Call it what you would like, but human feces is a universal byproduct of our digestive system. From the moment we first put food in our mouth we are already activating salivary amylase, a digestive enzyme that begins the chemical process of breaking down food starches into sugars. While we all can recognize the importance of the digestive steps that follow in our body, we often fail to pay close attention to the final visual representation – our poop. The act of defecation is a very private (and often embarrassing thing to some of us), but it is important to not shy away from using this visual tool to better understand the state of our digestive health. So, before you flush this next time, stop and take a moment to recognize these important features and what they mean.
The following is known as The Bristol Stool Scale, which was first published in the Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology in the late 1990’s. This general guide was created by a group of researchers at the University of Bristol as a way to examine a correlation between physical stool appearance and colon health:
Type 1: These small pellets often resemble deer or rabbit poop. It can mean that the stool is staying in the intestines for too long and its water content is being overly absorbed into the body. This is considered a form of constipation and the patient may experience multiple days between bowel movements. The most common causes of this constipation are dehydration, a lack of dietary fiber, and/or medications.
Type 2: It is similar to the Type 1 stool, but formed into larger pieces. This typically indicates a less severe form of constipation, but can lead to more issues due to the size of the rough stool (ex: rectal bleeding, prolapsed hemorrhoid, diverticulitis, etc…).
Type 3: While still showing some minor signs of dryness, this stool is closer to an ideal range for a patient. As long as there is little straining, this is considered a healthy stool.
Type 4: This stool most closely resembles a well formed banana and is considered the healthiest appearance of a stool. Most patients with this stool type have regular bowel movements daily and have a healthy balance of dietary fiber in their diet. Congratulations, you have obtained the Venus de Milo of stools!
Type 5: This stool is a bit on the soft side with clear cut edges, but not quite diarrhea. This can mean that water in the stool is not being well absorbed, usually due to an increase in fiber or a dietary cleanse.
Type 6: This looser stool is considered moderate diarrhea and some patients may find it hard to control the urge to defecate. This can be a sign of a hyperactive colon (fast mobility), excess dietary potassium, or sudden dehydration (causing a spike in blood pressure). Many patients with this type of stool also find a correlation between high stress levels and loose stools.
Type 7: This stool is moving through the intestines too quickly and is easily classified as a severe case of diarrhea. It can be a sign of infection or even paradoxical diarrhea (a case where someone is constipated with severe blockages in the intestines, but liquid contents are still passed through the body from the small intestine and accumulated at the rectum).
Brown: This color indicates a normal, healthy bowel. The brown color is caused by regular bile production in your liver.
Red: While some foods like beets can cause a red stool, it is important to recognize if there is blood in the stool. If so, the blood may be caused by Lower GI bleeding and/or hemorrhoids.
Green: This stool usually represents an abundance of leafy green vegetables, undigested bile or other gallbladder disorders, or Crohn’s disease.
Yellow: If the stool appears greasy and foul-smelling, it may indicate excess fat. This could be due to a malabsorption disorder like Celiac Disease, or could be sign of giardia (parasites), or gallbladder disorders.
White: This stool could be caused by a wide range of disorders such as a bile duct obstruction, medications (especially antacids), liver disease, or pancreatic disorders.
Black: Some vitamins containing iron or bismuth subsalicylate can cause black stool, but it can also be a sign of ulcers, cancer, or bleeding from the esophagus or Upper GI system. If you are unsure on why your stools are consistently black, it is always advised that you speak with your doctor about additional testing.
So, what can you do about it?
If you have any concerns about your stools, the first thing to do is consult your healthcare practitioner. While the stool appearance does not tell us everything, it does provide some amazing insight into our digestive health. Food and fecal matter travel approximately 30 feet while inside our body, and each section of our digestion is just as important as the next. Over the course of our lifetime, it is estimated that we will excrete 9000 pounds of fecal matter. So, before you simply state that “this is how it has always been” or “it’s not too bad, so I don’t worry about it”, know that these chronic digestive issues can have a long-term effect on your overall health.
Here at the Healing Center, we put a great deal of emphasis on functional medicine and repairing the gastrointestinal health of our patients. One of our amazing services that we provide is Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine. Our Acupuncturist Erik Johnson, puts the same emphasis on gastrointestinal health and has numerous treatment modalities that work to repair our gut:
- Moxibustion – a soft moss-like herb called Mugwort is burned on top of the skin at various acupuncture points. This substance creates a strong infrared heat that helps balance the intestinal flora in our gut, helps to repair the intestinal wall (especially in the case of leaky gut disorders), and also creates a histoxin response in the body (helping to increase red blood cells, white blood cells, and boost the overall immune system).
- Abdominal Palpation – an important part of any acupuncture treatment is a thorough intake at the beginning of a session. In the case of gastrointestinal ailments, palpating (or light pressing) around the abdomen can tell a lot about the patient health. Cold, clammy, or taught locations on the abdomen can show signs of stagnation in the body where there is inadequate digestion.
- Food/Nutritional Therapy – depending on the root cause of a patient’s gastrointestinal disorder, certain food recommendations are made to help balance the body to achieve a better homeostasis. Suggestions are also catered to Clearvite and Repairvite diets.
- Chinese Herbs – we carry over ten herbal formulas that primarily focus on different manifestations of gastrointestinal disturbances. From stress induced diarrhea to stool incontinence, there available herbs that fit most patient ailments.
- TDP Infrared Heat Lamp – most acupuncture treatments are accompanied with heat lamp treatments from TDP Lamps. These lamps emit a safe far-infrared wave that stimulate microcirculation, which delivers higher levels of oxygen and nutrients to injured cells and also eliminates toxins and cellular waste from the body.
We use a combination of both Eastern Medicine and Functional Medicine to approach personalized patient health care from all available modalities – creating profound balance, harmony, and well-being in our patients. Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine add another amazing approach to helping us overcome certain ailments like stool irregularities or gastrointestinal related ailments. Book an appointment today with our acupuncturist Erik Johnson to see how this medicine can drastically reduce any symptoms that you are currently experiencing.
Maciocia, Giovanni. The Foundations of Chinese Medicine. New York: Churchill Livingstone,Inc. 1989