Poop Is Important
I hope this part is not a surprise. Your poop is the product of your digestion. It is formed from the food you eat, the wastes you don’t need, and a few billion bacteria that used to live in your colon. The appearance, consistency, frequency, and pattern of your poop all give clues about how well you’re digesting your food, as well as how your food is suiting you. It can also in certain instances tell you about things that are missing from your diet or health behaviors, tell you about certain microbes you might be harboring, and much more. If you’re looking to read a bit more of an in depth explanation about why your poop is so important, check out our post on “What Your Poop Says About Your Health.”
Okay, I’ve Convinced You That Poop Is Important. Now What?
Since we’ve already shared some information previously about why healthy bowel movements are important, I’m going to jump right in here with a really simplified description of the basics of how to optimize your poop: The 5 F’s of Fantastic Feces! Now, I must state that I cannot take credit for this list of 5 steps – this is something I have learned over the years from other mentors and Naturopathic physicians, so all credit goes to the collective mind of the natural health world.
First off, be aware that these are all obviously things you would do in addition to eating a healthy diet and avoiding foods that you may be sensitive or even allergic to. There is no replacing a good diet, so if you’re eating fast food, chips, cookies, and soda all day, you’re not going to have good poop no matter what you do. You will feel awful until you start eating real food. Period. So, if you’re interested, you can also check out this short post on the basics of eating what we call a cleansing diet.
The 5 F’s of Fantastic Feces
Now, we hear this so much. Fiber is good for us. Fiber is also the OG to this new activated charcoal trend. Yes, activated charcoal is useful is certain instances, but in reality, much of what activated charcoal does, fiber can do just as well. But, if you’d like to read more about activated charcoal and some of it’s other health benefits, you can check out this blog post by the wonderful Dr. Naika Apeakorang: A Haitian Treasure – Charcoal
Dietary fiber is essentially a non-digestible carbohydrate that comes in two varieties: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber absorbs water and forms a mucilaginous gel that can further absorb lots of other things during its adventure from the mouth to the anus. Insoluble fiber is primarily in our diets to add bulk to our poop, and through this, it stretches our intestines and causes them to contract as a reflex, thus promoting good bowel function and movement.
With soluble fiber being AMAZING at binding things, especially toxicants that we don’t want to absorb into our blood stream, and insoluble fiber doing a wonderful job at creating solid poops (yes, pun intended), it’s not surprising that there is also a strong correlation between high fiber diets and the prevention of various digestive and metabolic conditions. Such studied conditions include diverticular disease, colorectal cancer, hyperlipidemia, diabetes, and even neurological diseases (primarily due to fiber binding up and helping eliminate essentially all environmental toxicants, including heavy metals).
I could talk about fiber for days, so to keep this short, check out this fantastic post by Mark Heisig if you’d like more information: The Scoop on Fiber.
How to optimize: go for 25-35g of fiber everyday, increasing slowly to avoid digestive upset. With more fiber, however, comes the need for more water. So… read on below!
So this is probably pretty straight forward, but it’s something we often forget. Water is important for us, and is definitely the most important fluid we need. Water makes up a large majority of our body weight, so it makes sense that we need to take some in every once in a while. This becomes especially important when we are a) constipated, or b) adding fiber to our diets. Without adequate fluids, fiber becomes dry and hard, further constipating an already stuck gut. So, along with fiber, it is imperative to increase water intake and be well hydrated for optimal poops!
A simple trick to remember for adequate water intake is to drink 1 oz per Kg of bodyweight, plus an extra 8 oz for every cup of coffee, soda, caffeinated tea, and sugary drinks (including fruit juices). Further, more water should also be taken in with excess dietary protein and fiber. Also, be sure to rehydrate after any exercise that causes heavy breathing (losing water via water vapor in your breath) and excessive sweating.
Fat is one of the 3 macronutrients that are essential for human survival. They play so many roles in the body, and one of them is to literally lubricate the poop in your digestive tract. Also, the colonocytes in your gut (cells of the large intestine), rely heavily on short chain fatty acids for nutrition, which is why fat sources like organic ghee (clarified butter) and coconut oil are so healthy. Without adequate fat intake, you miss out on feeding those poor colonocytes, and your poop also ends up a little on the dry side. To add in another plug for fiber as well here; short chain fatty acids primarily come from the breakdown of fermentable fiber! So, do yourself a favor and have some fiber and some healthy fats, will ya?
Healthy fats can be found in various nuts, seeds, cooking oils like ghee, coconut oil, avocado oil, or non-cooking oil like olive oil. Also, consider wild-caught small fish, or a high quality fish oil supplement.
The flora, or gut bacteria, is still a massive mystery to us. We have learned tremendous amounts of information about the gut microbiome, but so much is still a mystery. However, of what we do know, we have been able to learn that a healthy gut microbiome is essential to a normally functioning digestive system. As mentioned earlier, certain gut bacteria can breakdown and metabolize the packaged wastes that are sent into the gut via from the liver via the bile. To prevent the reabsorption of this, we use fiber, and to prevent the excessive breakdown of these packages, we optimize our gut flora via probiotics, prebiotics, and avoiding unnecessary antibiotic use.
Since this is a topic that does truly deserve a whole post on it’s own, I’m going to keep this short, simple, and to the point. If using antibiotics for whatever reason, definitely consider the concurrent use of probiotics. Also, optimize your use of probiotics by eating healthy fermented foods (sauerkraut, kefir or homemade yogurt, etc.), and taking in some foods that can provide prebiotics (onions, garlics, leeks, asparagus, artichoke, mung bean lentils, dandelion greens, to name a few).
5. Fitness & Function
The function of the digestive tract is something that not many people talk about. The first 4 F’s discussed were pretty commonly discussed topics, but this last one is the one often forgotten. The digestive system needs a few things to happen for the muscles to work right: bulk in the food we eat, parasympathetic nervous system tone, and adequate neuromuscular tone of the abdominal wall. Bulk, we’ve already talked about; eat more fiber! Improving the parasympathetic tone may sound complicated, but it’s actually quite simple.
The parasympathetic nervous system controls the digestive tract, and appropriate parasympathetic tone is necessary to stimulate the bowel muscles to contract. To do this, you simply need to follow the rules of nature, and when you are going to try to eat and digest, you should be in a rested and relaxed state. This means no walking around, driving, watching TV, or getting extra work done during mealtime. For more on this, check out our upcoming post on something we call “diet hygiene.”
Now the last piece is the least discussed and probably also the most anecdotal. This is something I learned from some brilliant mentors, and have used and found great success with. There has been some limited exploration on the idea that strong abdominal wall muscles, specifically the transversus abdominis, are a prerequisite to healthy bowel function. As far as research is concerned, I’ll be honest and say I have no RCT’s to show for it. But I have personally used this, and it is also described in the ancient Ayurvedic medical texts as an important factor in strong digestion. Another piece to helping with bowel muscle contractions is the use of herbs that stimulate these muscles. I won’t go into the details of these here, but know that there are several plants that are known to both gently and aggressively stimulate the bowels: caution is advised. Beyond these things that you can do on your own, there are manual therapies such as visceral manipulation that can also help stimulate and regulate the functioning of the digestive system.
So, to optimize the function or fitness of your digestive tract, ensure proper fiber intake, actually REST and DIGEST (diet hygiene), and consider doing some planks once in a while to strengthen that old transversus abdominis muscle. If all of this still doesn’t work, find yourself a good ND or Ayurvedic practitioner to get some herbal support for this piece.
And One Last Thing About Pooping Really Well – Anatomy
As a final note, I’ll also throw in the idea about our natural anatomy, and how we are not meant to poop with our legs at 90 degrees. Nope, not at all: we are meant to squat down right to the ground. There are muscles in our pelvis that not only hold things in place, but also prevent the release of contents from our lower bowels and rectum before we are ready. Yes, this is a good thing. But, when we sit on a modern, high-seat toilet, these muscles are not relaxed enough to allow a straight shot from our bowels to the toilet bowl; it requires a full squat position. To explain this, I’ve written a short piece on “Why the Squatty Potty Is Your New Best Friend,” which should be available to read soon, so you can check back here shortly to read that.
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