What Does Your Poop Say About Your Gut Health?
Jul 12, 2022
By Dr. Jessica Christie
Did you know that your poop can actually clue you in to the status of your gut health and even your overall health? It’s true! The shape, consistency, color, and smell are all factors that change depending on your current state of health.
The Bristol Stool Chart categorizes your poop (or stool) into seven categories based on appearance.
- Type 1-2 indicate constipation
- Type 3-4 are ideal stools as they are easier to pass
- Type 5-7 may indicate diarrhea
Stool shape and consistency, specifically, is dependent on the amount of time it’s in the colon (known as transit time) before leaving the body. If the transit time is too fast, the body doesn’t have enough time to reabsorb the water, so the consistency is looser. When the transit time is too slow, the body reabsorbs too much water, and the stool becomes hard.
Your stool’s appearance is the result of many different factors including your diet, fluids, medications, supplements, and lifestyle (such as sleep and exercise routines).
Dietary Factors Influencing Your Stool:
- Fiber is a nutrient that, interestingly enough, our bodies don’t digest. It passes through our body undigested and affects stool by bulking it and making it heavier and softer. Fiber can also affect transit time by quickening the time it takes to leave the body. Some great examples of fiber are whole vegetables and fruits, nuts and seeds, beans and legumes, and whole grains. Vegetarian or vegan diets are shown to result in more frequent poops due to the high fiber intake!
- Diets high in refined sugar can also affect the stool. When we ingest high amounts of refined sugar, it can create a laxative effect—making our stools looser. Artificial sweeteners also affect our stool by disrupting the gut bacteria balance. When the microbiome gets disturbed (dysbiosis) it can change the texture, color, and smell of the stool.
- Hydrating—specifically with mineral-rich spring water, if possible— is also a big factor, as research shows that during states of dehydration, constipation increases.
Lifestyle Factors Influencing Your Stool:
- Sleep quality and quantity is integral to digestion. Studies show that the higher quality sleep you get, the more formed and easier to pass your stools become. Sleep turns off your “flight or fight” response, allowing for proper digestion to occur, and when you digest well, your stool looks and feels improved!
- Exercise can also affect the consistency of your stool. More movement equals more frequent bowel movements, which is why exercise is really important for hard stools or constipation. Even simple movements like walking can make a huge difference.
- If you take any type of medication, it could potentially be affecting your stool. For example, there are about 700 medications that list diarrhea as a common side effect. While taking medications may be necessary in certain cases (making discontinuation impossible), you can typically counteract this side effect by maintaining a healthy diet and exercise routine.
- Even vitamins and supplements can affect stool. For example, vitamin C in too high of a concentration can lead to diarrhea. Magnesium can also affect the stool’s consistency and frequency, making it a useful supplement for those suffering from constipation.
If you’re looking for herbal blends to support your digestive health, we recommend Follow Your Gut for its anti-inflammatory properties and prebiotic content (food for good bacteria), as well as triphala, which is a tried and true herbal remedy for sluggish bowels and constipation.
If you’re less of a…visual learner, it’s worth noting that smell is also associated with the state of the microbiome and overall gut health. Substances called Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are emitted from the bacteria in your gut and are largely responsible for the smell of the stool. Different microbes will give off slightly different VOCs which have slightly different smells. Interestingly enough, there is a technology that can help diagnose diseases based on the smell of the stool!
Overall, poop can tell us quite a bit about our health. So don’t be shy, take a look next time you go—you might learn something new about the status of your health!
About Dr. Jessica Christie
Dr. Jessica Christie is a naturopathic doctor and Certified Nutrition Specialist® who works with clients across the United States. She specializes in helping clients get to the root cause of their symptoms, while optimizing health and wellness through nutrition and natural protocols.