Embarrassing though it may be, our toilet habits are hugely important. Frequency, consistency and colour all serve as signals, revealing tell-tale clues about our health.
As a nation, we’re not particularly open about opening our bowels, but we should try and at least open our minds to the messages our gut is sending us every time we take a seat on the porcelain throne.
Colour – 50 shades of brown, and beyond…
The spectrum of stool colour is vast and can be greatly influenced by your daily diet. Most changes are completely normal and nothing to be concerned about. However, it’s worth taking an interest in the hue of your poo to learn what’s normal for you.
This may be a sign that food is moving through your large intestine too fast and not breaking down properly. Certain vegetables or green dyes can also cause the change in colour.
Pale and Yellow
This could be a sign of undigested fat in the stool. The absorption of fats by the body is important so have a chat with your GP if this persists.
Chalky white or clay coloured
You may notice this if your body is not producing enough bile. If this doesn’t change, have a chat with your GP.
Do you take Iron tablets or Pepto Bismol? If so, you may notice a darkening of the stool. However, the colour change may also be a warning sign, Look out for a foul smell or tar like texture and talk to your GP if you are concerned.
Red or maroon
Have a think about what you’ve eaten recently. Have you been munching on beetroot, radish or rhubarb? If so, the natural dyes may be the cause for the colour change. However, if you notice this continues, the red colouring could indicate bleeding so do have a word with your GP if you’re concerned.
Consistency – the fast and loose rules of stools
Hard, difficult to pass stools are often related to constipation. When your digestion is sluggish, waste products take longer to pass through the gut and transit in the bowels slows down. Not drinking enough water can be a key cause, as well as not including enough soluble fibre, so keep hydrated and make sure you eat your porridge!
Watery, soft stools which pass more frequently than normal can indicate the presence of “bad bacteria” in the gut or not enough “good bacteria”. Causes could include food poisoning, a gastrointestinal virus, IBS or a food intolerance. Keep hydrated, stick to a bland diet and avoid roughage rich foods, such as beans or cabbage, which are hard to digest.
Frequency – How often is too often?
This really varies from person to person and, if you have a healthy, balanced diet and stay hydrated, you should have a good idea of how often is normal for you. The important thing to look out for is change – are you going more or less often than normal and has this been going on for a while?
Quick (Do) dos and don’ts
• Do keep hydrated – plenty of water is important for healthy gut transit
• Don’t strain – if you find you have to, include more fibre in your diet
• Do maintain correct posture – You should look to elevate your feet to help open your bowels! (Grab a copy of the Yellow Pages!)
• Don’t ignore warning signs – talk to your GP if you notice anything unusual – don’t be embarrassed, they’ve seen it all before!
When it comes to healthy bowels, it’s important not to get too bogged down in day to day changes. The foods we eat can often lead to seemingly alarming changes (green poo, anyone?). However, if you notice something abnormal that persists for a week or more, it’s important to talk to your doctor.
Listen to your gut…
Often referred to as the second brain, Your gut is a vital hub of information about your health and it’s sensitive, reacting to everything from stress to the food you feed it, medication and lifestyle choices.
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