The Scoop on Poop! Q&A with Miles Price
Wait! Don’t flush without sneaking a peak! Your poop actually gives you the inside scoop on your current health status. It gives you clues into your hydration, dietary balance, fiber intake, and even your microbiome. We asked Functional Medicine Specialist Miles Price all our poop questions. After all, it’s one of our daily healthy habits so why not discuss?
Q: What is poop really made of?
A: While it looks like a fairly solid mass of waste, poop is actually predominantly water (around 75%). It varies between vegetarians who have more water to meat eaters who have less. The remaining 25% is made up organic matter, comprising of living microbes, whether that be bacteria, viruses, or fungi or undigested food matter like insoluble fiber, fats and proteins.
Q: ‘Am I regular?’ – What is too much or too little?
A: The standard bowel movement pattern is having 1-3 movements per day. The variation is due to genetics, hydration, the amount of plant material consumed and the amount of fat. Hormones also influence the speed of digestion, namely thyroid hormones. If one has hypothyroidism, this makes for a more sluggish digestion. When one is stressed, there is a higher level of cortisol in the blood stream and depending on the amount of stress, this stimulates higher levels of serotonin to be released in the gut, which stimulates gut motility and you can have looser stools as a result.
Q: What does healthy poop look like?
A: The best way to assess your stool is to compare it with the Bristol stool chart, which breaks down the different textures into 7 categories. If your poop isn’t healthy, it’s much easier to identify what steps are needed for better gut health using this chart.
Q: What affects the colour of my poop?
A: Stool colour is indicative of the state of health of an individual. Brown is the optimal colour, which indicates the right amount of bile secretion giving the stool its colour. Green poop is indicative of too much bile secretion, or the food is moving too quickly through the gut. Yellow poop is indicative of too much fat in the diet and possible maldigestion from bile insufficiency or celiac disease. Grey poop could indicate there’s not enough bile present or suggest a bile obstruction in the liver. Black poop could be sign of upper gastro-intestinal bleeding and should be followed up straight away with a doctor.
Q: What affects the smell of my poop?
A: Poop generally smells because of the relative amount of sulfur or sulfides produced by the bacteria present. It’s also related to several other factors. If you’re taking antibiotics this can disrupt the delicate balance of bacteria in the microbiome of the gut, creating more opportunistic bacteria to flourish which create more sulfide rich compounds. Being sensitive or intolerant to certain foods like lactose for example can create a foul odour. Having an underlying condition like celiac disease or ulcerative colitis means certain maldigestion can occur which will increase fermentation and putrefaction of particular foods thereby creating more unpleasant odours. Picking up an unsuspecting parasite or travel bug whilst on your holidays can influence the poop smell by increasing bowel motility and creating poorly digested stools.
Q: Is gas good or bad?
A: Flatulence is actually a sign that the digestive system is working as it should. The average is around 14 -20 farts / day. Some gas is always going to present itself but when it’s too much or becomes more socially embarrassing then it could be a sign of something more sinister going on. If you’re sensitive or intolerant to certain foods this can produce more gas than normal. If it is accompanied by abdominal pain then this is the time to check it out with a doctor.
Q: Why do I always have to ‘go’ after coffee?
A: Caffeine in coffee is surprisingly a contributor to muscle contractions in the colon and rectum. Research has shown that caffeine makes the colon 60% more active than drinking water. There are compounds in de-caffeinated coffee too which can increase the need to poop namely, Chlorogenic acids and N-alkanoyl-5-hydroxytryptamides. Coffee also stimulates the production of digestive hormones which stimulate motility.
Q: What helps with healthy poop?
A: Healthy poop is influenced by many factors, the main ones being having a balanced diet, of protein, fats and some carbohydrates in the form of starchy and non-starchy vegetables which will provide the soluble fibre the gut thrives on. Some non-digestible fibre is also helpful as it provides bulk for the stool and fuel for the gut bacteria. Eating fermented foods regularly like you get from yogurt, raw cheese, pickled vegetables such as sauerkraut and kimchi can help provide additional good bacteria to your gut which help to maintain a healthy bowel movement and stool formation.
Written by Miles Price, Functional Medicine Practitioner & Clinical Nutritionist
Miles did his initial training at Hawthorn University with an M.Sc. Holistic Nutrition. He followed this up with a professional accreditation to practice with BANT (UK) the British Association of Applied Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine in 2017 and subsequently obtained a Functional Medicine Diploma with Functional Medicine University in 2017. This was shortly followed by enrolling with the Institute of Functional Medicine on their practitioner program.