The Scoop on Poop and Probiotics
I am reluctant to talk about poop. I confess that find it an embarrassing and very personal subject, not one I generally broach publicly. But let’s face it — we all poop and there are important things we should know about poop if we want to understand our own health.
Fortunately, there is someone who is decidedly not embarrassed to talk about it. She even manages to do so with humor. “Poop is my passion,” says General Nutritionist Consultant and Digestive Care Expert, Brenda Watson.
Author of eight health books, Brenda has just announced her fourth PGS television special, The Road to Perfect Health–Balance Your Gut, Heal Your Body, an in-depth look at how chronic diseases start with an unhealthy digestive system, as well as the release of The Road to Perfect Health–Balance Your Gut, Heal Your Body: A Modern Guide to Curing Chronic Disease, a 660-page natural health reference book coauthored by Leonard Smith, M.D., Rick Sponaugle M.D. and Jamey Jones B.Sc.
Let me apologize in advance if you find the topic uncomfortable, but it is important. So what does Ms. Watson want you to know about poop? Here’s the scoop.
What to Look For in Your Poop
- Noise: Healthy poop barely makes a sound when it hits the water. Quiet and gentle is a sign of good health.
- Size: Size does matter. The longer, the healthier, and it should be an effortless process.
- Color: “Fashionably golden brown,” says Ms. Watson. Certain very colorful foods can temporarily change the color of poop, but if yours is consistently yellow or green, it could signal health problems.
- Consistency: It should be soft and solid, not hard. If it floats, splashes, or sinks like a rock, it’s a sign that something is not quite right.
“I do look into the toilet every day. If something looks a little scary, I might even get a spoon and check it out,” explains Ms. Watson. “If I don’t like what I see, I’m not likely to rush out to the doctor, but it does depend on what I see.”
“For most of us, we might see color variations, small stools, hard stools, liquidy stools, or sometimes nothing at all! Often, in a day or two it will return to normal, but some of us experience chronic problems. Most of the time, the answer is to eat more fiber, which is vitally important for healthy poop and a healthy body. Fiber is what makes our stool big, soft, and easy to pass. It’s like an exercise machine for those massive colon muscles. When the colon has the right amount of fiber (I recommend 35 grams a day) it automatically contracts and pushes the stool on down the colon and out of the body. However, if you have been sick, are weak, or very young or very old, a bad bowel movement may be something that you should take seriously and even go to the doctor about.”
How Probiotics Protect the Gut
We have more bacterial cells in our gut than we do in the rest of our body — about four pounds of it! There are three types of gut bacteria: harmful, neutral, and beneficial — that’s the kind known as probiotics, the friendly bacteria that acts as our “gut protection system,” or “GPS.”
Probiotic means, literally, “for life,” in contrast to “antibiotic,” which means “against life.” The most common and most widely studied probiotic bacteria are what Ms. Watson calls the L’s and the B’s — Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria. Lactobacillus bacteria are most associated with the small intestine, and the Bifidobacteria are mostly found in the large intestine, or colon.
The probiotic system works by:
- protecting the intestinal lining and improving the balance of good to bad bacteria in the gut by “crowding out” bad bacteria;
- producing substances that neutralize harmful bacteria;
- and influencing the immune system so that it responds appropriately to invaders, such as harmful organisms, toxins and even food.
It’s sometimes hard to make the connection, but imbalances in the digestive system can affect every other system in the body.
According to Ms. Watson, in addition to the obvious things like heartburn, bloating, and gas, conditions like fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, skin conditions, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and even arthritis are all related to the gut.
Factors such as age, use of antibiotics, poor diet, and stress can cause pathogenic bacteria levels to increase. The imbalance in intestinal flora is called dysbiosis. Ms. Watson reports that studies have been done with people consuming hundreds of billions of various probiotics daily and, typically, the only negative side effects from high doses of probiotics are increased gas and bloating, which soon pass. Most people find the right dose for themselves by trial and gradual adjustments.
What are the Health Benefits of Probiotics?
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), there is encouraging evidence from the study of probiotics formulations. Probiotics may help:
- Treat diarrhea (this is the strongest area of evidence, especially for diarrhea from rotavirus).
- Prevent and treat infections of the urinary tract or female genital tract.
- Treat irritable bowel syndrome.
- Reduce recurrence of bladder cancer.
- Shorten how long an intestinal infection lasts that is caused by a bacterium called Clostridium difficile.
- Prevent and treat pouchitis (a condition that can follow surgery to remove the colon).
- Prevent and manage atopic dermatitis (eczema) in children.
The NIH cautions that more information is needed on the safety of probiotics, especially for young children, elderly people, and people with compromised immune systems.
How to Support Your Gut With Your Diet
Loaded with highly processed foods, the typical American diet is not kind to your gut. The empty calories, almost void of nutritional value or fiber, do nothing but harm to your health.
Fuel your body properly by focusing on natural foods that are packed with nutrients, not empty calories. Whole grains, vegetables, and fruits should top the list. Shoot for a rainbow of colors and remember Ms. Watson’s helpful hint: potatoes don’t count as a main veggie! Restrict your intake of saturated fat, salt, refined grains, and added sugars.
Probiotics can be found in foods like kefir (a fermented milk drink) and yogurt and, according to Ms. Watson, there is heavily documented use of fermented foods and cultured dairy products for therapeutic purposes.
What goes in must come out, and if you’re not careful about that first part, the second part will have you paying a very high price.
Treat your body as if it has to carry you throughout your life… because it does.
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Ann Pietrangelo is the author of “No More Secs! Living, Laughing & Loving Despite Multiple Sclerosis,” a memoir. She is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and The Author’s Guild, and a regular contributor to Care2 Healthy & Green Living and Care2 Causes. Follow on Twitter @AnnPietrangelo