We all do it.
For some it’s a source of embarrassment, something to get out the way, and can only be done in their own home with no one around (preferably with the door firmly locked and the radio on loud). Yet for others, they relish the idea of taking their time, possibly reading a good book or doing the crossword, and are then happy to share with their peers details of the experience and what it produced!
Whatever your toilet habits might be, ask yourself if perhaps you should check out what lurks in the bowl before flushing away your excrement without giving it a second glance, because it could be telling you something about your health that could not only be important but life changing!
Let’s take it back to basics and look at what the digestive system is, and how it works.
“The digestive system is a group of organs working together to convert food into energy and basic nutrients to feed the entire body. Food passes through a long tube inside the body known as the alimentary canal or the gastrointestinal tract.”
The digestive system starts with the mouth and teeth and then includes the oesophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, pancreas, liver and gall bladder.
The mouth and teeth break your food down and mix it with saliva, which begins the digestive process. The oesophagus is the link between the mouth and the stomach. The stomach secretes acid and enzymes which dilute and break up your food further, digesting the proteins, killing off most of the bacteria in the food and delivering the food into the small intestine. It usually takes about four hours for most of a moderate sized meal to be emptied from the stomach. The small intestine is a narrow tube and is about six metres long. Here the major food groups – protein, fat and carbohydrate – are broken down into amino acids, sugars and fatty acids, which are then absorbed into the bloodstream. It can take between two to six hours for a meal to be processed in the small intestine. The colon (or large intestine) salvages unabsorbed material from the small intestine. The pancreas is a digestive gland that secretes an alkaline juice which contains powerful enzymes that break down protein, fat and carbohydrates. It is also the source of the hormone insulin. The liver receives blood from the gut, filters it, removes toxins, metabolises drugs, stores nutrients and synthesizes proteins for various purposes including blood clotting. It also synthesizes bile. The gall bladder stores and concentrates that bile, and after a meal squeezes it into the small intestine, where it helps to digest fat.
The rumbles and groans you will feel in (and hear from!) your abdomen are caused by the propulsion of gas and fluid through different regions of the gut. The fluid is a mixture of food, drink and digestive juices and the gas may either be swallowed air or carbon dioxide generated by the combination of acid and alkaline digestive juices in the stomach and by the fermentation of unabsorbed carbohydrates and protein in the colon. These noises are more obvious when you are hungry or nervous because stimulation of the vagus nerves cause gut propulsion.
Cramps and abdominal pains are most likely due to spasms but if persistent may indicate intestinal obstruction. Pain like a knife just below the breast bone that is relieved by eating may suggest peptic ulceration. Pain in the right upper corner of the abdomen that goes to the back just below the right shoulder blade may indicate gallstones. Bloating may be related to a combination of stress and ingestion of gassy fruit and vegetables.
Because the gut is sophisticated, so many factors can affect it and put it out of kilter. Stress, what we eat, illness, exercise, medications, even getting older can affect the gut and lead to abdominal pain, bloating, nausea and vomiting, indigestion, constipation, diarrhoea and flatulence.
So take care of your gut, regulate what you eat, lead a balanced life, break up your day with time for relaxation, allow enough time to eat properly, make sure you get enough sleep, and allow time to go to the loo.
Poo is made up of water, fibre, bacteria, bile and sloughed-off cells from the inside of your intestinal tract. A healthy digestive system is the basis for good health. Your faeces are a mine of information and are far too valuable to flush away without that aforementioned second glance.
The perfect poo is about the size and shape of a banana, not too hard or too soft. Normal frequency can be anything from three times a week to three times a day. However, most people feel their best with one or two bowel movements each day. Regularity is the key to your digestive system working to the best of its ability. Whether that means you are going once a day or every other day, the continuity is a sign that your system is ticking along nicely.
Seeing pieces of undigested food in your poo is cause for concern. Either you have not chewed your food well enough or your digestive system is in need of support. The exception to this rule is the odd kernel of corn or piece of tomato skin that can be difficult to digest. If you have undigested food in your poo, slow down when you eat and chew each mouthful at least 10 times before swallowing. If you still have issues, take a digestive enzyme with each meal.
If your poo looks like that of a sheep or guinea pig, it is generally a sign you hold stress in your bowel. A stressed poo may exit like a log but falls apart in the toilet bowl into small pebbles. It can also be a sign that you are dehydrated so be sure to drink plenty of water to support your digestive system. For a more comfortable position for your bowels, sit up straight and elevate your feet on a footstool. Magnesium can help to relax muscles, including the muscles that line the bowel.
A floating poo, which is preferable to a sinking poo, is a sign your diet is high in fibre. The fibre attracts bacteria, which create gas, and this allows the poo to rise in the water. If your poo sinks, eat more wholegrains such as rolled oats and brown rice, and legumes such as lentils, chickpeas and baked beans, and increase your fruit and vegetable intake.
A dark poo can indicate you have eaten a lot of spinach or you are taking iron supplements. It can also be a sign of constipation. However, a dark poo can indicate more serious health problems, such as bleeding in the bowel. By the time the blood has travelled down the digestive tract, the iron has oxidised and darkened. A sticky black poo may indicate blood loss further up the digestive tract and is a sign you should visit your doctor.
When you can see mucus that resembles a gel on your poo or on the toilet paper this may be a sign of inflammation. The digestive tract is lined with mucous membranes that secrete mucus which allows for the easy passage of your poo. In general, you should not be able to see the mucus. If you do, it may indicate inflammation of the mucous membranes lining the bowel. This could be a sign of infection, gluten sensitivity or an inflammatory bowel disease such as ulcerative colitis. Slippery elm powder is a gentle fibre that helps reduce inflammation in the bowel. If you still see mucus, see a doctor.
The poo that leaves skid marks on the toilet bowel and is sticky, smelly and difficult to flush is a sign there is fat in your poo. The skid mark poo may also be khaki, a colour that may be all the rage on safari but is not a good look for your poo. There is a chance your gall bladder or liver are in trouble. Drink some lemon juice in hot water each morning and give alcohol a miss.
How long does it take for your food to be excreted? Transit time is the length of time your poo takes to travel out of your body. What is the correct amount of time for this journey? Bowel length varies considerably from person to person and this can influence transit time. The average transit time is between 18 and 36 hours but people who eat less refined diets will find that their transit time is a more effective 12 to 18 hours.
How can you tell your transit time? Eating a cup of grated raw beetroot and a handful of sesame or sunflower seeds, without chewing them, and noticing when the last remnants have been excreted, will give you an approximation of your own personal transit time.
If you are in any way concerned about the state of your poo and what it could be telling you about your current state of health then please don’t hesitate to contact our dedicated Nutrition team.
Yes, this is an embarrassing subject to talk about, escpecially with a stranger (so maybe don’t post your comments publicly)!
You can call our studio on 01444 484129 or click the link below to arrange a your FREE 60 MINUTE CONSULTATION at our studio in Lindfield.