By: Dr. Alan Christianson
What is potty talk? Plain and simple, it’s talking about bowel movements. As a doctor, I encounter many questions regarding regularity, constipation, strain, and hemorrhoids. You may have one or more of these questions, as well, and are wondering how to help yourself.
It’s important to realize both healthy bowel frequency and bowel transit are essential to overall wellness.
What is The Difference Between Bowel Frequency and Bowel Transit?
Bowel frequency is how often you’re eliminating. Bowel Transit is how long it takes your food to travel through your system and be eliminated.
Imagine it like this: You ate some peanuts which do not digest all the way, so there are remnants you can see afterwards. These remnants may take longer than a day to travel through your system, even if you poop every day. This is your bowel transit time.
More important than how often you have a bowel movement is how long it takes the food to go through your body. Ideally, you want it to be about 18-24 hours. Data shows this lowers your risk of colon cancer.
If you’re eating something in the evening, you’ll probably not see it the next morning. On the other hand, you don’t want to see it a couple days later either.
If food goes through your system too quickly, you won’t get all the essential nutrients your body needs. You may not be absorbing some of them. If food takes way too long to travel through your system, it means you’re reabsorbing waste. You’re forming harmful toxins that can weaken your immune system and hinder your body from detoxifying properly. This can also affect your brain chemicals, causing mood symptoms.
How Can I Test Bowel Transit Time?
It’s really easy! Some evening, eat beets or four charcoal capsules. Make a note at what time you eat them and wait. Beets will cause your stool to be reddish in color. Charcoal will make them pretty black.
Ideally, you won’t see the color in your stool the next morning, but you will the morning after. If it shows up quicker, your bowel transit time is too short. If it is much longer, there is delayed bowel transit and you’ll want to do some studious work to improve your digestive health.
What Stool Consistency is Best?
A banana-like consistency is healthy. Unformed stool is bad, as well as watery diarrhea. Soft-serve consistencies also indicate varying degrees of malabsorption. This means your body isn’t extracting all of the electrolytes, water, and key things from your stool.
On the extreme end, stool that looks like little rabbit droppings means you’re probably under-hydrated, so your body is pulling too much out of the stool, reabsorbing some of the waste. Here is how your body’s cycle works: The body pushes the waste to your liver, then to your small intestine and then, your colon. Ideally, at that point, the waste should leave the body, but in this case, some starts to reabsorb.
Should My Stool Float or Sink?
Honestly, I haven’t heard any compelling reasons why there’s a strong distinction between the two. Whether your stool floats or sinks is really referring to the density of the stool compared to the density of the water. Neither your fiber intake nor your bowel transit time has a big effect on this. As long as your stool has a banana-like consistency, it doesn’t matter if it floats or sinks.
It’s Difficult to Have a Bowel Movement. What Should I Do?
There are many causes of constipation.
One of the biggest factors is hydration.
I mentioned how your colon absorbs water. Before the stool reaches your colon, it is the consistency of milk. By the time it leaves your colon, it’s getting formed. If you don’t have a lot of spare water in your body, your colon pulls all that liquid out of the stool. Consequently, the stool gets gummed up and doesn’t come out very well.
Most adults need upwards of 3-4 quarts of water a day. If you’re not drinking this much, start doing it, and see if you start eliminating regularly. You’ll also probably feel thirstier by drinking more.
Another factor to consider is the health of your bowel flora. If you’ve had antibiotics, your bowel flora may have been hurt by them. Certainly add fermented foods to your diet. (They are my favorites.) Probiotics can be useful but should be targeted appropriately. If you’re thinking of aggressively treating with probiotics, consider having a stool culture performed to know which strains you need and which strains you don’t need.
Magnesium is a safe way to help restore regularity. It safely carries more water into your colon without creating rebound constipation. It’s a much better way to go than using stimulating laxatives.
Not Only Am I Constipated, But I Have Hemorrhoids and Fissures. What Will Help?
These can cause quite a bit of discomfort. Let’s look at three considerations:
Consider your body position when eliminating.
Our modern set-up of sitting on a toilet is not conducive to how your body is built. Your body is adapted to be in a squatting position to have a bowel movement. This way, it’s easier to bear down and have the contents of your abdomen push out the contents of your rectum.
Many parts of the world do not use toilets. They have holes in the floor. There aren’t cases of hemorrhoids and constipation in these parts of the world. One reason is their having to squat when eliminating.
Living in the modern world, what can we do? There is an easy solution.
There are largely unrecognized devices, which have been developed to raise your feet during elimination. One is called the “Squatty Potty” and is easy to find. There are other similar products on the market. These devices allow you to have your feet raised 8-10 inches while sitting on the toilet. While in this position, you want to lean your body weight forward. This enables your anatomy to be used the way it was meant to be used. When your legs are up, your pelvis opens, allowing your body to empty the waste so much easier.
When using such a device, you’re less apt to be constipated, have recurrent hemorrhoids, and won’t have the strain associated with normal bowel movements.
I’ve also used a step stool to raise my feet. When you’re traveling, you can use those hard, square trash cans in the hotel bathrooms. Simply lay one sideways and elevate your feet on it.
Consider the time you spend on the toilet.
I recommend getting rid of magazine racks in the bathroom. If you think of the bathroom as a place to lounge, read, and relax, you’re going to spend way too long and end up straining your rectal tissue. This plays a part in hemorrhoids, weakened bowels, and constipation. So, avoid reading, writing, video games, or phone time. Just get in there, do your business and get out!
Consider the toilet paper you use.
Our rectum has delicate tissue, and we use dry toilet paper to clean it. Is this logical?
Think about it: If you have a kitchen pot that needs cleaning, do you use a dry paper towel? No. You use water. You use moist things to clean things. All the more with delicate parts of your body. You need to be gentle with them. Instead of toilet paper, use hypoallergenic wet wipes. I’ve had many patients with recurrent hemorrhoids, fissures, and other rectal problems who simply ditched the toilet paper and were helped!
Another plus to using hypoallergenic wipes is they do a good job of cutting the risk for recurring bladder infections. Toilet paper doesn’t clean well enough. Tiny amounts of E.coli from the stool can work its way into the urethra. This is how most bladder infections start. So, thoroughly clean with something moist, that is a non-irritant.
Give these bathroom tips a try. They could be a huge game changer for you not only in your bathroom time, but also in your overall wellness.
(c) 2015- Integrative Health Care, PC
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Dr. Alan Christianson is an Arizona-based Naturopathic Physician who helps people overcome adrenal and thyroid disorders and achieve lasting fat loss. He authored the New York Times’ bestselling Adrenal Reset Diet, and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Thyroid Disease. Dr. Christianson is the founding physician behind Integrative Health.
Dr. Christianson can be reached at www.MyIntegrativeHealth.com, www.DrChristianson.com and 480-657-0003.