The average person generates about 5 tonnes of fecal matter in their lifetime.
And whilst it's not something that people like to talk about or even look at, your stool can actually tell you a lot about the state of your overall health. The stool should be about 75% water with the rest consisting of live and dead bacteria, fibre, cells and mucus. Your toilet habits and the colour, size, shape, consistency and other features of your stool are a visual indicator of what’s going on inside you – and if you start to take more notice, you may even be able to detect health problems early enough to stop them from progressing to something more serious.
Bristol Stool Chart
If you’re interested in understanding more about what your toilet habits could tell you about your health, the Bristol Stool Chart is a good place to start. Researchers at Bristol Royal Infirmary developed this visual guide for stools to help doctors and patients to identify normal from abnormal without getting too embarrassed over personal details. It’s often referred to as the Bristol Stool Form Scale or BSF scale for short.
The perfect stool?
Ideally your stool should be something like Types 3, 4 and 5 - if yours is like Type 4 then you can congratulate yourself on the perfect stool! Your stool should be “like a sausage or a snake, smooth and soft to soft blobs that pass easily.” Any deviation from this and there might be some work needed on your digestive health.
How often should you go?
It’s important to get familiar with what’s regular for you and everyone’s normal habits are different. Anywhere between 3 times a week to 3 times a day is considered the normal range. Perhaps more important than the frequency is the ease with which you can move your bowels. It shouldn’t take any more effort than passing wind or urinating to move your bowels, and if you need to strain or push then something isn’t right. The frequency and ease at which you can move your bowels is easily affected by your diet, travel, water intake, hormones, sleep patterns, exercise, surgery, stress, illness and even childbirth.
What can you do about it?
If your stool doesn’t fit within the normal parameters on the BSF, you aren’t able to go regularly or you have to strain or push then you need to make some changes to improve your digestive health, which will often correct any imbalances. If you are at all worried though, it’s worth a quick trip to your GP. Any symptoms such as a change in stools, abdominal pain, blood (black or bright red), white, pale, grey or yellow stools may need more attention to rule out anything underlying. It’s likely nothing serious but worth checking with your GP.
Simple changes to improve your bowel habits & digestive health
• Eat a diet rich in whole foods including plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, wholegrains and legumes such as beans, chickpeas and lentils, nuts and seeds and high quality protein
• Reduce wheat and gluten-containing foods
• Avoid refined sugar, artificial sweeteners and additives, caffeine and alcohol
• Stay well hydrated with plenty of fresh filtered water daily
• Increase your intake of fibre. Soluble fibre such as psyllium husk, apple pectin and pureed papaya can be particularly helpful to support bowel regularity
• Increase your intake of friendly bacteria. Fermented foods such as kefir are a great way to get a daily boost. In addition, a high quality probiotic supplement is a good way to ensure you are nurturing your healthy bacteria
• Supplement with gentle plant enzymes to support healthy digestion
• Incorporate time for relaxation into your daily routine. Ancient practices such as mindfulness meditation and yoga are proven to reduce stress
• Get regular exercise