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The Scoop On Poop: What Your Bowel Movements Say About Your Health

Written By Katie Di Lauro • 3 min read

How to assess and improve your gut health.

We all do it, we all think about it, but rarely talk about it… Poop. Although the butt of many jokes (see what I did there), funny emojis and children’s humor, it’s important to know that poop is an important indicator of our digestive health. Let’s not be afraid to approach the subject of our poop, otherwise known as bowel movement (BM). Changes in our BMs indicate changes in digestion, diet, bacteria – good or bad, and even emotions. 

If you struggle with digestion, you are not alone; 20% of the population struggles with constipation, about 180 million people each year suffer from acute diarrhea and 60-70 million people are diagnosed each year with a digestive disorder. An irregular BM schedule can be uncomfortable, frustrating and even affect daily activities such as sleep, work, exercise and social events. Not only is irregularity uncomfortable and inconvenient, it affects our overall health because 70% of the immune system is in our gut. Over 2,000 years ago, Hippocrates notably declared that ‘all disease begins in the gut’. As an integrative and functional certified practitioner, I believe this to be true. Digestion provides us the energy and raw material for daily development and function, which keeps us alive. Without proper digestion we cannot break down and absorb essential nutrients. Without a healthy digestive tract, our body loses its first defense against the outside world that is entering our bodies. 

An easy first step in assessing digestion is by assessing our poop. Using the Bristol Stool Chart is the standard bowel movement assessment. Frequency should also be addressed. Ideally you are having one BM each day, up to 3 normal BMs. Fewer than 3 BMs per week may indicate constipation and more than 3 BMs per day may be too quick of a transit time.  

The first approach for normalizing digestion and therefore BMs is to improve diet and lifestyle. 

  • FIBER: The USDA’s recommended daily amount for adults 18 to 50 years old is 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men. Women and men older than 50 years should have 21 and 30 daily grams per day. On average, Americans only get about 10-15 grams per day, likely due to a diet full of processed foods. Is it better to obtain fiber from whole foods rather than supplements? You can obtain dietary fiber from whole foods such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Don’t leave out your carbs! Low carb or high protein diets will likely lead to constipation because they contain the bulk of our fiber. Aim for a balanced diet. 
  • HYDRATION: Consuming water adds fluid to the small intestines and your colon, therefore adding bulk to your bowel movement making it softer and easier to pass. Avoiding processed foods high in sodium is another way to stay hydrated. On average aim to consume about half of your body weight in oz of fluids that do not contain sugar or salt. 
  • MOVEMENT: It has been found that regular physical activity stimulates the emptying of the stomach and intestines. Move your body at least 30-60 minutes each day, and continue movement throughout the day through daily activities, for example- park further in a parking lot to get more activity in, stretch every 30-45 minutes when sitting for extended periods of time. Start and end your day with at least light activity such as a walk around the block. ON the other hand, overexercising can increase transit time resulting in diarrhea. 
  • STRESS MANAGEMENT: Any type of real or perceived mental, emotional, or physical stress can cause body tension and initiates the “fight or flight” response, which can slow or increase transit time resulting in constipation or diarrhea. If you experience chronic stress, learning how to manage your stress through breathing, exercise, talk therapy, or medication can greatly improve your digestion through the gut-brain axis. 
  • DECREASE OR ELIMINATE GUT IRRITANTS:  Common gut irritants are caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, sugar, NSAIDS (such as ibuprofen), and food sensitivities such as gluten and dairy. Food sensitivities are unique to each individual, and can cause inflammation anywhere in our body – including your digestion system. A food sensitivity test may be helpful to identify your sensitivities and guide you in an elimination and reintroduction program.

Maintaining a healthy digestive system is crucial for overall well being. By implementing the tips provided in this article, you can improve your gut health and establish a strong foundation for optimal health. If you require further guidance on nutrition, supplementation, or identifying food sensitivities, I would love to help you navigate your digestive patterns and lead you towards better gut health. Schedule a 15 minute complimentary session with me today.

Katie Di Lauro, RDN, IFNCP

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