Alright let’s talk about it. With two small children we talk about poo a lot in our home. Perhaps that is one of the many blessings of babies. After all everyone does it, even if no one wants to talk about it. But seriously, it is perhaps one of the best indicators of your health. Upwards of 75% of our immune systems are based on the health of our guts.

If your gut is not healthy you are not healthy.

I recently attended a talk given by the local Weston A Price chapter on this very subject. I have never seen so many people attend one of these meetings. It was packed. Which leads me to believe that many of us are wondering if our digestion and elimination cycles are normal.

So bear with me as I blush and share with you a few things that I learned. Take a deep breath. Here we go…

Most People Are Constipated

Did you know that even if you have one bowel movement every day you are probably still constipated? The majority of Americans can go days. Days! A healthier number is 2-3 times per day. And it shouldn’t be uncomfortable. It should be as easy as urinating.

There is another way to gauge if you are constipated. It is called the Bristol Stool Chart.

Now I know this isn’t pleasant to look at, but it is important. Some recommend hanging this in the bathroom so everyone in the household can evaluate their gut health.

How to read the chart:

  • Types 1-3: You are constipated.
  • Types 4-5: Depending on who you talk to these are ideal.
  • Types 6-7: Too "urgent" to be normal.

The form your stool takes depends on how long it has been in the colon, with 72 hours being ideal. As you move down the chart you go from way too long in the colon (1-3), the normal ~72 hour time period (4-5) and finally under 72 hours (6-7). You can find much more detail about each stool type and what it means here.

(gulp. moving on.)

Why Fiber Won’t Help

Most of what you read regarding digestion and elimination is all about fiber and why it is the answer. The problem is… well… lack of fiber probably isn’t the reason you’re constipated.

Certainly fiber isn’t bad for us. It is found heavily in vegetables and fruits. But if you are constipated you are given a fiber supplement or told to take flax or psyllium. This is like putting a band-aid on a gaping wound.

Dietary fiber transforms colorectal organs and causes a physical dependence similar to drug addiction. ~Konstantin Monastyrsky, author of Fiber Menace

So while you may have some relief because you are actually passing stools, you are simply training your body to need added fiber to do so. Moreover you will never really fix your digestion because you haven’t addressed the root of the problem.

Which I will discuss in the next part of this series.

I know this is a difficult topic to discuss, but feel free to share your insights in the comments.

{photo credit}

 

41 Responses to Digestion and Elimination: Diagnosing The Health Of Your Gut

  1. Emily says:

    Thank you so much for broaching this subject. Yes, it’s awkward to talk about, but it’s so important.

    I was diagnosed with IBS in high school, so I have grown very aware of how my system is doing based on my bathroom habits. And it is one of the first things to be affected when I am on a streak of eating poorly.

    I look forward to the rest of your thoughts on this topic.

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  2. Jenn says:

    So when I got a massage a few years back, one of the questions was frequency of bowel movements. Later, I told my sister I put down 1-3 per day and she seemed to the think that was an abnormally large number. But the way I figure it, I shouldn’t move any less regularly than my dog — I feed him 2 meals a day and he poops twice a day. I get three meals a day. Great post!

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  3. Well, if you know me, you know I don’t shy away from bathroom topics! LOL.

    Interesting! I would say I’m consistently a Type 3, but with some Type 4 action from time to time. I would have never considered myself constipated! I know one problem is that I do not drink enough water. I need to do better.

    Looking forward to more on this . . .

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  4. Jo says:

    I would love to know what your suggestions are for children who suffer from type 1 & 2. My 3 yo daughter only goes every few days and it is such a painful experience for her. My mom inisists that lots of prunes will help her but I dont think so. The doctor has really been no help either.

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    Shannon Reply:

    Jo – I will address this question in a Q&A portion of this series.

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  5. i am so VERY glad that you are doing this. i have had stomach issues since i was 12 and as of late, have been undergoing some unknown thing that keeps causing me to go to the ER (i have it all on my blog). i am radically changing the way i eat and how i take care of the body, but especially the tummy. i am posting this on facebook and can’t wait for the rest of the series :)

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  6. Beth says:

    Awesome series! This is really important to our health, but just not the type of thing I want to randomly search on google, ya know?

    I’d be interested in hearing how to battle constipation while pregnant (I’m currently 25 weeks along). I’m pretty much constipated all the time (and even more so when pregnant). I’ve taken psyllium fiber pills before, which helped, but I want to know the root causes and how to be healthy enough to not need them in the first place!

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    Shannon Reply:

    Beth – I will be giving my thoughts on this in a Q&A part of this series.

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  7. Leigh Ann says:

    Great series! Thanks for posting. I get migraines, and I used to think that it was the migraines that caused the stomach issues. However, as I started paying closer attention, I discovered that the stomach would be off before any symptoms of headaches would appear. I would treat the migraine and not the root cause, which is something in my digestive track. However, I’ve yet to figure out exactly what it is that gets my stomach off. Nonetheless, I notice far fewer problems when I’m eating a nice whole foods diet! Excited to see what else you have to say on this topic. :)

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  8. April says:

    Thank you for talking about this. I grew up with shame for having to use the bathroom frequently. I was dx’d with IBS as a young adult, but I had diarrhea often. Even now I get diarrhea if I eat something I know I shouldn’t When I eat right (well, I try to eat low carb, trying to eat more nourishingly. I also have to be gluten free), I am type 5; otherwise I am 6 or 7. Doctors always say eat more fiber, but that makes me worse. Transit time for fiber is hours, as in if I eat it in the am, it is making its exit in the pm. Some of the discussion about type 7 I don’t understand because I often get it but I am not impacted or I hope not. Now it has me worried. Darn me and my hypochondriac nature!

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  9. mPaula says:

    I have long believed that 2-3 bowel movements a day were ‘normal’ and to be desired (but try telling that to the medical profession). I vary between 2 and 5. Used to be mostly 4 but now usually 2 or 3. I have problems with GERD and believe this is the outcome (no pun intended).
    A bigger problem for me (forgive this pun, as well) is that my stools are so big that they don’t flush. I have to let it ‘soak’ for a while so it disintegrates enough to go down.

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  10. Aimee says:

    My husband and I loved the chart!

    I’m with Megan, a 3-4 kind of girl, and I’m happy with that.

    My kids, however, are another story, so I am looking forward to part II.

    Great post, Shannon!

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  11. Katie says:

    I’m so glad you posted on this, as awkward as it is :)
    I, like some of the other readers, was dx’d with IBS several years ago. It was awful having to life like that. I was so careful of what I ate, not eating any of the traditional ‘trigger’ foods. Even with being careful, I would still have issues on a regular basis. Once I started eating a more nourishing diet, specifically incorporating more cultured foods, the issues went away! I praise God every time I think of how He worked in my body.
    Recently, I had to take a course of antibiotics and all of my old gut issues came back. I knew it was the meds and what they did to my gut, so I was so happy I knew how to ‘treat’ it. What I couldn’t believe though was how many years I spent living in pain and discomfort thinking it was NORMAL or something I just had to live with.
    Again, I praise God that I don’t have to live like that anymore and that He used knowledge like you are sharing to heal me.
    He is good!

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  12. Susan says:

    I like “keepin’ it real” and this information was very helpful to me correcting some misinformation I’ve believed. I know this is silly but most of the “poop” visuals they show in spoof movies, etc. is the consistency of #2 and with no other education I assumed this is what normal stool looked like. But now I see that it is abnormal and impacted. I tend towards #6 and realize it is a bit hyperactive but am relieved to see it is more normal than the lower numbers in the chart. And now I know better how to further normalize my digestive process. Thanks much, Shannon!

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  13. This post ended way too soon! Looking forward to your next installment! :)

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  14. I have ulcerative coltitis so I’m very interested in this series you’re doing. Thanks for having the guts to post it!

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  15. Faith says:

    I have worked for 50 years to try to figure out why I had serious diarrhea every day. Was finally given a DNA test and matched 2 markers for Celiac disease and a stool test also showed I was not digesting dairy. Have been 80% better for the last 4 yrs. Just found a new gastroenterologist that understands this problem and she feels my further problems may be caused by a pancreas problem & that it isn’t putting out enough enzymes. It is VERY refreashing to find a Dr. that understands and is willing to dig deeper until we really solve the problem. First time I have felt hopeful in years. Can’t wait to get the results of new stool tests and blood tests. Good luck to all of you. And, yes, it is important to know how your “poo” is doing. LOL

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  16. I’m with Elizabeth – the post ended too soon. Here’s something for your upcoming posts: how does one figure out what is causing abnormal stools, as in which meal causes diarrhea? My husband has Crohn’s, so he’s always had off digestion, but certain meals seem to give him diarrhea – but it happens right after the meal. In recording and trying to figure out his trouble foods, maybe the culprit is a few meals back? How quickly can anything move through your system?

    Looking forward to more!
    :) Katie

    PS – The WP Comment Thread plug-in will allow your readers to receive an email when you reply to their questions. That way you’re not doing the work of replying for no good reason!

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  17. Sue says:

    Ditto the above commenters that this post left me dying to know what’s coming next! Can’t wait to hear your suggestions for how to address these issues! I’ve ALWAYS thought more fiber would help, but I’m so curious to see what you suggest.

    My husband suffers from many GI issues, so I’m hopeful for what suggestions you might have!

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  18. christie says:

    what about the side issue of gas?

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  19. the four of us says:

    My 5 year old daughter has struggled with same issues Jo mentioned. We’ve tried all kind of different things.
    Looking forward to the Q & A discussion.
    (1st time here – where can I find the Q&A?)

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  20. Denise says:

    love this post. i’d love to “go” three times a day. I am pretty much like clock work. one cup of coffee – then into the bathroom I go. I totally know if I skip a day – then something is off. the worst is when i am away from home. I have “issues” going outside of my home. weird, I know. love that you are writing about this.

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  21. Faith says:

    In reply to one of you about amount of time of transit from eating something until it is “exiting”, I have eaten something that set me off and have had it coming out of me an hour later. My Dr. says that is possible and NOT something you really want to have happen. But, I can immediately tell (sometimes) if my body can’t handle a food. Other times, it is a wild guess. That is when I start carefully looking back at each meal of the previous 2 days to see if I could have had a cross contamination with gluten or dairy. Aren’t our human bodies most interesting?

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    Amanda Y. Reply:

    @Faith, Me too! I love how they somehow “know” that’s not possible. I’m like, sorry to be gross, but I can identify some of what I just ate that is in there (after an upsetting meal), so it IS possible to go an hour or two later. Unfortunately, I have not found cutting gluten to be the culprit I don’t believe, and I need to keep trying…

    [Reply]

    Faith Reply:

    @Amanda Y., Hey, hang in there and keep trying. I have had problems since I was 16 and am now 67. I wasn’t diagnosed as being gluten and dairy intolerant until I was 62. The last 5 years have been much better but a lot of work because gluten is in everything. I still have problems, but not as bad. One Dr. told me that your gut has a mind of its own and works independently from your brain. I would belive that!! But I think positive thinking and an alert, positive attitude will help us all. It is real easy to get “down” when you can’t figure out what is wrecking your gut and making you feel drained. Now, THAT was a good pun!!

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  22. liz says:

    i wish more people would have the guff to post about poop. this is a much under-discussed issue that is obviously near and dear to all of our hearts. though it is slightly giggle-inducing, it’s important!
    thanks for this!

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  23. Denise says:

    I have Crohn’s Disease, and while “normal” symptoms for this illness is diarreha, I have always tended toward constipation. I am constantly reminding myself to drink water and to exercise.

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  24. Kim Campbell says:

    Thank heavens there are others who talk about their poo! Bouts o IBS and such have made me way too aware of my poo over the last 15 years.

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  25. Todd says:

    This may be an unpleasant subject for most, but it is one of the most necessary. Thank you for writing an article series on it.

    If a stool is “normal” but you only pass one a day, is that fine? At least one a day that is… sometimes 2. And, if it is during a consistent time period then it seems as if one would be ok. Am I right?

    Thanks,

    Todd

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  26. Amanda Y. says:

    I appear by this to be normal, although occasionally I go too often. But I know most of my family thinks once a day is ideal. I think it’s bizzarre that we don’t even address what normal and abnormal mean–not even in a health class! I’m so excited to learn more! Thank you for not shying away from this!!

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  27. Linda Geist says:

    I am a 63 year old lady with chronic constipation. I have been like this for more than 30 yrs. I was diagnoised with this when I was in my early 30′s. The different medications I have taken over the years hasa always caused severe constipation. I have been taking laxitives and enemas all these years and my bowles are dependent on them. If I go 1 day not taking a laxitive, stoole softner, etc. My body aches. So I know it is caused by the toxins in my body. In 2002 I had a colonoscopy and was told I had a pre-cancerous polup and needed to have the right side of my colon removed. I thought that maybe after the surgery I would be able to go without laxitives. never happened. Do you think your kind of therapy can help me?

    [Reply]

    Shannon Reply:

    Linda – I’m not sure what type of therapy you are referring to, but in terms of the GAPS diet I highly recommend it for anyone with compromised gut health.

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  28. Linda Geist says:

    I am a 63 year old lady with chronic constipation. I have been like this for more than 30 yrs. I was diagnoised with fibromyaliga when I was in my early 30′s. The different medications I have taken over the years has always caused severe constipation. I have been taking laxitives and enemas all these years and my bowles are dependent on them. If I go 1 day not taking a laxitive, stoole softner, etc. My body aches. So I know it is caused by the toxins in my body. In 2002 I had a colonoscopy and was told I had a pre-cancerous polup and needed to have the right side of my colon removed. I thought that maybe after the surgery I would be able to go without laxitives. never happened.My daily regement is 9 stoole softners, 4 exlax tabs and aloe vera gel. I eat a lot of fruit and veggies and drink a lot of water and if all this does not work, I have to take an enema.Do you think your kind of therapy can help me?

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  29. Catie says:

    This is a great article and I’d like to read the rest in the series, but I’m having a difficult time locating them! Could you maybe add links to them at the end of this post? :) Very interesting stuff!

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  30. Kristen says:

    I used to be Type 2. For many years I thought bleeding was normal! … Then I stopped eating pork… and after a couple months of improvement, I went to Type 4. Yay! It did take a good long while to get normal. During that period, if I had pork, the effects lasted for days! No wonder I was in a chronic state of constipation for so many years. Now if I accidentally eat a little pork I usually get by with no ill effects. I used to be a bacon fiend. I am not even tempted anymore.

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  31. Anthony says:

    What did happen to the rest of the series. I was very interested and would like to know more.

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  32. Mrs. K Hewett says:

    Despite the “icky” factor, this is an important thing to learn about. Thank you for sharing this info. My son is a very regular depositor (2-3x/daily) and I used to think that was very odd. I thought I was doing well if things moved once a day or every other day. I’ve found if I only take liquids in the morning until a deposit is made, my system is much happier and more regular.

    One other observation – bm quality is generally level 1-3, except during my monthly cycle when it is consistently 4-5. Any ideas why that is??? Thanks again for sharing. Looking forward to reading the other followup posts.

    [Reply]

    Shannon Reply:

    Mrs. Hewett – I’ve read that hormones during pregnancy and at various points in your cycle can change transit times and digestive “normals” which might be the culprit. Glad to hear your son is doing well!

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  33. Nora says:

    Thanks for bringing this up. I have been trying to have this conversation with my son’s doctors and no one will talk to me about it. I’m glad I found this site.

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  34. Michael says:

    Hi, i HAD COLON CANCER ABOUT 2 1/2 YEARS AGO AND EVER SINCE THEN MY STOOL WON’T FORM. It’s always a number 6 and a 7. And every time i have some fiber it gets worst. This is a nightmare! I can’t get some sleep at night as the attacks happens at night or when i’m sleeping. I don’t know what to do anymore. Please if anybody can help.

    [Reply]

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