2012: Issue 26

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2012 > Digestive Threats > Healthy Bowels

Healthy Bowels

What bowel movements tell us about health

Our digestive “waste” has a lot to say about our health and well-being. 

You may be flushing away some valuable insight into your health. Though it’s an abundant source for feces- related humor, digestive system waste also provides useful health information. Variations in color, shape, size and fecal texture can signal the presence of certain health conditions and nutritional imbalances.

As a general rule-of-thumb, the desired waste indicating good digestive health is dark brown in color and smooth in texture (though certain foods may cause changes in bowel movement color, texture or consistency without affecting one’s health). The following guidelines explain the health implications of various characteristics of digestive waste.  

Small, separated lumps, hard (pebble-like) texture and difficult to pass.

  • Constipation is indicated by hard, dry stools, likely due to insufficient intake of fiber and water.
  • Cut back on eating protein-rich foods like meat and dairy products. Drink more water (at least 8 cups a day) and boost dietary fiber by eating more fruit, leafy vegetables and brown rice. 

Sausage-like shape but texture is hard and lumpy.

  • Indicates constipation resulting from too little consumption of fiber and water.        
  • Avoid eating too much protein from meat and dairy products. Increase drinking water and fiber in diet, add more leafy vegetables, brown rice and fruit.

Cylindrical in shape with cracks on the outer surface.  

  • Surface cracks and dryness indicate insufficient intake of water and other fluids.
  • Increase water and fluid intake.

Stools are cylindrical in shape (resembling sausage) and texture is smooth and soft.

  • This is the gold standard for stools and an indicator of good eating habits and a general state of wellness.           
  • Good stool news is meant to be shared, so tell your family and friends about your healthy dietary habits and encourage them to make positive changes.

Soft, round blobs with smooth edges. Waste is easy to pass.

  • Indicates something is causing food to pass through the colon too quickly. This may cause dehydration and reduce nutrient absorption.
  • Be sure to include plenty of fruits and vegetables in your diet and consider adding yogurt to help balance intestinal bacteria.

Mushy, loose and fluffy in texture and with uneven edges, easy to pass.

  • May signify an allergy to certain foods or may be due to a bacterial imbalance in the colon, leading to dehydration     and malnutrition.
  • Consider a short-term change in the types of fiber-rich foods consumed. Reduce fruits, fruit juice and leafy vegetables while increasing consumption of whole-grain foods.
  • Include yogurt to help restore intestinal bacteria balance.

Watery, liquid consistency throughout. No solid pieces.

  • You may have a GI infection or other digestive problem that should be examined by your doctor.            
  • A doctor’s visit is necessary. Follow your doctor’s advice, which may include recommendations for eating freshly-cooked foods that are easily digested (e.g. brown rice soup, vegetable soup). Drink plenty of water and fluids containing electrolytes to prevent dehydration.
Color matters! *
    Indicates possibility of bleeding coming from the lower gastrointestinal tract (colon and rectum). Some cases may simply be the result of eating large volumes of red colored foods such as watermelon or beets.
    Indicates healthy intake of leafy green vegetables.
    May indicate problems related to the pancreas, gallbladder or other biliary system condition. Can also result from taking medication to block the absorption of fat.
    Indication of bleeding from the upper gastrointestinal tract or over-consumption of iron.
*A number of factors can affect stool color. The above guide is intended for information purposes only and is not intended for use in medical diagnosis. If you detect a change in bowel movement habits, you should consult a healthcare professional for further investigation.
For healthier bowel movements . . .
Reduce stress, anxiety and worry;
Exercise regularly and get sufficient rest;
Don’t push too hard during a bowel movement, as this squeezes the sphincter muscle and can make constipation worse.

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