Are you a healthy pooper?

Lethbridge Herald - - Health/lifestyles | Community Events - W. Gif­ford-Jones, MD and Diana Gif­ford-Jones

Re­search for this col­umn won’t qual­ify us for the No­bel Prize in Medicine. In fact, read­ers may say that dis­cussing whether poop sinks or floats is just idle con­ver­sa­tion.

Years ago, when this col­umn cov­ered this topic, many read­ers ad­mit­ted they peeked into the toi­let bowl. One com­plained this trig­gered a stiff neck! But what you see in the toi­let bowel ex­poses a lot about your health. It’s worth a peek.

It’s well known that the North Amer­i­can diet is too low in fi­bre. In the 1950s, D.P. Bur­kett, a Bri­tish sur­geon and epi­demi­ol­o­gist, re­ported that Africans, un­like the English, had large bulky stools and didn’t suf­fer from con­sti­pa­tion, di­ver­ti­c­uli­tis (small her­nias in the large bowel), ap­pen­dici­tis or colon can­cer. His con­clu­sion was that Africans con­sumed large quan­ti­ties of nat­u­ral fi­bre in the form of whole grains, seeds and nuts.

To­day North Amer­i­cans con­sume only 15 grams of fi­bre daily, when 35 is rec­om­mended. Fi­bre helps the stool hold onto water. Also, the more fi­bre the greater the num­ber of bac­te­ria in the large bowel which makes the stool as soft as tooth­paste. A float­ing stool is your val­i­da­tion.

Low fi­bre re­sults in stools as hard as rocks. This slows down their pas­sage through the bowel, caus­ing chronic con­sti­pa­tion. It’s tragic so much money is spent on lax­a­tives which can in­jure bow­els. A dose of 4,000 mil­ligrams (mg) of pow­dered vi­ta­min C at bed­time is an easy cure. It’s safe, in­ex­pen­sive and the dose can be in­creased by 2,000 mg ev­ery few nights un­til the prob­lem is re­solved.

Stool com­po­si­tion also de­pends on the amount of fat con­sumed. A nor­mal stool is about 75 per cent water and about one per cent fat. If more fat is present, it’s called “steat­or­rhea,” per­haps the re­sult of a very fatty meal. These stools are soft, smelly and stick to the sides of the toi­let bowl. If the trou­ble be­comes chronic, it’s of­ten due to a lack of en­zymes pro­duced by the pan­creas.

So, why not ex­am­ine the stool? Af­ter all, doc­tors ad­vise us to ex­am­ine our skin for po­ten­tially can­cer­ous moles. A quick look for dark­en­ing spots or changes in shape and size can prompt early re­moval and save a life.

Since pre­ven­tion is al­ways bet­ter than cure, a stool peek is a pru­dent move. You may dis­cover it’s be­come black and tarry, the re­sult of bleed­ing due to an early ma­lig­nancy. Keep in mind, changes in colour may be due to eat­ing black­ber­ries or beets. Med­i­ca­tion such as Pepto-Bis­mol, con­tain­ing bis­muth, can be a fac­tor, too.

If a stool is the colour of pale clay, the prob­lem may be a stone in the com­mon bile duct that car­ries bile from the liver to the in­testines or a can­cer of the pan­creas. If the stool is pen­cil thin, there may be a block­age in the large bowel due to ma­lig­nancy. Shape, size and colour of stool can be more im­por­tant than whether the stool sinks or floats.

To learn if you are a healthy pooper, here are the qual­i­fi­ca­tions. You should have a bowel move­ment at least once a day, but not more than three times. Your poops should be smooth and about the shape of a ba­nana, not too hard and not too soft. The colour should be an even brown with no vis­i­ble bits of food, fat, blood or mu­cus. The smell should be neu­tral, not overly un­pleas­ant. The more you an­swer “yes,” the bet­ter your poop health is.

These things are not best for a din­ner party dis­cus­sion. But a self-check is a good idea. Be­ing a health-con­scious pooper can help you ob­serve changes that merit the at­ten­tion of your doc­tor.

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