Why We Need to Be Regular and What is "Normal"
Our body eliminates wastes in many ways and one of these ways is through our bowel movements (BM). Cholesterol and hormones like estrogen can also be removed from the body so having normal BMs is important for regulating hormones. You might wonder if talking about poop is TMI, but know that it never is when you're talking with your doctor or health consultant! Your stool can tell us so much about your health!
Having a bowel movement 1-3 times per day is ideal. Consistency should be soft but formed and easy to pass without straining. If you have a BM less than 3x per week, have hard or lumpy stool or strain to pass stool then you have constipation. On the other side of the spectrum, diarrhea is when you have loose or watery stool three or more time per day.
What the Color of Your Stool Means
Stool should be brown but may appear other colors for a variety of reasons. Here are some common reasons for a change in color:
Green: dye, green vegetables, antibiotic use or bacterial infection
Yellow: excess fat, small intestinal infection
Red: red foods, drinks, dyes, beets, bleeding in lower GI tract
White or light: medication, lack of bile
Black: iron supplements, bismuth, bleeding in upper GI tract
Blood in the Stool
Blood may be seen in the stool for a number of reasons including hemorrhoids, anal tears, IBD or cancer. While it can be concerning, it doesn't always mean that anything serious is going on.
If you're chronically constipated you can develop hemorrhoids that bleed when you're straining to have a BM. Usually this will appear as bright, red blood on the toilet paper or in the toilet bowl. You may also feel pain or itchiness around your anus.
Blood doesn't always appear as red in the stool. If there is bleeding higher up in the digestive tract such as in the stomach, stool can appear black because it has been exposed to stomach acid.
You can't always see blood in the stool so the best way to know is to do a stool test. The test will look for the presence of very small amounts of blood or red blood cells. If you see persistent blood in your stool or have a change in your bowel habits make sure to get it checked out by your doctor.
Natural Medicine & Constipation
Get more fiber: If stool is sitting in the rectum for a long time it can become dehydrated and hard. Fiber can increase water absorption, making the stool softer and easier to pass as well as create more bulk and help keep things moving along. Always drink lots of water whether you're getting fiber in your diet or from supplements.
Drink plenty of fluids: Fiber needs water to help it work well. The fiber can absorb water, making stools softer, more bulky and easier to pass. Water is always a good option as well as non-sugary drinks. Limit dehydrating beverages like coffee, tea or caffeinated drinks.
Regular exercise: Workouts can improve bowel function in a few ways. Blood flow is increased in the gut, allowing food to move along faster. This reduces the amount of water that is reabsorbed into the body so stool doesn't get dried out. Abdominal contractions also mimic our intestinal contractions and help move waste along.
Have a routine: Our bodies love routine so try to have a BM at the same time everyday. Pick a time daily where you sit on the toilet for 5-10 minutes and do something easy and enjoyable like reading. If a BM doesn't happen, get up and try again later. The point is to not create stress around this habit, which can worsen it in the long run.
Don't delay a BM: If you feel the need to go, then go! Ignoring the signals can lead to less signaling and less sensitivity in the future.
Bowel massage: This type of abdominal self-massage is meant to mimic the natural contractions of the colon. Try this in the morning before getting up out of bed. It can take about 30 minutes to have a BM afterwards. While you're still lying down, bend your knees to soften the abdomen. Starting at the lower right corner of your abdomen, massage gently in a circular pattern with your fingertips. Keep massaging and moving along the right side of your abdomen up until you get to your ribs, then move across to your left ribs, then work your way down the left side until you get to your left hip bone. Do this a few times in the same direction.
Natural Medicine & Loose Stools
It's important to note that if you're having diarrhea due to an infection, it's not wise to stop it because it's serving a purpose in removing pathogens from the body. In that case, staying hydrated is especially important. These tips are more for if you have loose stools in general.
Get more fiber: Part of the trigger for having a bowel movement is due to receptors in our rectum feeling pressure from the stool. If the stool isn't bulky enough, you don't get the sensation of needing to use the bathroom. Include high fiber foods in your diet from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains or supplement with fiber. Work your way up gradually if this isn't usually a part of your diet to prevent constipation.
Drink plenty of fluids: In the case of loose stools, staying hydrated is important because having too many BMs can dehydrate you. Stay hydrated with water, electrolyte drinks and non-sugary drinks. Limit dehydrating beverages like coffee, tea or caffeinated drinks. For a quick, homemade electrolyte drink, mix 1 L water with 1/2 tsp salt and 2 TB sugar.
Try cinnamon or carob applesauce: Cinnamon has soothing and toning properties for the gut and it's in most people's spice rack. Mix 1/4 tsp cinnamon with 1/4 cup applesauce. Eat this 2-3x per day. If you have carob, it works well too. Use 2 tsp carob in 1/4 cup applesauce and eat it 2-3x per day.
Our body eliminates wastes in many ways and one of these ways is through our bowel movements (BM). Having a soft, formed bowel movement 1-3 times per day is ideal. Constipation is when you have a BM less than 3x per week, have hard or lumpy stool or strain to pass stool. Diarrhea is when you have loose or watery stool three or more time per day. Stool should be brown but may appear other colors for a variety of reasons including infection, fat, increased or decreased bile production, and food intake. Natural remedies for constipation include fluids, fiber, exercise, routine, bowel massage and not delaying using the bathroom. Natural remedies for diarrhea include fiber, fluids and cinnamon/carob applesauce.
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