Bathroom habits (or more specifically, toilet habits!) is not a subject that many people like to talk about.. However, the amount of times you visit the toilet each day, what happens when you visit the toilet and what you deposit into the toilet are all valuable clues to your overall health. What I'm going to delve into now is bowel motions...
When it comes to poo... What is normal?
Passing a stool once per day is usually considered normal but normal can also be twice per day. As long as that is a consistent pattern. What is not normal is going every few days or so. In saying that, it is normal if, on occasion, bowel motion frequency changes due to what a person has eaten or done in the previous couple of days as well as where a woman is in her menstrual cycle.
What we also need to talk about is the consistency of your stool. Do yourself a favour here and do a google search on the "Bristol Stool Chart." This is a chart of stool consistencies ranging from type 1 which looks like small pellets to type 7 which is entirely liquid. Both of these extremes are not normal. What is normal is type 3 to type 4. A stool like this indicates adequate hydration, fibre intake and good digestion.
The importance of a normal bowel motion.
There are a number of elimination pathways that our bodies use to remove waste which include bowel motions as well as urination, breathing and through the skin. If a person is not effectively eliminating waste from the body, toxins can build up and contribute to the development of a number of conditions. When a person is constipated, toxins within a stool may actually be reabsorbed back into the body. If a person has regular diarrhoea, this means the transit time from eating to elimination is sped up and does not allow the body enough time to absorb adequate amounts of nutrients from their food which can lead to nutrient deficiencies as well as dehydration.
Constipation is irregular bowel motions that are difficult to pass. Stools often look like type 1-2 on the Bristol Stool Chart.
It's often a joke within families that one family member will take something to read to the toilet with them to pass some time while they're there. Is this normal? Well it might be common but I wouldn't call it normal. Are they taking a long time because they're finding it hard to pass a stool or because there is a lot of clean up? Ideally, passing a stool should be a relatively quick and easy event which requires minimal straining and minimal clean up afterwards. Straining puts pressure on the lining of the colon and rectum which can lead to anal fissures and haemorrhoids. Another important thing to note here is a messy poo (aka, takes a lot of wiping)... If a stool like this leaves skid marks in the toilet, just think about what the lining of your colon must look like. Leaving skid marks in your colon can also mean that the remaining waste, which is meant to be eliminated from the body, may be reabsorbed back into the body.
There are primary causes which directly cause constipation and secondary causes of which constipation may be a side effect of something else like some medications or other health issues such as hypothyroidism. Mostly commonly, the primary causes of constipation are inadequate water intake and inadequate fibre intake. Ensure you're drinking 2-3 litres of water per day for good hydration and increase your fibre with a minimum of 5 serves of vegetables per day, 2 serves of fruit per day and choose whole grain foods, seeds and nuts. I'm sure this is not the first time you've heard this but if you want to look after your health, these are important things to be doing on a daily basis. Eat foods that are as close to their natural state as possible to ensure that the food contains the most amount of fibre. That includes not peeling vegetables when not necessary and choose brown breads over white. Even multigrain bread is often white bread with a whole lot of seeds added in and, if not chewed thoroughly, will come out looking the same as how they went in so you won't be getting the benefits from those seeds anyway. Getting regular exercise is also important for regular bowel motions as exercise helps to keep your body toned and your circulation and digestion moving. Putting your feet up on a little step whilst on the toilet can also help to improve bowel motions as the step brings the knees up into a higher position which puts your colon in a better position to relax and release a stool. Google "squatty potty unicorn video" for a funny video with more information on that!
Laxatives are a common go-to when a person suffers from constipation but depending on the type of laxative you use (meaning how exactly the laxative affects the body) can lead to a lazy digestive system. Just like your muscles lose tone and strength if they're not used, so do the smooth muscles of the digestive system which move your food through. Laxatives are a quick fix but are not getting to the cause of your constipation.
Diarrhoea is types 5-7 on the Bristol Stool Chart. Diarrhoea is a more difficult situation to diagnose and support. If you have food poisoning, this usually means that your body has recognised that something you have eaten contained toxins and so your body is trying to eliminate those toxins the fastest way possible. This is usually via vomiting and diarrhoea which is resolved after a day or so. It's also common to have a bout of diarrhoea for this same reason if you have a virus as the body is trying to eliminate the virus. However, diarrhoea that is regular may indicate a more severe health condition such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) or an Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). IBS can be caused by food intolerances or issues with gut microbiome. IBD is a more serious problems which requires further help. Diarrhoea can also be a symptom of a parasitic infection. Regular diarrhoea may also mean there is an issue higher up with your digestion such as your liver or gall bladder. If you have regular diarrhoea, I recommend seeking further investigations with your preferred health practitioner.
Bowel motions are an unpopular discussion topic but the importance of your bowel motions may be something that you need to pay a little more attention to. If you don't usually look at your stools, look next time and compare to the Bristol Stool Chart to get an idea of where your digestive health is at the moment. Although, I have to add that the Bristol Stool Chart is not the whole story when it comes to stools. There is also undigested food, colour, odour, blood and may other things to consider with stools which can further indicate what is happening with your digestion and your digestive tract. If you would like further help, see your health practitioner.