzyme) support may be beneficial.
Finally, frequency is another thing to pay attention to. Going about twice per day is very good because you are emptying your body of stool rather than (literally) carrying that waste around and letting it rot inside you. However, if you’re having loose stools 2 or more times per day, then this is not a good thing. The ideal poop is super slick, regular brown, comes out fast and leaves your butt practically the same way it was before you sat down. So, if you can do this twice a day then you have reached a new level with your digestive system.
If you are pooping once a day and strain to poop, it may mean your system is a little slow and could use some love from water, fiber, a quality magnesium supplement, a comprehensive digestive enzyme supplement, and other important nutrition I’ve covered in other articles. If you are going less than once a day, or find yourself going at weird times like 2 in the morning, this is a red flag to get yourself back in alignment with better lifestyle and dietary habits alongside these interventions because you want to aim for regularity.
In Good Shape?
The shape of your stool can also tell you the level of hydration you have, as well being an important general marker for the health of your insides. If your poop is on the loose side or looks like shredded wheat, it may be an indicator of faster transit time or lots of insoluble fiber (like from vegetables) in your diet. If it comes out in pellets, this is usually a sign of needing more fiber. If you eat more starchy, soluble fiber and bowel times are slower, your poop will look more like a solid piece of clay.
A stringy poop can signal a fast transit time through your gut or be a result of your
rectal muscles straining. In rarer situations, stringy poop may be a more serious condition that needs attention, but only (and this part is important) if you have other symptoms like blood, lots of pain when you go and so on. Don't freak out if you have stringy poop, it's usually a sign of something speeding up your bowels.
Poop that’s really soft and not put well together can signal you’ve been eating too much fat or may have a little inflammation in your gut, and in general any sudden changes in frequency and consistency are something to begin paying attention to. Observe yourself for a few days and notice any trends in other areas that you can’t see like your thyroid, adrenals, diet habits, stress levels, intake of supplements, what you’re eating and so on.
All together, these observations will help you stay in tune with your body and act preventively if anything starts to slide south.
In the end, healing your digestive center will involve getting a little down and dirty with what’s coming out of you, but there’s nothing wrong with dealing with our own crap once in a while right? It’s the foundation for the rest of your health and the key for achieving all of your other health goals. Healing your center will not only heal your life, it will inspire you with gratitude and awe every time you look back and realize you’ve achieved a healthy poo through all of your hard work.