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HEALTHY POOP

What Your Poop Says About Your Health


Find out the truth about your scat
BY JULIE STEWART, JUNE 20, 2014
PHOTOGRAPH BY TRAVIS RATHBONE

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Next to sex, few bodily functions are as private as pooping. For example,
you've no doubt driven past a guy who pulled over to take a leak, but
we're betting the only guy you've seen squatting on the shoulder was
changing his tire.
No, defecation is best executed with stealth. Enter bathroom (or stall),
lock door, keep sounds to a minimum, and then employ toilet paper and
air freshener to eliminate any trace of what transpired. It's almost as if
you've committed a crime. Actually, you have: destruction of evidence.
In your rush to ush, you lose a unique opportunity to assess your health.
From color to consistency, logs on the bottom of the bowl are like tea
leaves waiting to be read, potentially predicting such conditions as
Crohn's disease, irritable bowel syndrome, colon cancer, or a bowel
obstruction. If this all sounds (and looks) like a load of crap, it's time you
were schooled in stool.

Lesson 1: Regularity Is a Virtue


You might wonder whether your bathroom habits are normal. Well,
here's what science has to say: Japanese researchers have concluded that
the average healthy guy takes a seat about once a day. But the key here
is "average." The truth is, when it comes to frequency, there is no such
thing as an ideal number for number two. Everyone's colon moves at a
slightly dierent pace, and that means it's normal and healthy to go
anywhere from three times a day to three times a week, says
gastroenterologist Richard J. Saad, M.D., M.S., an assistant professor of
medicine at the University of Michigan. The time to worry is when your
colonic clock suddenly switches from a decades-long schedule of three
times a week to three times a day, says Dr. Saad. "Don't ignore any
sudden change in bowel movements, in terms of their frequency or their
form."
Ah yes, the shape of your scat. Dr. Saad's research suggests that the
healthiest logs resemble smooth sausage links. "Sometimes it can be a
little bit on the rmer sidewhere it's shaped like a sausage and has a
few cracks on the surfaceall the way to soft, semiformed blobs," he
says. But anything harder or softer than that can be a sign that
something's wrong. While deviations in form (or frequency) could be a
symptom of something as simple as constipation, they could also indicate
a more serious problem, such as irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn's
disease, a bowel obstruction, or maybe even colon or stomach cancer,
says T. Lee Baumann, M.D., a medical consultant based in Birmingham,
Alabama, and the author of Clearing the Air: Art of the Bowel Movement.
Improve Your Grade
Peer into the porcelain. Is what you see on the rmer side? Has it been
days between trips when it used to be hours? Then consider drinking an
extra glass of water with every meal. According to new research in the
American Journal of Gastroenterology, uid intake is the biggest predictor
of constipation. People who consume less water are more likely to suer
constipation than those who drink more. Adding more insoluble ber to
your diet helps too, says Dr. Baumann. Your body can't digest this type of
roughage, so it passes through your gut and softens your stool. In fact, a
U.K. study found that adding at least 3.5 grams of wheat bran, a type of
insoluble ber, to your daily diet can improve constipation and other
aspects of digestion in just two weeks. Try Kellogg's All-Bran Bran Buds,
which has 4.5 grams of insoluble ber in half a serving.

Now, if you have the opposite problemyou're producing blobs instead


of bratwurst or going more often than everswallow some Metamucil or
Beneber. In a recent American Pharmacists Association survey, these
were the most recommended ber supplement brands. "Soluble ber
absorbs water and becomes gel-like as it travels through your system,"
says Dr. Baumann. The result: rmer and less frequent feces.
And if these dietary adjustments don't make a dierence? Make an
appointment with your GP, ASAP. This is especially true if what you see
in the toilet looks like thin ribbons or pencil-sized strandsa possible
sign of a bowel obstruction or even colon cancer.
Lesson 2: Lots of Things Can Give You the Runs
Anything from food to pharmaceuticals can trigger hormonal responses
and nerve reexes that activate your bowels. And making a beeline to the
bathroom after consuming a particular food may be a sign of an allergy
or sensitivity.
"The food goes into your gut and causes an allergic response and
inammation," says Michael B. Stierstorfer, M.D., a clinical associate
professor of dermatology at the University of Pennsylvania. "The
inammation disrupts motility in your gut, and when your gut's not
passing things through like it should, you experience symptoms." Acute
stress can also trigger repeated trips to the toilet.
Improve Your Grade
Uncover undiagnosed food allergies: In a study, Dr. Stierstorfer found
that applying patch tests of foods and food ingredients to people's skin
helped them detect hidden food allergies that were causing bowel
problems. Try the same thing at homeif your ngers get red and itchy
after handling a food for a prolonged period of time, avoid eating it for a
week to see if you feel better, says Dr. Stierstorfer.
Of the drugs that may stimulate your system, the biggest culprits are
antibiotics, NSAID pain relievers, magnesium-containing antacids, and
proton pump inhibitors for heartburn. If you suspect one of these is
leading you to the loo, talk to your doctor about adjusting your dose or
medication. If untamed tension is to blame, take a class in
mindfulness-based stress reduction. (Find a local program at
w3.umassmed.edu/MBSR.)

Vi e w A s S i n g l e P a g e

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