As you probably guessed from the title of this blog post, I’m not a big believer in euphemisms. In spite of the fact that everyone talks about their poop (you know you do… we’ve seen your Facebook posts), few people know what “normal” is or what the end result of a healthy digestive system should look like. Digestive disorders are one of the top issues I see in my practice, yet few people realize their fatigue, acne, and achy joints originate in their gut. So, let’s explore this topic further!
A growing number of health experts believe a healthy digestive system is the foundation of good health. This makes sense, since the nutrient building blocks needed to maintain health and create healing are absorbed through the digestive system. Few people realize 80% of the immune system resides in the digestive tract and that the digestive system is responsible for creating many hormones that affect mental health. Most would be shocked to learn their digestive tract was formed in the womb using the same types of cells used to create the brain. There’s a reason you get a “gut reaction” to things and that emotions can cause an upset stomach: the same type of brain cells that respond to emotions exist in the digestive tract and have similar responses.
The old saying, “You are what you eat” is not true. The truth is, you are what you absorb. Good absorption should create the following. In other words, here’s what your poop should look like:
- Transit time of 12-18 hours: The time lapse between eating a meal and eliminating the wastes from the meal should be 12-18 hours. This time frame allows food to pass through the digestive tract slowly enough for the nutrients to be fully absorbed, yet fast enough for the toxins and waste products to be efficiently eliminated. Faster transit time means nutrients may not be fully absorbed; slower transit time means that food is probably rotting in your large intestine and you are therefore absorbing toxins into your bloodstream that should have been eliminated. If your transit time is so fast that you often find yourself rushing to the restroom immediately following a meal, it may be an indicator of poor protein absorption or of a food sensitivity. People who are extremely sensitive to chemical pesticides and fertilizers may also notice that eating lettuce – even lettuce that was thoroughly washed – causes immediate and extreme diarrhea. Switching to organic lettuce often alleviates this problem.
- Two to three bowel movements per day: Yes. Seriously. Healthy digestion moves food through the digestive system efficiently and creates two to three bowel movements per day. Fewer movements mean you are potentially absorbing toxins; more than two to three movements per day may mean you are not fully absorbing the nutrients in the foods you eat.
- Stools that float: If your stools sink to the bottom of the toilet instead of happily floating on the surface, it indicates your diet lacks sufficient fiber or that your stools contain large amounts of undigested food. Fiber is an essential element of good digestion. Fiber helps waste move through the colon quickly and efficiently and absorbs toxins so they are not absorbed by the body. A lack of fiber can create sluggish digestion and will definitely create stools that sink.
- Stools that are solid (not hard) and well-formed: Stools should be solid, not watery, and should be easy to push out. Hard, round “pebbles” may indicate dehydration, a lack of fiber or other digestive issues. Drinking half your body weight (measured in pounds) in ounces of water on a daily basis is another factor that is essential for good digestion.
- Nothing recognizable: If foods exit your body in a form that is clearly recognizable, your system is probably not fully absorbing nutrients. Malabsorption and the resulting malnutrition it causes is far more common in the US than you might think. I often see chronic health issues greatly improve simply by improving digestion. Grandma’s old rule of chewing every bite 20 times can help with absorption. Using digestive enzymes and/or probiotics can also greatly assist digestion and absorption. One of my favorite probiotics is made by Garden of Life: Women’s Raw Probiotic. Eating fermented vegetables is also an excellent way of improving digestion. Although fermented veggies are very easy to make at home, most health food stores carry pre-made products.
That’s it! You now know what your poop should look like. My next post will cover how to keep your digestive system working properly.