A friend of mine was recently diagnosed with colon cancer. He attributed his customary heartburn, constipation and the presence of blood in his stool as “normal” (to him), especially that hemorrhoids were common among his family members. Well, a colonoscopy had this vibrant 40+ year-old saying “Oh shit!”
Did you know you should be taking a look at your poop on a regular basis to keep an eye on your digestive heath? Stools are the end product of eating and digesting our meals, as the body rid itself of undigested foods and toxins. Have you ever wondered what a “normal stool” should be like especially when we experience the hardness and looseness of this smelly necessity? Well, let’s take a look.
Normal Stool should have the general color of cardboard, 4 to 8 inches long, and curved like a banana. It should leave your body easily without the need to strain or push, and without pain. Your stool should fall easily once it hits the water and should have very little smell. On average, you should pass stool at least once per day. If your stools are dark, it means it has been sitting in your colon longer than it should.
Constipation is a concern when you normally go once or twice a day, and now you don’t go for three days, or more. This leads to smelly gassiness and bloating due to bacterial growth, with pushing and straining that might not lead to much. Increasing fiber and water through increased fruits, vegetables, and whole grain fiber might be an easy fix in this situation, if the cause is not linked to medications.
Diarrhea are loose stools that can also mean digestive disaster, whether from sensitivity to certain foods, or from harmful bacteria or virus. The danger of diarrhea is that it can cause other health problems such as dehydration if prolonged for more than two or three days.
COLOR – The Red Flags of Stool
Before we look at what the color spectrum of stools and what they may mean, let me stress again – everyday your stools tell you quite a bit about your diet and health, and is an important way to recognize changes in your digestive system.
Pale Stool tends to look light or greyish, suggests the liver might not be producing enough bile, because bile salts give stools their brownish color. Bile plays a very important role in the digestion of fats. As such, pale stools are soft, may float, be foul smelling and greasy due to undigested fat. While taking antacids and products with aluminum can also result in pale stools, there may also be an underlying disorder of the intestines that can lead to nutritional deficiencies of the fat soluble vitamins..
Mucus in Stool is typically whitish, and may be a sign of intestinal inflammation and the presence of bacterial overgrowth. Mucus can be present with constipation as well as diarrhea and is often linked with food allergies and sensitivities to specific foods.
Green Stool is rarely a concern, as it often tells a story of what you have been eating lately, such as your kale/spinach chlorophyll rich green smoothies, or after taking certain medications or iron supplements. Green stools occur when food passes through the intestines quicker than normal and bacteria and bile salts have not had enough time to act to change the color from green to brown. Please note that any thing that promotes diarrhea (such as laxatives) can also result in green stools.
Black Stools or tarry stools could be as non-threatening as taking medication or supplements, or be the grim reaper of stool color due to serious illness (the latter is usually accompanied by bad smell). This may be telling us there are serious digestive problems such as bleeding in the digestive tract. Taking too many pain medications, drinking alcohol excessively, and undue stress can result in black stools. Black stools could be the sign of ulcer or cancer.
Here’s to good health!
Truly, it is quite simple to keep your poop healthy by eating a high fiber diet, plenty of water, and regular exercise. That’s it! You need to eat about 25-30 grams of fiber each day. Choose foods that provide at least 4 grams of fiber per serving as a better choice over highly processed foods. Drinking about a quart of water daily for proper hydration, and about 120 minutes of exercise each week will help stools move through the digestive tract.
Remember also, any sign of blood in your stools could be a sign of serious issue such as cancer, and warrants checking with your doctor right away, even if you believe it might just be related to hemorrhoids, tiny tears in the anus or resulting form pushing and straining from constipation.See some words or phrases that you don't understand? Check out The Dragon's Lexicon.