March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, so it is time to dish the scoop on poop.
While I admit it is a bit unrefined to talk about, and the 8-year-old boy in me is certainly giggling, there are some uncomfortable facts we must be aware of, because there really is no easier way to discover what’s happening inside your body than seeing what comes out of it.
One of the biggest misconceptions circulated by a popular TV doctor is that there is an ideal result: S-shaped and entering the water like an Olympic diver with minimal splash. This is just incorrect. Everyone’s GI tract operates differently based on genetics, hydration, dietary habits, medication and other health issues.
On any given day, something may be slightly different. If you don’t drink enough water, are on a new medication or are traveling, your rhythm can be off for a short time. Don’t get your boxers in a bunch; needless worrying is just that, and things will revert to normal soon.
There are some signs that shouldn’t be ignored, though. They are:
Blood in your stool — If you see even a small amount of blood in your feces on a recurring basis, see a doctor.
Change in color — If the stool is black, it can be a sign of internal bleeding. Stool color also changes depending on the kind of foods you eat. (Before you panic, did you eat a beet salad at that trendy restaurant?)
Change in consistency — Everyone has bouts of diarrhea from time to time. But if you are used to having solid bowel movements and now have diarrhea frequently, it could be a sign of something more serious, especially if you also have abdominal pain, bleeding and weight loss.
Constipation — This can be due to lack of proper hydration or side effects from a medication. If your symptoms don’t improve in a few days after an increase in fluids, see your doctor.
In addition to health care professionals, a great resource to consult is the website stoolanalyzer.com. Meanwhile, here are a few things you can do to boost your bowel health:
Drink two quarts of water daily.
Eat unprocessed, natural foods, including fiber-rich vegetables.
Avoid artificial sweeteners, fructose, chemical additives, MSG and excessive caffeine.
Boost intestinal flora by adding naturally fermented foods to your diet, such as sauerkraut, pickles and kefir.
Add a probiotic supplement if you’re not getting enough good bacteria from your diet.
If you use medication every day, ask your prescribing doctor if it could be affecting your bowel movements.
Another thing to consider: the position you’re in when you eliminate. Sitting on a modern toilet is designed to place your knees at a 90-degree angle to your abdomen, while squatting places your knees much closer to your torso. Today’s toilet position is unnatural. Squatting changes the relationship of your intestinal organs and musculature, which allows for complete emptying without straining. (I strongly recommend the Squatty Potty, which wraps around the base of the toilet. It's a brilliant device.)
All levity aside, it is important to be aware of how your GI tract normally functions and what typical bowel activity is for you. If you notice a prolonged change, that’s when you need to closely monitor what’s happening. In addition, if you are feeling pain or other pronounced symptoms, it’s time to call your doctor. JN
Bob Roth is managing partner of Cypress HomeCare Solutions.