A healthy gut has a range of different benefits that go far beyond comfortable bowel movements.
In recent years in health and wellbeing circles, there has been a focus on the value of encouraging a robust gut microbiome, particularly the notion that this has a knock on effect on the rest of our health.
While it’s something many of us don’t want to talk about, taking a closer look at our stools can tell us a lot about how healthy our gut is at any particular moment in time.
What Is Good Gut Health?
Good gut health means that the digestive system is working optimally and doing everything it needs to provide the body with the appropriate nutrients.
The gut is a complex organ that is divided into different sections. As food passes down the alimentary canal it is broken down by a series of acids and microbes before being excreted through the rectum during a bowel movement.
Two of the most important things here are the gut lining, where nutrients are absorbed to be used by the rest of the body, and the gut microbiome, the environment that is created within the digestive system. The gut microbiome consists of more than 100 billion bacteria that aid digestion in various ways.
Research has shown that the type of bacteria that we have in the gut can impact our health directly. Essentially, there are good and bad bacteria.
For instance, bacteria from the lachnospiraceae family are thought to indicate whether someone is likely to become obese or not.
Bacteria such as lactobacilli and bifidobacterium, on the other hand, have beneficial effects, including effectively digesting food and boosting the immune system. There is increasing evidence that what we eat actively promotes either good or bad bacteria.
Why Is Gut Health Important?
Bad bacteria love bad food choices. They tend to thrive and multiply when we eat sugary or processed foods, for instance. Good bacteria prefer healthy food choices such as eating plenty of natural fiber through whole grains, pulses and fruit and vegetables.
When the microbiome is disrupted and has too many bad bacteria, it can damage the gut wall and prevent nutrients from being absorbed. It can also mean that the wrong nutrients are digested. The gut microbiome can also be disrupted by other things we inject including certain medications, alcohol and caffeine. All these have an impact on how our bowel movements look when we go to the toilet.
What Is a Healthy Stool?
Symptoms such as feeling tired or poor skin or suffering from anxiety can point to things not being quite right. An individual’s stool can often be the first sign that there are health issues, however.
With many people eating foods full of processed ingredients and high in salt and sugar, variations in bowel movements are more common than they used to be.
The common standards for stool are:
- Type 1: The stool consists of small round lumps that are hard to pass. This means the individual is constipated, something which happens when people are dehydrated, don’t eat enough fiber or have a deficiency in magnesium.
- Type 2: The stool is shaped like a sausage but dry and lumpy and is moderately difficult to pass. Again this indicates constipation, though milder than type 1.
- Type 3: The stool is sausage-shaped and has a few cracks. The stool is reasonably healthy and there should be no concerns.
- Type 4: The stool is sausage-shaped and smooth. Again this is perfectly healthy and nothing to worry about.
- Type 5: The stool comes out as loose blobs but with defined edges. The diet here probably lacks enough fiber and good gut bacteria may be in short supply.
- Type 6: The stool is loose and has ‘fluffy’ edges: The individual may have leaky gut and digestive issues. Certain suspect foods like certain grains, gluten or too much alcohol can cause this.
- Type 7: The stool is almost entirely liquid: There may be a problem with inflammation or infection. If this persists, it’s important to seek health advice.
It’s also important to look at the color of the stool. Ideally, your stool should be a soft, nutty brown but different food choices can change this. For example, if someone eats blueberries their stool can become tinged with green and beetroot can turn it slightly red. Black or dark maroon stool can mean there is bleeding further up the digestive tract.
How to Encourage Healthy Stool and Gut Health
Switching to a healthy diet is the best way to promote good bacteria and improve gut health if someone has no other health issues.
That means ideally cutting out processed foods, reducing alcohol and caffeine and adding more high fiber choices such as legumes and pulses to the diet. One of the easiest rules of thumb to follow is to eat a varied diet and to add lots of different colors to meals (for example, red peppers, green vegetables, carrots).
How Miskawaan Can Help
Creating a personalized dietary plan is a core component of what is offered by the medical team here at Miskawaan Health Group. Our patient-focused approach allows us to identify any deficiencies you may have and develop a plan to help you optimize your overall health and enhance your wellbeing.