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Why Your Bowel Movements Matter

Naturopathic Doctors like to talk about bowel movements (also know as "poop") - I ask all about it. How often do you move your bowels? What does it look like? Does it float or sink? Is there pain involved? Do you see any undigested food? Ideally, people will move their bowels once or twice a day, without pain, blood, or mucous, producing a well-formed medium-brown stool. If you look for images of "normal stool" on the internet, you'll get a good idea of what I'm hoping for. Anything out of those parameters could indicate the need a more extensive work-up.

Push aside the unnecessary shame society places on a normal body function and give me the details. You'll be sharing a good bit of information about your health.

What can we possibly learn from so much bathroom talk? A lot. And we can catch some significant problems.

So, get ready - here are just a few of the things that the stool you produce every day (hopefully!) can help me to know about your health.

It's a great indicator of how digestive organs are functioning.

Stool with particles of undigested food or that isn't a healthy "normal" brown color may indicate issues with proper digestion. The stomach, liver, gallbladder, and pancreas all play a part in digestion - if one of those isn't functioning up to par, it could cause abnormal stool changes. Without proper breakdown of food, vitamin and nutrient absorption can be impaired.

It can be an alert for food intolerances or allergies.

As anyone with a lactose intolerance can tell you, eat too much of a food that your body doesn't like, and you'll know pretty quickly. Diarrhea, constipation, and changes in stool consistency can all signal food-related issues. Further testing and treatment plans can be used to help confirm food allergies and intolerances as the source of digestive difficulty.

It indicates the health of your microbiome.

Abnormal stool habits can point to an unhealthy microbiome. As more research is done, the importance of the microbiome - the community of bacteria and yeasts that live in the intestines - cannot be emphasized enough. Pathogenic bacteria can wreak havoc on the digestive tract, and often the entire immune system. Stool testing is available to identify which bacteria are present, and can help your provider create a treatment plan to encourage beneficial bacterial growth.

It can be an alert for a serious health concern.

Black, bloody, or "tarry" stools, changes in the size of stools, changes in bowel habits, or abdominal bloating often warrant further investigation. Colonoscopies, abdominal imaging, lab testing, and some stool tests can catch life-threatening issues that can be treated if detected in a timely manner.

Pay attention to what comes out of your body, as well as what goes in. If you're not sure if what you see is healthy and normal, snap a picture (I know, I know - but REALLY, do it!) and share it with your physician. Lastly, always alert your care provider to any changes in your bowel habits.

This is not intended to be a substitute for medical care. If you have questions or concerns about your health, please speak with your doctor.

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