Are your toilet habits really a good reflection of your health?
“Absolutely. More and more studies show the importance of gut health as an arbiter of overall health, so looking to your toilet habits is a good indicator of what’s going on elsewhere. A formed stool, for example, indicates a well-functioning gastrointestinal system and adequate fibre and hydration. A stool that is small and pelleted can mean inadequate fibre, hydration or a slow gastrointestinal transit time, while a watery stool can mean a poor absorption of nutrients or gastrointestinal infection. Meanwhile, any blood in the stool indicates a potential problem and should be examined by a healthcare professional.” – Derek Timm, registered dietician, Regular Girl
Is stool consistency all you should be keeping an eye on?
“When checking your poo, there are five key personality traits to consider, not just its consistency…
FREQUENCY: Pooping anywhere between three times a week and up to three times a day is considered ‘normal’.
TIMING: Most people go to the toilet in the morning because our gut movements are more active then, but there’s no real right or wrong time to go, although if you’re waking up in the middle of the night needing to poop, speak to your GP.
CONSISTENCY: You don’t need to be assigning a number to every poop you do, but having a general idea of where yours sits on the old-school Bristol Stool Form Scale can be invaluable. If your poop resembles Maltesers or rabbit droppings (type 1), then you may want to look at ways to manage constipation. If, on the other hand, it’s at the opposite end of the spectrum, verging on a slush puppy (type 6 or 7) and you suffer with other symptoms, such as urgency (the need to open your bowels then and there), consider strategies to manage diarrhoea.
COLOUR: Varying shades of brown are normal. If you see shades of black, yellow, red, white or green, speak to your GP.
SIZE: Larger poos have been linked to a lower risk of colon cancer. ‘Large’ is considered over 100g (equivalent to just over a couple of eggs in terms of size). Dietary fibre is one of the best ways to boost your poop weight.” – Dr Megan Rossi, registered dietitian & founder, TheGutHealthDoctor.com
Should it sink or float?
“It normally sinks, but different diet and lifestyle factors can change the structure, which can sometimes cause a poo to float instead. There are two main reasons why poops might float. Firstly, it could be down to extra gas (produced by your gut microbes), which can happen when you eat large amounts of dietary fibre, including plant foods known to produce a lot of gas such as beans and pulses, or sugar alcohols like xylitol and sorbitol, which are often added to sugar-free foods like chewing gum. Floating can also be a sign your body isn’t properly absorbing nutrients – for example, if you are lactose intolerant. This can also happen in other medical conditions, including coeliac disease (when gluten is eaten), when your pancreas isn't working well, or short bowel syndrome. In the case of malabsorption, your poo is usually extra smelly, and can appear 'greasy', leaving a floating residue in the loo.” – Megan
What about blood in your poo – is this normal?
“If you see some red tones in your poop, this could be down to your diet. The rich pigments in foods like beetroot are tricky to digest and can dye your poop. If, however, you haven’t eaten any red foods, then it could be blood from the lower part of your intestine. Red blood in the stool can be caused by several things, including haemorrhoids, or it may be an indication of something more serious, such as inflammatory bowel disease or colon polyps. If it is not food-related, see your GP as soon as possible.” – Megan
How often does the average person go to the loo?
“There are many different factors that affect how frequently we poo, including diet, and in terms of an optimal number there’s no such thing. That said, pooing anywhere between three times a week and up to three times a day is considered normal.” – Megan
How common are piles?
“Haemorrhoids (aka piles) most commonly occur in people between the age of 45 and 65, affecting 4-13% of people. Although there is a genetic element to piles, you can reduce your risk by avoiding constipation and prolonged straining on the toilet, or straining when lifting heavy objects.” – Megan
And what about constipation?
“Constipation is extremely common. In fact, statistics show one in seven adults suffer from constipation at any one time, and that 200,000 GP visits per week in the UK are related to constipation. Moreover, 211 people every day are admitted to hospital in England for constipation, three in four of which are emergencies. Drinking plenty of water (around two litres daily) and adding more fibre to your diet (hitting 30g per day) as well as yoga after a meal can help avoid constipation.” – Megan
Is it true that colonics are good for the gut?
“Colonics are an option for people seeking alternative therapy. There isn’t widespread consensus on their effectiveness among healthcare professionals. If you are struggling with your gut health, there are things you should try first – namely upping your exercise levels and increasing fibre and hydration – before trying alternative therapies.” – Derek
Why do you go to the loo more when you are stressed?
“For some, stress can trigger diarrhoea. This is because when our body feels stressed (because our brain is telling it that we are) our gut movements can become overactive or hyper-responsive, and extra fluid can be secreted into the gut. It’s all down to the gut-brain axis, the constant two-way communication between the gut and the brain. On the other hand, some people struggle to poop when they’re stressed. Typically, when we’re stressed, gut function is reduced because all the blood rushes to our muscles to get them ready for ‘fight or flight’. When we’re relaxed, blood goes back into our gut to support digestion.” – Megan
Finally, is it true you should poo in a squatting position?
“Yes – the human body was designed to go to the toilet in a squatting position. It’s a fact seemingly overlooked by the masterminds behind the sitting toilet. When sitting on the toilet, ensure your knees are slightly higher than your hips, using a stool or an old shoe box. Lean forward, prop your elbows on top of your knees, ensuring your spine is straight and bulge out your tummy. Relax and lower your shoulders, and there you have it. This position straightens out the bottom of the intestine and the anus, the exit point, allowing for a smooth departure.” – Megan
For more information on what to look for when you go to the loo, the Bristol Stool Chart can help. To book an appointment with Dr Megan Rossi, visit TheGutHealthDoctor.com. For more from Derek, check out RegularGirl.com.
DISCLAIMER: Features published by SheerLuxe are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. Always seek the advice of your GP or another qualified healthcare provider for any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, exercise or other health-related programme.