Category Archives: Bowel Actions- What’s Normal

Bowel function and the Microbiome simplified

I came across this terrific article and video about your stool consistency, bowel function and the microbiome by CSIRO researcher Dr. Trevor Lockett.

The article explains how our bowel functions at many levels and the embedded video below explains what the Microbiome is and why we may each want to pay some attention to our own, individual bugs and the food we provide them.

https://theconversation.com/what-the-consistency-of-your-poo-says-about-your-health-65106

What is the human microbiome ? is a 4 min 29 sec video that is well worth watching.

image by Vecteezy

How is your toilet positioning ?

The seating position on the toilet may affect how easy our bowel can empty. For those with constipation/straining issues altering position can be helpful along with dietary food and fluid changes. Some people find the standing or ‘squat’ toilet, more common in Asian countries, is one on which they are more easily able to have a bowel action. Given that we don’t have many ‘sqaut’ toilets in Australia a change in how we sit on our ‘European toilets’ could be in order.

The following descriptions are provided on the Australian government bladder and bowel website , bladderbowel.gov.au and clearly outline the best approach.

  • ‘Using a good toilet position – Lean forward while sitting on the toilet, with a straight back and your forearms on your thighs. Your feet should be raised so that your legs are angled slightly upward and away from your body. A footstool may help you to find the best angle’
  • I would also suggest that if at first you don’t have success then get up from the toilet and walk around. It may help to try having a warm/hot drink and waiting till the next urge is felt.

A picture is worth a thousand words………….

this image is from allofpregnancy.com

Some ‘bowel action’ chat

Lets have a chat about assessing the toilet contents from our bowel as most of us regularly look in there. From now on we will call this call this ‘poo’ for want of a better word as ‘feces’ or ‘stools’ are doctors terms and not what most of us use.

There is so much variation in what is normal that we need to focus on what is normal for us COMBINED with information about how easy our poo is to pass and whether we have regular diarhoea or constipation or odd coloured poo.

Poo will vary from one individual to another in terms of the shape, consistency and colour. Using the four steps below lets look at how we can use this information to assess our bowel habits when having concerns.

Step1.Consider: Form

This gives us an idea about whether or not we may be having constipation or too frequent stools. The Bristol Stool Chart was developed by Dr. K.W Heaton in the late 90’s to help us with this assessment, take a look and see how your bowel habits rate.

Reference: Heaton, K W & Lewis, S J 1997, ‘Stool form scale as a useful guide to intestinal transit time’. Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology, vol.32, no.9, pp.920 – 924.

The Bristol stool chart van be used for us to get an idea of how quickly our gut contents are moving through the bowel. Take a look and see where your poo, the end result of travels,  usually fits. Numbers 3-4 are the easiest poo types to pass and suggest an optimum processing/digestion time in our bowel. The lower numbers suggest constipation and the higher numbers suggest more rapid gut transit with less formed stools or diarrhoea.

Step 2. Consider Pain or Discomfort.

Think about whether you are having pain when you pass your poo, experiencing excess gas before you go or whether instead the whole event is unremarkable.

Step 3. Consider Colour.

Take a look at the colour of the poo. This is largely determined by the addition of  greenish bile salts from the liver, a digestive aid, which gradually change to brown as they do their job in the bowel while passing along. So brown is the ‘regular’ colour but lighter poo can occur and darker poo too as well as red poo.

Light poo suggests potentially insufficient bile salts being added to your gut contents.

Red tinged poo usually includes some blood from the large bowel and a visit to the dr is required to discuss/investigate where this blood is coming from. Black poo also can indicate blood but from a source higher up the bowel and needs investigation.

Dark poo will also be seen if you are taking an oral iron supplement, have eaten a lot of beetroot or blueberries due to the natural colours they contain. Artificially coloured foods such as licorice, bubble-gum icecream and the like may also do this.

Step 4. Consider frequency

Actually, how often you go is less important than what you are doing. For example one person may have four poos a day that are easy to pass and a number 3 on the Bristol Stool Chart, nothing worth noting there. Another person may have four poos a day that involve pain and discomfort and are number 1 on the chart, this is indicating constipation and small amounts of poo are being passed each time.  The constipated individual can get help to improve bowel function.

Step 5. Temporary or long-term changes?

Consider whether these changes such as light colour, dark colour, mucus, excess gas, constipation or diarrhea are just occurring briefly or if they are regular occurrences. Brief changes that pass can be quite normal but If you are having long-term problems with your bowel it is time to get some reassurance by investigating potential causes and solutions with your Doctor and an Accredited Practising Dietitian specialising in the gastrointestinal system http://www.digestiondietitian.com.au/. It could be that you need to adjust your dietary fibre intake http://www.digestiondietitian.com.au/2016/05/29/fibre-and-your-bowel/, trial a low-FODMAP diet http://www.digestiondietitian.com.au/2016/05/24/what-are-fodmaps/, take a few blood tests etc http://www.digestiondietitian.com.au/accurate-diagnosis/