Is your digestion really ‘normal’?

As advocates of healthy poos and happy bugs, we as Natural Health Practitioners (NHPs) are always wondering about your gut health.

“What colour is your stool?”

“Which poo on this diagram would you say yours most likely looks like?”

SOURCE: https://web.archive.org/web/20160304190114/http://cdn.intechopen.com/pdfs-wm/46082.pdf

These are common questions you’ll get at a standard initial consult (trust me, we love it).

While many will answer honestly about this natural bodily function,  there are still many who give us the response of:

“They’re pretty normal”.

Okay great, we’ll keep moving on shall we?

What is normal?

What I’ve uncovered in practice is that:

To some, normal is sitting on the toilet for 30 minutes to pass a bowel movement (BM).

To some, normal is feeling significantly bloated every day.

To some, normal is noticing fresh blood in the stool every now and then – “but I only get it once a month or so”.

We hear this all the time.

‘I just thought that was normal”.

And am I surprised? Not a lot. Because talking openly about our poo is not something we were taught at school.

“Hey babe, you should have seen the number 2 I did today – crazy” – said no one on their first date ever.

Okay, I don’t expect you to share your daily poo-PB to your partner. But it’s time you started feeling more comfortable talking about it to your health practitioner.

So here I want to give you some new insight into what’s normal, what’s not, and what to do about it.

WHAT IS ‘OPTIMAL’

  • 1-2 daily BMs
  • Smooth ‘banana’-like stools
  • Easy and complete evacuation (in and out like no-one knew)
  • 1-2 wipes needed
  • Consistent brown colour
  • No pain or discomfort

WHAT’S NOT NORMAL

  • Going more than a day without a BM
  • Diarrhoea and/or constipation
  • Irritable bowel – cramping, discomfort and pain often stimulating the need to pass a BM
  • Regular bloating and flatulence
  • Foul smelling flatulence or stool (like I mean “that ain’t right” type-smell – often eggy or sulphuric)
  • Unexplained gut pains
  • Regular reflux, especially acidic and burning
  • Undigested food, mucous, fat or blood in the stool
  • Sticks to the side of the bowl and is hard to flush
  • Dry and cracked stools
  • Loose stools or blobs
  • “Rabbit poo” stools – lots of pebbles
  • Incomplete evacuation
  • Traveller’s diarrhoea
  • Thin pencil-like stools
  • Pale clay-colour stools
  • Very dark or black stools (unless you’ve had a lot of beetroot lately)
  • Pain when eating 

WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT 

A myriad of factors can be driving these problems and it’s one you need to speak to a qualified Naturopath, Nutritionist, Integrated GP or other integrated HP.

The common condition of IBS can be caused by a condition called small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) whereby bacteria usually colonised to the large intestine, have now travelled up to the small intestine where they don’t belong. Another factor can be food intolerances such FODMAPs. After further questioning, we will put you onto the right protocol to rebalance the gut. It’s important to know that the low FODMAP diet is not a permanent measure – once corrected you can enjoy these foods again.

Problems such as pebbles, cracked stools, blood/haemorrhoids, long transit-time and pain can all be signs of constipation, and thus lack of dietary fibre +  adequate hydration.  One of my major gripes about common dietary guidelines is that we are made to think that fibre should mainly come from breads and cereals. And yet these very foods, processed and ultimately broken down into sugar in the body, are half the problem. Quality fibre is always best from real living foods; vegetables, fruits, legumes, lentils, psyllium husk, chia and flax seeds etc. But without water for this fibre to soak up and expand, the desired effect is not achieved. Aim for 2-3L/day (herbal teas are a great way to get extra hydration such as the Cleanse Me Tea).

Dark or black stools can be a sign of bleeding higher up in the GIT (possibly IBD or coeliac disease), whilst pale coloured stools can be a gallbladder, liver or pancreatic problem. Thin pencil-like stools are a sign of intestinal inflammation which creates a constricted passage way. These conditions all require immediate medical intervention through your GP, where they will order further tests and investigations.

What many of these conditions are commonly driven by include:

  • INFLAMMATORY DIET: highly processed foods, drugs and alcohol, sugar, grains and flours (breads, pasta, fruit juices, sugary yoghurts etc), and, a lack of omega 3s, fresh produce, filtered water and other factors.
  • Imbalance to healthy gut bugs (microflora)
  • Yeast overgrowth (commonly candida)
  • Parasites (they’re more common than you’d imagine)
  • Antibiotic use
  • Poor liver detoxification
  • Stress and anxiety
  • “Leaky gut syndrome” (intestinal hyperpermeability)
  • Lack of appendix (what do you know, it has a use!)

So how do you fix it?

The first thing to do is see your NHP as we’ll ask a series of questions to uncover what’s going on. We will then refer you for any recommended blood tests and exams through your GP.

We often also want to order functional tests such as an Organic Acids Test (OAT) and/or a Complete Digestive/Comprehensive Stool Analysis (CDSA or CSA). These tests will provide a much deeper look into the type of organisms in your gut, what foods you can and can’t digest, parasites, and a heap more (we can have these tests sent straight to your door and collected). This is incredibly important so that we can find out EXACTLY what’s going on, and treat accordingly, rather than wasting your time and money by guessing. We can also assess for “leaky gut” through microscopic blood analysis (I refer my patients to trained Medical Scientist Tania Delahoy at www.haemanalysis.com.au).

Once we know what’s going on, we use a series of nutrients, herbal medicines, probiotics, diet and lifestyle approaches to treat the body holistically. Depending on the condition, results are usually achieved around 12 weeks.

It often takes commitment and discipline when making these new changes. But once you see the significant improvements to your gut, skin, immunity, energy levels, allergies and hormones, you’ll soon make this a lifestyle change that you wondered how you lived without.

If you feel like you need some help, book into see me at any one of these locations either on site, or available by phone or Skype if interstate/overseas.

I look forward to talking poo with you!

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