Constipation – What is Normal?
Most people experience constipation at one time or another. Some even live with it daily. While you often hear doctors say that everyone’s “normal” is different, constipation is definitely NOT something to put up with. In this series, I’ll review what healthy bowel habits look like, why exactly you shouldn’t put up with constipation, and what you really want to know – what to do about it.
Health, defined by many doctors, is the absence of disease. But by now, you probably recognize that health is more than just getting by. You want to function optimally. The absence of identifiable disease could mean that your system isn’t showing disease yet but perhaps isn’t getting the nourishment it needs to prevent disease. We want better for ourselves, and we want better for you.
I’d like to propose a reason or two that “healthy” doesn’t necessarily mean optimal.
What is Constipation?
First of all, a definition is in order. Constipation, according to the American College of Gastroenterology, is “based upon symptoms including unsatisfactory defecation with either infrequent stools, difficult stool passage or both. Any recent change in bowel habits, if persistent, may be cause for concern”. They also state that some people have three bowel movements on average per week and are healthy.
Which is why it is important to keep an eye on your stool habits as they are an indicator of how your system is doing!
The Bristol Chart:
For those of you who are visual learners, here’s a fun chart for you, called the Bristol Stool Chart. This was developed by a team of doctors at the Bristol Royal Infirmary in Bristol, England, after observing the bowel habits of about 2000 people. The chart indicates the texture of stool and health of digestion. Ideally, you want to be at Type 4. Type 3 and 5 are also acceptable, but if you are moving toward the low or high end of the scale, you have some work to do and probably have symptoms that correlate with your stool. Constipation would be Type 1 or 2. If you’re someone who has a hard time discussing this with your doctor, the visual scale can be helpful.
The reason we should ideally be pooping every day is this: stool is made up of mostly water, fiber (undigested food), bacteria, proteins, salts, and other substances made by the intestines. Bowel movements help us get rid of metabolic byproducts like extra estrogens, and other toxins we come into contact with that our liver had to process, like heavy metals, pesticides, insecticides, food additives, medications, or even microorganisms. Many of these are eliminated in urine as well, but some depend on good digestion to leave the body.
- Normal stool should be brown or green-brown due to bile salts and bilirubin, which is a byproduct of red blood cell breakdown in the body.
- While stool will have an odor, very foul smelling poop can indicate dysbiosis in the gut and/or poor diet.
In addition to knowing what a healthy poop looks like, it is good to know what are considered to be alarm symptoms. In general, red or black stools can indicate bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract.
Do keep in mind that foods you eat and medications/supplements can change the color of your stool too. Another one to watch for is greasy, foul-smelling poop on a regular basis as this can indicate trouble digesting fats. If you don’t digest fats well, you may be at increased risk for fat-soluble vitamin deficiencies (vitamins A, D, E, K – all vital players in immunity and overall health).
Talk to your doctor if you see red or black stools as this can indicate blood in the gastrointestional tract. If you notice any other colors and if the color change goes away after a few days, you likely just ate something out of the ordinary, like lots of greens or carrots.
We know that our gut health impacts everything from mental health (depression, anxiety) to hormone regulation to skin health. Since chronic constipation is also linked to depression, bowel disease, and bowel obstruction, it’s smart to address the cause of constipation and not ignore it. If you’re not seeing healthy bowel movements for you or your child, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We are experts at addressing gut issues!
In the next post, you’ll learn what you can do to minimize/eliminate constipation and what can make it worse. You’ll also have a chance to snag a free resource we often use in the practice!
American College of Gastroenterology – “Constipation and Defecation Problems”
Division of Clinical Pharmacology and Toxicology, Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto – “Detoxification pathways in the liver”
Healthline – “Types of Poop”