Let's talk about your bowels

Author: Claire Ho APD


It can be embarassing to talk about and something you probably feel too private to even mention to anyone let alone a stranger! As dietitians we love to talk about bowel motions or your poo in more simple terms. Your stools (aka poo) is an excellent indicator of bowel health, dietary habits, hydration, mental health and physical activity.


Just like how the colour of your urine can inform about your hydration levels - there are number of factors to consider about your stools too:

  • Consistency

  • Colour

  • Frequency

  • Ease of passing

CONSISTENCY

The Bristol Stool Chart is a great assessment tools used by medical professionals including dietitians to get an understanding about the consistency of your stools. Everyone's bowel habits are different and definition of 'normal' can also vary.

  • Type 1-2 indicate constipation

  • Type 3-4 are ideal stools as they are easier to pass, and

  • Type 5-7 may indicate diarrhoea and urgency. 

Source: Contintence Foundation of Australia


COLOUR

Healthy stools are brown, if you observe any changes in colour you should seek medical attention immediately According to Better Health VIC common causes may include

Red – blood smears on the toilet paper are usually caused by haemorrhoids or anal fissures. Bright red blood in the faeces (haemotochezia) usually means internal bleeding, and the causes could include bowel cancer.
Black – one of the most common causes of black faeces is taking iron supplements. However, bleeding higher up in the digestive tract, such as from the oesophagus or stomach, can cause the faeces to appear black (melena). The cause could include bleeding from an ulcer.
Maroon – blood is the usual cause of maroon-coloured faeces. Some of the causes can include bleeding from the bowel, often from diverticulosis, angiodysplasia (abnormal and leaky blood vessels in the intestinal lining) or bowel cancer.
Cream or light coloured – light-coloured faeces usually means that bile salts are absent. This could be caused by a range of digestive diseases affecting the pancreas, gall bladder or liver. Hepatitis, for example, can make the faeces appear silver, white, grey or yellow

FREQUENCY

How frequent an individual passes a bowel motion differes from one to another. The range of 'normal' can range from once per week to several times a day. You should seek medical attention if there is a drastic change in bowel motions compared to your 'usual' routine.


EASE OF PASSING

Bowel motions should be firm, moist and easy to pass. For example, if you sit on the toilet for a long time and struggle to pass but the consistency is type 3 or 4 - it is something worth discussing with a health professional.


Bowels and Diet


HOW DOES DIET PLAY A ROLE IN BOWEL HEALTH?

Dietary fibre is the main component in food that affects your stools. It is a type of carbohydrate that is resistant to digestion and absorption in the small intestine. Therefore it is partially or completely fermented in the large intestine. It helps improves bowel function by absorbing water and adding bulk to your stools.


Fibre is found in foods such as multigrain or whole grain breads, cereals/cereal products, fruit, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds. So having good amounts of dietary fibre in your diet ensures good bowel motions. Recommended daily intake is 25g for women and 30g for men.


DIET AND DISEASE

However, in some circumstances where an individual have gastrointestinal symptoms or digestive disorder, a specialised diet may be required. For example, if you are experiencing diarrhoea or very loose stools then addition of dietary fibre may aggreviate your symptoms. Hence during this time, it is often recommended to limit the amount of fibre in your diet until the cause of your symptoms are determined. Such as switching high fibre breads to white bread, removing skin on fruits and vegetables.


Individuals with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) may also need to consider the types of fibre-containing foods they are having to help control their symptoms. These groups of foods are categorised under FODMAPs, which you can read more about in my blog post here. Other digestive disorders which may require specialised dietary requirements include Diverticular Disease, Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Coeliac Disease, Lactose Intolerance, GERD and Hemorrhoids.


Our dietitians are trained and experienced to provide evidence-based nutrition therapy for individuals experiencing gastrointestinal symptoms or digestive disorders. Contact us to find out more.


Useful links:

https://www.nrv.gov.au/nutrients/dietary-fibre

https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases

https://www.continence.org.au/bristol-stool-chart

https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/irritable-bowel-syndrome-ibs

https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/low-fodmap-diets


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