Signs of a Healthy Bowel Movement
By Sarah Axtell, ND • January 17, 2012
As a naturopathic doctor, I am always asking patients about their bowel movements. Bowel movements are a window into the state of health of your whole body. In fact, according to the International Institute of Nutrition Research, the health of your colon is a major predictor of how long you will live and how healthy you will be as you age.
When you eliminate properly through your gastro-intestinal tract, you are ridding your body of unnecessary waste. If your digestive processes are not working properly, this can not only manifest in obvious digestive distress (such as constipation and bloating), but it can also result in other signs of general toxemia. This includes acne, fatigue, insomnia, headaches, depression, and poor immunity.
Here are some signs of a healthy bowel movement, which in turn means a healthy you.
1. Frequency- A healthy body rids its waste once or more per day. Ideally, you have a bowel movement (BM) in the morning and again after substantial meals (up to 2-3 times total per day). Constipation is defined as less than 3 BM’s per week. On the other hand, diarrhea can be a sign of an acute or chronic infection, food allergies/intolerances, celiac disease, or inflammatory bowel diseases, such as crohn’s and ulcerative colitis.
2. Quality- Quality is just as important as quantity. BM’s should be soft and easy to pass without having to strain. It should be a relatively effortless process. They should not be hard, dry or in the shape of pellets. After-all, we are not rabbits! Floating stool may suggest the presence of gas in it (usually associated with higher fruit and vegetable intake) or digestive insufficiency.
3. Size- Ideally, your BM should be in one smooth piece, about the size of a banana, give or take a few inches. Stool should be well-formed. However, it should not be ribbon-like, for this can be a serious sign of bowel obstruction.
4. General Appearance- Healthy stool is medium brown in color, but there can be normal variations according to what you have recently eaten. For example, if you have eaten a lot of greens (kale, anyone?), your stool may have a greener hue. Eating beets can produce red stools. This is perfectly normal. However, if you have not recently eaten beets and your stool is red, this could be a sign of hemorrhoids, anal fissures or colon cancer. Black, tarry stools can be a sign of internal bleeding higher up in the digestive tract, indicative of a possible ulcer. Contact your doctor if this is the case. Darker stools can also be from iron supplementation.
You should not see undigested food in your stool (besides the occasional corn). Undigested food indicates poor digestion and absorption, which can be the result of food allergies, chronic infections, or inflammatory bowel conditions.
A greasy film on the surface of the toilet water indicates fat malabsorption, termed steatorrhea. Fatty stools is often accompanied by a particular foul odor. This is indicative of celiac disease, lactose intolerance, inflammatory bowel diseases, infection, or pancreatic insufficiency.
Strategies to Achieve a Healthy Bowel Movement
- Drink more water. Aim to drink 1/2 your body weight in ounces of water per day.
- Eat more fiber. Add 2-4 tbsps ground flax seeds to your diet daily. Also, aim to eat 8-9 servings of fruits and vegetables daily.
- Establish a daily routine. Not only will your adrenal glands love you for this, but so will your colon!
- Breathe deeply. Take 50 conscious deep breaths per day to allow your body to unwind and de-stress.
- Exercise daily. Aim for 30 minutes of movement per day. This does not have to be strenuous–walking is great! Just get up and move…your bowels will appreciate it!
- Consider doing a physician-guided cleanse or detoxification. This can help eliminate toxins through your organs of elimination, such as your GI tract and liver, to rid your body of accumulated waste.
- Castor oil packs. I am NOT suggesting you take castor oil internally (this will give you urgent diarrhea). Instead, try applying a small amount of castor oil to your abdomen nightly for a safe and effective at-home-remedy for constipation and general detoxification.
- Take a probiotic supplement. Probiotics, or “good bacteria,” will help to out-crowd the “bad guys” and will maintain a healthy GI tract and immune system. Take at least 10 billion CFUs (Colony Forming Units) per day.
- Consider getting tested for food allergies. They are more common than you think! Food allergy testing is available at Lakeside Natural Medicine.
Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health practitioners with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.