I don’t mean to brag, but becoming a mother has made me an expert in several different areas. I can translate toddler babble, decipher scribble drawings, read storybooks in a variety of character voices, and I can turn just about anything into a song or a game. Did I also mention that I know a thing or two about poop? Once I had babies, diaper changing became more than just a regular chore. Oh no, this was detective work. Hard poop meant constipation, runny poop meant to keep an eye out for illness, and orange poop meant we’d gone a little heavy on the carrots and sweet potatoes that week.
As my children grew older and became fully potty trained, their “business” became none of my business. I’m pretty sure my kids would now cringe in disgust and embarrassment if I tried to inquire about their bathroom habits, but maybe it’s time I started asking anyway. Believe it or not, our bathroom visits can offer some helpful insight into what’s going on with our bodies.
Melissa Ramos, nutritionist and creator of Sexy Food Therapy Inc., explained at a TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conference just why we should spend a little more time being mindful of our toilet time.
We live in a culture where poop is essentially a taboo subject. We don’t want to discuss it, we don’t want to hear about it, and we certainly don’t want others to know when we’re dealing with it. In fact, many of us are so sheepish about bathroom visits that we hold it in until we can use our facilities at home. This is a big mistake, according to Ramos.
“Every single time that you hold in your poop - you have blood capillaries that are attached to your large intestine and that sucks up a bunch of the toxins, and it gets reabsorbed. So in other words, your body is essentially drinking your poop.”
Ramos reports that she has seen patients with sinus infections, weight issues, acne, depression, Polycystic ovarian syndrome, endometriosis, and more. They all seemed to have one thing in common: digestive issues. Despite the fact that many patients report having bowel movements a few times a week or every other day, most of them would never consider themselves to be constipated. This means, they could be missing out in important clues to their own health.
A 2008 study published in the journal Neuroendocrinology Letters found that individuals who were anxious or depressed had higher rates of constipation. This unlikely connection can be traced back to an intricate link between the mind and the gut. The digestive system houses its very own nervous system, a sort of “second brain” that affects our emotions, immunity and metabolism.
“The problem is that when we’re stressed, our cortisol, which is our stress hormone, increases. When that cortisol level increases, then our digestive fire decreases,” says Ramos. “…You see, stress really impacts how we assimilate food, [it] creates deficiency, and it really impacts how we poop.”
Ramos gives three examples of bowel movements that can indicate certain health problems:
Pencil thin poop
Our bodies produce several symptoms that are byproducts of stress – teeth grinding, muscle tension and eye twitching – but signs of stress also appear in our digestive system. Bowel movements that are thin like a pencil indicate that your body is so stressed that it is constricting. Ramos suggests a magnesium supplement as a remedy. Up to 70 percent of North Americans are deficient in magnesium, and stress depletes our magnesium stores.
Thin stools can also be a red flag for colon cancer, so it is important to discuss this symptom with your doctor.
Loose stools could indicate anxiety or food intolerances. This can be difficult to diagnose, says Ramos, because food intolerances and allergies don’t always cause an immediate reaction. In fact, they promote reactions from different antibodies that may not appear until three to four days later.
Bowel movements that are small, hard and pebble-like can indicate one of two things: dehydration or lack of fat. Ramos explains that stool is composed of 75 percent water, so adequate hydration is essential for healthy bowel movements. She also recommends eliminating low-fat foods from your diet. “You require fat to manufacture hormones, your brain is primarily made up of fat, and not to mention your cells are lined with fat. Fat does not make you fat. Sugar makes you fat.”
So what does healthy stool look like? Ramos says a normal stool should:
Toilet talk may not be an appropriate topic to discuss with your friends, family or co-workers, but you should always feel comfortable discussing it with your healthcare provider. If you notice any worrisome symptoms during your bathroom visits, or if you just have questions that you’d like to have answered, schedule an appointment with your doctor. Staying aware of your bathroom habits could lead to early detection and early treatment of serious health issues (Source: TEDx).