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Bowel habit dictates digestive health and general wellbeing

Warning: This could be an uncomfortable read for some

The stool is a strong indicator of ‘something wrong’

Jessica Sanders

Did you know that your bowel movements can be impacted by how much water you drink a day, your exercise and eating habits, age, gender and health status?

Although talking about “eliminations” may be uncomfortable, everybody poops. Paying attention to your bowel movements is important as bowel habits are a strong indicator of your digestive health and changes in your stool can reveal digestive issues or more serious health problems.

While there is no set number of bowel movements a person should have, 1-2 bowel motions a day is the ideal amount for healthy digestion and a properly functioning gastrointestinal tract.

The Bristol Stool Scale

Many people have no idea what their poop is telling them. The size, shape and colour of your bowel motions can tell a lot about you. Faecal matter comprises 75% water and 25% solid matter and consists of indigestible food, dead bacteria and inorganic substances. It can take up to three days for food to pass through the digestive tract, resulting in a bowel movement.

The time it takes for food to travel through your digestive system, known as gut transit time, is one measure of gut health. When food passes through your system too quickly or too slowly, it can impact the look and feel of your stool and be a sign that your digestion is out of balance.

The Bristol Stool Scale was developed in 1997 as a clinical assessment and research tool for health professionals. It classifies stool types into seven categories based on size and texture and can be used to diagnose constipation, diarrhoea, and other issues.

As a simple gut health check, keep track of your regular pooping habits and get to know what is normal for you.

Poop appearance

Type 1: These stools are separate, hard balls or lumps. They are hard to pass and spend too much time in the colon. This indicates severe constipation, which can be caused by not drinking enough water (dehydration), lack of fibre in the diet, not getting enough exercise, some medications, and changes to your routine.

Type 2: Lumpy and sausage-like, these can be stuck together. These stools indicate mild constipation and may produce haemorrhoids if you strain to get them out.

Type 3: Like a sausage shape with cracks on the surface. These stools may cause mild straining but are on the low end of ‘acceptable.’ It might be a good idea to increase your water and fibre intake.

Type 4: Banana or sausage like, these stools can be S-shaped: soft and moist, not too hard, not too soft – they are just right! If you see stools like this in the toilet, Gold Star! You are an A+ pooper. You probably also eat a good amount of fibre, get regular exercise and drink at least 30 ml of water per kg of weight to stay well hydrated.

Type 5: Soft blobs with clear-cut edges, these stools can pass easily and are on the high end of ‘acceptable’. They are typical of one who experiences several bathroom trips per day and may indicate a lack of fibre in the diet. Our hormones can impact our stools, too – especially if you are a woman and it is around ‘that time of the month.’

Type 6: Mushy consistency with ragged edges. This is usually indicative of mild diarrhoea. You might want to consider adding more fibre to your diet. If it is ongoing, getting a test from your GP or Naturopath to rule out any gut bugs is a good idea.

Type 7: Liquid consistency with no solid pieces indicates severe diarrhoea. This is not good. Chronic diarrhoea can lead to dehydration, which is particularly dangerous. If you have signs of serious dehydration, seek medical help.

Tips for Healthy Bowels

Drink at least 30 mL per kg of body weight of fresh water daily. Consume green tea, dandelion tea, fresh vegetable juices, prune juice, broths, miso and other soups. Include insoluble fibre in your diet, including whole grains, brown rice, seeds, nuts, flax seeds and chia seeds.

Eat a minimum of 2-3 cups of leafy green vegetables a day.

Take a high quality, researched probiotic daily; we love Gutsi as it is a unique, broad-spectrum probiotic and antioxidant for everyone. Try cutting out dairy or gluten or both for a while as they can contribute to digestive related issues.

Jessica Sanders

Quick facts

New Zealand has one of the highest bowel cancer rates in the world

Bowel cancer is the second highest cause of death in New Zealand

In 2011, 3030 people were diagnosed with bowel cancer and 1191 died from the disease

According to the Ministry of Health, Bowel cancer is a malignant growth that develops inside the bowel. It is also called the colon, rectal or colorectal cancer.

One of the most important things to consider is that if something seems abnormal for you, you should get it checked out. If you experience changes in bowel habits or see blood in your stools, please advocate for yourself and see a health practitioner immediately.

Jessica Sanders is a Naturopath, Medical Herbalist and Yoga Teacher (RYT-200). She lives on the Kapiti Coast.

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