Did you know that your bowel movements can actually give you important clues about what’s going on with your health? Yup! While it might seem a little weird or gross to pay attention to what’s going on in the toilet bowl, it’s actually a beneficial habit to have! If you’ve ever done a herbal consultation with me (or another practitioner), you’ll know that we spend a good amount of time talking about *all things bowel movement* and here’s why- the information revealed is giving important hints about what’s happening with your liver, gallbladder, if there’s inflammation present, potential food allergies and what your unique constitution type might be. Keep reading to know exactly what I’m looking for, and what you should be watching for when you go number 2, too!
5 Health Clues To Watch For When You Go Number 2
1. What Is Your Stool’s Consistency?
The consistency of your stool is one of the first signs we can look for in assessing what’s happening with your health.
We all know someone who takes *forever* in the bathroom, right? Well, this can be the first clue! What do I mean by harder consistency? Often, this looks like harder pellets, or lumpier stool. This usually makes stool harder to pass, can be accompanied by constipation or having to spend a long time sitting on the toilet to pass a bowel movement. The health implications of a slower bowel transit time is that it gives your body a chance to reabsorb the toxins it’s trying to eliminate. Not a good scene! It can also play a big role in hormone health.
For more on how bowel movements affect hormones, check out my article The Connection Between Bowel Health & Hormones (+ 7 Factors That Affect Bowel Health).
What could harder stool be telling us? Here are some of the clues it might be revealing:
- You’re not drinking enough water- The body needs roughly 8 cups of water per day (including herb teas!) to be able to lubricate the bowels properly. Without enough water, the stool becomes hard and doesn’t have enough lubrication to easily pass through the colon.
- Your gallbladder and liver need support in producing and releasing bile- Bile, produced by your liver and stored/released by your gallbladder, is partially responsible for lubricating the bowels. If your body is having a hard time with this, it could result in harder to pass stools.
- You may need more oils in your diet- Often, people who struggle with harder stools, also have systemic dryness and could benefit from healthful oils in the diet and/or a good quality supplement. Healthful oil sources could include: avocados, coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil, full-fat coconut milk, nuts and seeds, fish and omega 3 supplements.
- You need more fiber in your diet- Fiber is really important in “bulking” up the stool and allowing it to pass more easily. Increasing fruit and veggie intake to 6-8 servings daily is a great place to start! Other sources of fiber include whole grains, nuts and seeds. You can also include a fiber blend into smoothies, or on oatmeal. Common fiber sources include ground flaxseed and psyllium husk. Make sure that if you’re adding fiber to the diet, you get your 8 cups of water because fiber alone can have the opposite effect and bung you up further! Your body needs the water to make this a perfect combo for smooth bowel movements.
- You’re stressed- Stress can be a huge factor in digestive health. For some folks, stress is really felt in the digestive tract and can either speed up or slow down bowel transit time. Working to minimize and relieve stress can really help if this is a factor for you.
Similar to harder stool, loose stools can tell us a lot about what’s going on with your health. What do I mean by loose? Well, loose often refers to a stool that isn’t holding together and doesn’t keep its shape. It can range from being somewhat loose all the way to full on watery stools (more like diarrhea).
What could loose stool be telling us? Here are some of the clues it might be revealing:
- You’re not absorbing nutrients- When the transit time of the stool is really fast, it may not give your small intestine enough time to absorb your nutrients. Plus, if there’s irritation and inflammation present, that might be interfering with your body’s ability to break down and absorb nutrients as well. (more on this below)
- You may be losing minerals- Ever heard the saying: “Where water goes, minerals flow”? No, only me? Well, it’s true! When you have loose stools, that means your body hasn’t had the time to reabsorb the water in your colon, which means you’re likely losing minerals along with it. That’s why we get told to “take electrolytes” when we have a flu or stomach bug that leads to this kind of digestive disturbance. Severe diarrhea can actually lead to death if untreated because it leads to life-threatening dehydration and electrolyte loss. This doesn’t happen often in rich countries, but millions of people die from diarrheal disease around the world each year for this reason. (1) I’m not trying to scare you here, I promise! This is just to bring attention to the importance of paying attention to this part if it’s applicable to you.
- There’s inflammation and irritation in your digestive system- Whenever your stools are loose, it can be an indication that your colon is irritated. Irritation often translates to inflammation which can create bigger health consequences down the road, like leaky gut. It can also indicate the presence of an inflammatory bowel disease or a food intolerance. Speaking of which...
- You may have a food intolerance- Quicker transit times can be your body’s way of saying: “Nope! I want this out!” in regards to what we’re eating on a daily basis. It’s really common to see this where there are food intolerances present. Common food triggers include dairy and gluten, but depending on your body could be a variety of things including soy, corn, or other foods. For more on what to do about food intolerances, check out the 7 Factors That Affect Bowel Habit Health for some tips on addressing this.
- You’re stressed- Again, stress can be a huge factor in digestive health. Ever felt anxious and all of a sudden needed to run to the bathroom? This is really common! Often, anxiety or stressful emotions can impact the enteric nervous system (the nervous system of our gut), so learning to minimize stress may be a key factor here.
In order to identify the consistency of your stool, there’s a very handy chart called the Bristol Stool Chart, which is very informative and outlines what is a “healthy” consistency and what isn’t.
2. Does Your Stool Sink or Float?
This one gives us a clue about what’s going on with your liver and gallbladder’s ability to digest and emulsify oils. For this one to work, you need a toilet that’s filled with water (composting toilets, outhouses or any other place to poop won’t work here!). Ideally, we want the stool to sink to the bottom of the toilet bowl. If the stool floats, it can tell us that your gallbladder and liver may need a little support digesting oils. The undigested oils make the stool float on the water. Herbally, we have tons of plants that help the gallbladder and liver produce more bile, and/or release bile in order to emulsify and break down fats properly. For more on this, check out My Favorite Digestive Bitter Herbs to Support Liver Health.
3. What Color Is Your Stool?
To keep this part simple, generally, we’re looking for any kind of brown. Brown is a healthy color.
Yellow or White- If the color is on the yellow to white side of things, this could mean the liver isn’t producing bile and/or the gallbladder isn’t releasing bile. Bile is what’s responsible for making stool it’s typical brown color! Pale stool can also indicate an issue with your pancreas, too. (3)
Black stool can tell us there may be blood higher up in the digestive system, and should always be checked out by a doctor to rule out any cause of concern. Important to know is iron supplementation can change the stool an almost black color (very dark green), and is not an indication of intestinal bleeding. (2)
Purple, Maroon or Red- If your stool is purple, maroon or reddish, that may indicate blood in the stool, which might point to bleeding in the colon as can be present with Ulcerative Colitis or bowel disease. (see more below)
Of course, foods can change the color of your poo. As you’ve most likely experienced, beets turn it red. Leafy greens can turn it green. Lots of berries can turn it a purple color. Also, medications can change the stool color, so researching your medication can give insight to this as well.
4. Is There Mucus or Blood Present?
Frank (fresh) blood on the toilet paper is often due to hemorrhoids, which isn’t something to be too concerned about, but getting support can be really helpful here! There are many herbs that can be helpful in astringing the veins, and dietary shifts that can support vein health. I also recommend confirming that you do in fact have hemorrhoids with your doctor, just to be sure that’s the cause of the bleeding.
Blood can also be an indication that your stool is too hard, too often and you may need to bare down or push with bowel movements. If this is the case, working on the stool consistency through diet, lifestyle and herbs would be indicated here.
Blood in the stool itself and/or observed in the toilet bowl, is more cause for concern as it often means larger amounts of blood. This can indicate a bowel disease like Ulcerative colitis or Crohn's, which should be checked out by your physician/specialist. There are plenty of herbal supports for this once you know what it is, but until then, getting it looked at is important.
Mucus, often appearing as cloudy white droplets or surrounding the stool, can be an indication of inflammation. If you think about it, the role of mucus is to protect and coat irritated and inflamed tissue. This often shows up where there are food intolerances or inflammatory bowel diseases, and should also be followed up with dietary shifts and a check up at the doctors to rule out any cause for concern.
5. Can You See Undigested Food?
If you’re seeing little bits of food (often seeds, leafy greens, grains), this means your digestive fire isn’t strong enough to break down nutrients. By the way, NOBODY can digest corn! ;) So corn is the only exception here- if you see whole corn kernels, that’s 100% normal.
Our nutrient breakdown starts all the way at the top of our digestive system in our mouths. When we eat, saliva starts the breakdown process. Then stomach acid kicks in, pancreatic enzymes, bile from the liver and gallbladder and the microbiome in the colon all play a role in nutrient breakdown and assimilation. If somewhere along the way any of these digestive processes are off, it can result in our food making it all the way through our digestive system without being properly assimilated.
Eating on the go and while stressed can also play a key role in nutrient breakdown. When we’re stressed, the body redirects blood flow and energy away from the digestive system and into the body systems that will help us escape an emergency (like our hearts, lungs and the big muscle groups). So chewing properly, taking time to eat and shifting the nervous system from “fight, flight or freeze” into “rest and digest” (it’s called that for a reason!) can play a big role in nutrient breakdown.
Stimulating the digestive juices through herbal bitters, promoting digestion by encouraging a healthy microbiome, slowing down to eat and reducing stress around eating can all be important factors here.
Your Bowel Habits Can Reveal Your Unique Constitution Type
Not only do bowel movements reveal information about your general health, but it can also reveal important information about your unique constitution type. See, everyone has a different “internal terrain”. Some of us are dryer, warmer, colder, and oilier than others. If you tend towards constipation, this gives me a clue that your digestion might be dry and cold, which means the herbs we choose should bring warmth, stimulation and lubrication to the bowels and digestive system. If you have a tendency towards diarrhea or loose bowel movements with undigested food, that tells me that you might be experiencing heat in your intestines and we might need to use anti-inflammatory, astringent and cooling herbs to slow down digestion and balance your internal terrain.
As you can see, a simple bowel movement can reveal A LOT about what’s happening inside of your body! After all, health starts in the digestive system. I hope you’ve learned a ton about what your poops are trying to tell you and that you feel inspired to listen to the language of your digestive system ;)
May you always have glorious poops, my friend!
READY TO GET TO THE ROOT CAUSE OF YOUR HEALTH ISSUES, NATURALLY? BOOK A CONSULTATION WITH ME SO WE CAN DO IT TOGETHER!