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INSIDE INFO - What does your poo say about you?

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Poo. We don’t usually talk about it, but it is an important indicator of health that can give you insight into what is going on inside your body. If this system is off track, other systems in your body may be, too.

What is normal?
To be able to pick up on the clues your poo is giving you about your health, you have to know how it looks at its healthiest. The important qualities can be remembered with the acronym CROCS: consistency, regularity, odor, color and shape.

Consistency. Ideally, a normal stool is whole, soft and well-formed, with a smooth or cracked surface.

Regularity. The medical consensus is that normal regularity follows the “three by three” rule—going somewhere between three times per day and three times per week.

Odor. Odor can be an important indicator of the health of your gastro-intestinal (GI) tract. Normally, little to no odor should be detectable.

Color. A normal stool is on the spectrum of brown to dark brown.

Shape. A normal stool has a uniform soft sausage shape.

What is abnormal?
Any deviation from the normal CROCS qualities may indicate changes happening inside your body. Many organs can contribute to stool changes, including but not limited to the gastrointestinal tract, liver, pancreas, thyroid and gallbladder.

Regarding consistency and shape, stool formed as hard little round pellets indicates constipation, which often occurs from decreased water or fiber intake. If your stool is loose or in liquid form, this could be a result of something irritating the GI tract, food poisoning or a more serious condition, like inflammatory bowel disease, or liver, pancreas or gallbladder disease.

Having bowel movements too frequently is an indicator that something is causing it to move too quickly through your GI tract. However, not going frequently enough puts you at risk for other unpleasant experiences.

Although certain foods can create odorous stool, odor typically occurs with overproduction of a type of gas/fermentation from bacteria in the GI tract and could indicate the presence of an intestinal infection, malabsorption disorders, or liver, pancreas or gallbladder disorders. If it recurs or persists for more than a few days, your physician can help you find the cause.

A change in stool color is a key insight to what may be occurring in your GI tract. Most color changes can be the result of diet changes, medications or gastrointestinal disease (see “Color-coded”).

How can you maintain a healthy gut?
The best approach to a healthy gut is to be proactive with the everyday choices that promote a foundation of wellness. A diet rich in protein and fiber, especially from vegetables, is a great start. Protein helps repair the gut lining, keeping it strong and tightly knit. Fiber keeps bowels moving regularly and supports beneficial gut bacteria.

Exercise and stress reduction also promote regular bowel function by supporting blood flow to the intestines, encouraging bowel movement and stimulating the neurological system of the gut to stay regular. Stress can significantly affect digestion and movement of the intestines, possibly contributing to either constipation or diarrhea.

Ongoing research shows that probiotics may have benefits for gut health. Scientists are beginning to find specific purposes for certain strains of probiotics and how they can be used for particular diseases. Talk to your doctor or other licensed health professional in order to use probiotics to your benefit.

Don’t take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs unless they are necessary, as they can damage the intestinal lining. Relying on laxatives and other supplements to help you go can lead to other imbalances.

Minimize foods that may irritate your gut. These can vary from person to person, but often include spicy foods, reduced-calorie sweeteners, caffeine and alcohol.

Finally, avoid foods you can’t tolerate or foods that cause symptoms like gas, bloating, fatigue, headache, joint pain, abdominal pain and diarrhea. Keep a diet diary that tracks your symptoms along with your diet so you can find out which foods may be the culprit.

Learn to understand what your poo is saying about you.

Pay attention to changes in stool color.

Black. May be due to intestinal bleeding and you should see your doctor right away.

White. Indicates conditions involving the gallbladder, liver or pancreas.

Green. Could be caused by certain green plants and chlorophyll supplements, or an overproduction of bile.

Red. Beets are a common dietary culprit. Red may also be caused by blood from the large intestine or hemorrhoids.

Orange. Caused by some medications, but more commonly by beta-carotene, which is found in carrots, sweet potatoes and other colored foods.

Yellow. May indicate too much fat in the stool. The stool can also have a greasy appearance, which could indicate malabsorption or decreased bile.

*Notable changes
If you are experiencing stool changes, take note of other symptoms you have been experiencing since the stool changes began. If you experience associated abdominal pain, rectal pain, blood in the stool, white stool, gas and bloating, multiple days of diarrhea, constipation longer than five to seven days, a feeling of incomplete emptying, strong odor, nausea, vomiting or weight loss, promptly schedule an appointment with your physician.


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