Having digestive problems is common, but shouldn’t be considered normal. In my private clinic but also with my work with elite athletes we talk a lot about what’s going on with their insides. And although talking about digestion isn’t the sexiest of topics, it’s one of the most important elements of your health. Your poop says a lot about your body.
As a Naturopathic Doctor I want to know the full rundown on how frequently you go and also I want to know how well things are formed. We’ll also discuss whether you’re having any reactions like constipation, diarrhea, gas, or bloating. Any of these troubles shouldn’t be accepted as “just you” but rather viewed as an indication that your digestion isn’t optimal and needs to be rebalanced.
Digestion should produce a 24-hour transit time — once you’ve eaten to elimination. If you’re eating throughout the day and your system is balanced, you should expect two to three well formed movements day. If I’m being really specific, it should be the shape of a banana. That’s the pinnacle of a healthy poop!
The idea of multiple movements seems to baffle people sometimes, since they’ve likely learned to accept their bowel issues. Some patients tell me they are regular — going every few days and that’s normal for them. I’m here to say that unless you’re going at least once a day, you’re constipated and that’s not normal, or where you want to be.
Think about it like this. If you’ve ever spent time with a toddler, you know that their little bodies are usually functioning at the highest level of efficiency. Feed them and they will head to the bathroom. Everything is moving along for them very smoothly, just like it should be doing. So why are toddlers the best in the business at pooping? It’s usually because their internal organs, mainly their stomach, small intestine, large intestine, and gallbladder are functioning perfectly.
It looks like this. The body has three main junctions when it comes to digestion: stomach to the small intestine, small intestine to the large intestine, and then everything is on it’s way out. The main job of the small intestine is to absorb nutrients and the large intestine is mainly in charge of processing fluids. There is a direct blood supply from the intestines to the liver, which is how most nutrients move to the rest of the body. The liver creates bile, which concentrates in the gallbladder, and ejects when you eat — helping neutralize stomach acid moving into the small intestine, setting a solid pH for digestive microbial balance, and helping to emulsify, or bind to, fats (including fat-soluble vitamins) to ease absorption. In addition, the liver is a huge processor of hormones and cholesterol; the liver and digestion are intimately connected.
These are some of the signs that your digestion isn’t happy:
- Constipation – this is a change in form or frequency of bowel movements. It can appear as a consequence of nutrition choices or gut ecology that needs to be shifted. When digestive waste lingers in the intestines, as is the case with constipation, then contents set for elimination are ripe for reabsorption.
- Diarrhea – can be caused by a number of troubles and getting to the root of the matter is important. In many cases the diarrhea coexists with a fast transit time and so absorption is compromised, as there is less time for the intestines to do their job. Another form of diarrhea is one that rears its head when people eat rich or fatty food. This can be seen as an early signal that the bile quality may be compromised (not able to bind the fat-rich food) and often can happen as a consequence of past history of gallbladder removal.
- Gas or bloating – do you know what causes this? It comes from the microbiota or bugs in your gut — I like to say that it is them exhaling into you. Need I say more? Remember that microbiota feed off carbohydrates and so looking to shift the balance of bugs and/or nutrition is important for dampening down this abundance.
- Allergies and skin issues – your skin tells you things. Most chronic skin troubles are an inside out issue. If you have not fallen victim to a contact irritant then consider your skin as a barometer of internal conditions. If you’ve eaten something that your body isn’t happy about it can show up as a flare up of your skin. The skin is one of 4-5 routes of elimination for the body –bowels, urinary tract, lungs, skin, and menstruation.
If you’re experiencing any of these issues, they are more than what they seem on the surface. If you’re continually experiences any of these problems, it’s likely that your health tank is slowly being depleted and you’re probably drifted away from normal digestion. It’s a double whammy because those inner issues often mean you’re not absorbing nutrients effectively or efficiently eliminating hormones or cholesterol.
Although it’s unlikely you can bring your inner organs back to the functional purity of their youth, there are some easy changes you can make to get back to a true normal that doesn’t involve you always taking antacids, using coffee for regularity, or leaning on metamucil to give you bulk. I recommend the following options for improving digestion:
- Take a probiotic – the digestive tract hosts thousands of bugs and they need to be balanced in order to keep things moving;
- Stay hydrated – drink water and or herbal teas throughout the day;
- Consume plenty of vegetables – this will help ensure you get your daily dose of fibre, and the minerals and water within vegetables also help improve hydration;
- Avoid refined carbohydrates and sugars – most digestive bugs feed off carbohydrates so consuming too much sugar or refined foods just feeds the imbalance and doesn’t do anything for your fibre intake.