March 17, 2015
Up to now I've only talked about what you should or shouldn't put into your body. I think along with that there should be conversations about the health of what comes out of you too. There's a scene in the movie Never Cry Wolf where the biologist (Charles Martin Smith) tells an old Inuit man that you can tell how healthy a wolf is by understanding what came out of it, to which the old man replies, "Good idea."
The ancient Greeks understood this and practiced a diagnosis of the Alvine Discharge. Yes, they got it wrong as to how the stool came out as it did. They thought four humors (sanguine, phlegmatic, choleric, and melancholic) exerted their powers on food during digestion. But they got it right in terms of what a healthy poo looks and smells like. Hippocrates lived in 400 BC and prescribed whole grain bread to help with digestion and bowel movement. The notion of fiber didn't exist but some of the understanding of getting results was already clear.
So, what's a healthy stool? I'll keep it short and sweet.
- Brown, well-formed but soft and sausage like, usually once a day. Perhaps odorless, but some odor is healthy, too.
- Brown, formed but soft blobs, multiple times a day. Again, in terms of aroma, odorless to some odor.
Here are the kind of poops to notice and in some cases consider checking it out with a doctor.
- Hard rabbit looking poos. This typically means you're not getting enough fiber. Time to add whole grains, lentils, avocados, beans, brussel sprouts, raspberries, etc. to your diet.
- Dark brown to black. This could be nothing more than the result of consuming dark foods, like wine or licorice, or it could be a sign of internal bleeding. If this condition persists you might want to get checked out.
- Large lumpy, on the dry side, difficult to pass. These are often the poops that result in constipation or irritable bowel syndrome. To experience these repeatedly is probably worth a check up. Many medical authorities do not recommend increasing fiber due to a variety of causes which fiber might make worse (like a blocked intestine).
- Constipation. Aside from simply being too large to comfortably pass, there are other reasons for constipation. A major one is not drinking enough water. Another is not getting enough exercise.
- Truck stop, house clearing smell. This is usually from eating lots of animal fat. It's a no brainer to eat meat less and increase fiber rich foods and vegetables in the diet. But also, any odd smell that persists could mean anything from mild food poisoning to something to see your doctor about.
- Diarrhea. There could be many reasons for it, most of them pointing toward something definitely wrong. It could be a bacterial infection (especially food poisoning), viral, a medicine reaction, or lactose intolerance to name a few. Chronic diarrhea (weeks of it) is definitely a serious issue and should receive medical treatment.
- Flatulence. I throw this one in because it's directly related to the signals of health. Overall, passing gas is normal. A lot of it comes from simply swallowing air, which we do naturally throughout a day. It only has two places to come back out. Another reason is the body's inefficiency at digesting complex carbohydrates. When you eat beans, for example, a lot of those carbs make it to the lower intestine without being digested and bacteria go to town. As we age our bodies get less efficient at digesting complex carbs. But if food choice doesn't seem to be associated with flatulence it could be a sign of something serious and worth a doctor visit.
These are signs as to how your body is doing. If anything's out of the ordinary it's a good idea to bring it up at your next physical. Or if it's persistently out of the ordinary, get it checked soon.
As we get older it's not uncommon to take particular interest in what comes out of us. At any age it's part of an effective healthy practice to notice. If our poop isn't normal, it can be a signal to address the changes to get it back to normal. Diet and exercise are key elements of that... along with your doctor's advice.