Bowel movements. Everybody has them, but no one wants to talk about them. And understandably so. Human waste is not exactly the most palatable conversation, so why discuss it if we don’t have to, right? Well, not exactly.
According to Dr. Mehmet Oz and other health professionals, we should not only be talking about our bowel movements, but we should be looking at them as well. Because our bowel movements, say the medical professionals, can reveal a lot about our general health and well being.
What Should a Healthy Bowel Movement Look Like?
According to Dr. Mehmet Oz, frequent medical guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show and Oprah Radio as well, a healthy bowel movement should be golden brown or honey colored, soft, and should “swoosh” into the toilet rather than plop. Plopping indicates dehydration and other possible health issues. If we are properly hydrated the stool will “swoosh” or slide into the bowl and should form into an “S” shape.
The significance of the “S” shape is that our intestines and colon are long and narrow; therefore, the shape of our stool should be long in shape as well. If it is, it will likely form an “S” shape when it passes into the toilet bowl. But, don’t panic if you find that your stool does not form a perfect alphabet “S”. Provided that it is long and mimics the shape of your intestine and colon in general, you’re good.
How Often Should We Have a Bowel Movement?
Many of us have been brought up with the “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” adage, suggesting that to have healthy bowel movements; one should go at least once a day. However, many physicians, Dr. Oz included, dispute this conventional wisdom and say that with each individual, it differs. Normal bathroom habits can be as often as three times a day or as infrequent as three times per week. The key, says, Dr. Oz, and others, is not the frequency, but rather, what the bowel movement looks and smells like.
How to Recognize an Unhealthy Stool
Strain is Drain – Straining during a bowel movement is a sign that you are dehydrated or constipated or that the stool has remained in the intestinal tract too long and the body has reabsorbed the water and fluids in the stool.
Straining during a bowel movement can cause anal fissures and tears which can cause blood to pass in the stool and can also aggravate hemorrhoids. To avoid hard, impacted stools or to prevent the stool from remaining in the intestinal tract too long, a diet high in fiber with plenty of water is necessary.
Rabbit Pellets – If the stool breaks up into tiny rabbit pellets, this is also a sign that you are dehydrated. Again, hydration is necessary for healthy bowel movements, particularly if you drink a lot of caffeinated drinks during the day which tend to act as diuretics. Simply put, drink more water.
Foul Smell – A normal stool will not have a foul smell. Strong smelling or foul smelling stools suggest a diet that is too high in animal fats or processed foods which contain faux fats (Olestra) such as chips or fatty, fried snacks.
If a diet change does not help, there could be underlying health problems that can also cause smelly stools such as, pancreatitis, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, celiac disease or possibly a bacterial overgrowth in the intestinal tract.
Long, Pencil Thin – Long, pencil thin stools could be an indicator of colon cancer or some type of bowel obstruction such as pre-cancerous polyps or tumors. Logically speaking, if a stool has to push past something in the intestinal tract or colon, it would cause it to be thin. If you are consistently passing long, thin stools a doctor’s visit might be in order to rule out any possible blockage or any other health issues.
Black Stools – A black stool does not always indicate health problems. Excess iron in the diet can cause your stool to be dark. Certain foods such as blueberries, beets and even wine can cause your stools to be dark as well. However, consistent, black and tar-like stools, could be an indicator of bleeding in the upper gastrointestinal tract. If that is the case, the dark color is the result of a chemical change in the hemoglobin as it passes through the intestinal tract and it now appears black. On the other hand, bleeding in the lower intestinal tract would cause the stool to be red.
Pasty Gray or Clay Color – A stool that is gray, pasty or clay-like in color suggests that the flow of bile in the intestinal tract is blocked. The blockage could be due to tumors in the bile duct or pancreas. Either of these possible causes signals a potentially serious health problem and should be seen by a doctor immediately.
Diet and Lifestyle for Healthy Bowel Function
Generally speaking, for most people, the best diet to maintain optimal health and to ensure good bowel function is high in fiber and low in fat. Combined with an active lifestyle that includes exercise, water and plenty of good rest, a high fiber, low fat diet can not only help maintain a normal and healthy weight, but keeps the colon in tip top shape as well. All of which translates into an overall sense of good health and well being.