The human gut is almost unique amongst mammals – the upper gut is a near sterile, digesting carnivorous gut (like a dog’s or cat’s) to deal with meat and fat, while the lower gut (large intestine) is full of bacteria and is a fermenting vegetarian gut (like a horse ‘s) to digest vegetables and fiber.
Stools Can Reveal A Lot About Your Health
Can you believe that you can tell a lot about your health just by looking at your stool? Have you ever heard of the ISWA? (International Stool Watchers Association) You won’t find it on the Internet. It’s a “secret organization.” Believe it or not, this is a popular search engine topic so you should know you might have friends in the ISWA. From your stool you may be able to get clues about your diet, your gastrointestinal health, and even whether your stress, anger, or anxiety levels are too high.
HOW FOOD BECOMES STOOL
No matter how nutritious, your favorite foods won’t do you any good in the natural whole state. From the moment food enters your mouth, your body embarks on a campaign to turn it into a soupy mush called chyme. Chewing, saliva, peristalsis (the involuntary contractions of gastrointestinal muscles), bacteria, hydrochloric acid, digestive enzymes, bile, and other secretions all work to give each meal the consistency of split pea soup.
Digestion is the process by which nutrients are extracted from food and absorbed by the body. Mechanical digestion involves food being chewed and swallowed while stimulating the chemical digestion. Mechanical digestion processes – such as chewing, swallowing and the muscular movements that mix and move food through the digestive tract – supports the chemical digestion by physically breaking down whole food into smaller pieces to facilitate chemical breakdown. Chemical digestion is required to process and extract nutrients from food that the body needs to survive and thrive. Chemical digestion is responsible for sterilizing food entering the body and maintaining the environment that controls microbial behavior. Without chemical digestion, the body would be unable to properly eliminate excess food waste.
Fermentation is the digestive process by which carbohydrates are broken down by microorganisms into simple molecules for absorption into the bloodstream. Some fermentation takes place throughout the gastrointestinal tract, but the intensity of fermentation depends on microbial numbers, which are generally highest in the large intestine. Thus, the large intestine is quantitatively the most important site of fermentation, except for the species with forestomachs (ruminants like cows).
Digestion of food must occur in a specific sequence and order. There are four overlapping phases that convert food into stool. Each phase stimulates the next step, like dominos. Miss a step and digestion is impaired. Just like removing a domino causes the chain reaction to stop, even if you are eating organic, vegan or grass-fed. I am surprised at how many think because they are eating “healthy” their digestive processes are working at optimal efficiency.
Thought & Smell
First, the thought of being hungry and the smell of food cooking stimulates the saliva glands and the gastrointestinal hormones made in the pituitary that stimulate the stomach, pancreas and upper digestive tract. Our bodies need the time to produce the digestive chemistry, i.e. stomach acid & enzymes, pancreas juices and enzymes and bile from the gallbladder. The smell and thought of food starts the process.
We have been taught that odors are bad. How many home deodorizers are on the market? Then add to that pre-packaged microwave meals which are also devoid of any food odor. Flowery home deodorizers are not conducive to good digestion. Microwaved food may smell somewhat like food when the package is opened but it doesn’t provide your body with the time it needs to prepare the digestive chemistry. Yet what happens when you walk into a home with the smell of cooking food? That food tastes so much better. Why? Because your body is better prepared for it. Unfortunately, the most common answer I get during a consultation is that they don’t know how to cook because they grew up using the microwave. Thank God for Alton Brown on the Food Network doing shows on how to cook.
Mash & Mix
Next, there is Mash & Mix where the upper teeth serve as the anvil and the lower teeth are the hammers that break down big pieces of food into smaller pieces. Too many are using the 1-2-3-gulp method during this phase. This leaves the food like chunky salsa. Food should be mashed to more of a fruit smoothie texture. This is where the digestive chemicals begin to be mixed in. The chemicals work on the surface of the food and can only soak in so far. Remember, when you made the Nestle’ Quick and when you got to the bottom of the glass there was a big blob of chocolate powder. Did you ever take a spoon and mash it and find the inside of the blob dry? The milk didn’t penetrate the interior. The same happens when you use the 1-2-3-gulp method. Leaving the chunks of food in your digestive tract not chemically processed at 98.6 degrees for hours or days. How long can you leave food out on a hot summer day before it starts to go bad?
Chewing stimulates the stomach, pancreas and gallbladder to prepare for the arrival of food. Think of chewing as foreplay for digestion. Without the chemistry, the system is dry and there is an insufficient quantity of digestive chemicals to break down the amount of food eaten. But before the food is broken down chemically, it is sterilized. The upper gut is a near sterile environment. Stomach acid kills the alkaline-loving bacteria and microbes. Most disease causing microbes love an alkaline environment. Pancreas juices and bile sterilize the acid-loving bacteria and microbes. This combination keeps the number of microbes in the upper digestive tract at a low level giving the chemicals the time necessary to act on the food.
The digestive chemistry controls the environment of the gastrointestinal tract. The environment controls the behavior of the microbes. It is not simply an issue of good vs. bad bacteria. A healthy gut environment will have well behaved bacteria that work with and for the body. Just as a ghetto controls the behavior of those who live there as even good bacteria in a ghetto gut will change their behavior and become detrimental to health. This includes probiotic and fermented food bacteria.
Mix, & Absorb
Mixing movements occur in the gastrointestinal tract as a result of smooth muscle contractions. These repetitive back and forth contractions usually occur in small intestine and mix the food particles with the digestive chemistry and other fluids. These contractions are stimulated by the production of serotonin by cells lining the small intestine. Ninety-five (95%) of serotonin is made in the gut. The movements that propel the food particles through the GI tract are called peristalsis. These are rhythmic waves of contraction that move the food particles through the various regions in which mechanical and chemical digestion takes place.
The small intestine is the part of the gastrointestinal tract between the stomach and large intestine and is where much of the chemical digestion of food occurs. Virtually all nutrients from the diet are absorbed into blood across the lining of the small intestine. In addition, the intestine absorbs water and electrolytes, thus playing a critical role in maintenance of body water and acid-base balance.
The bowel is made up of the small and large intestines. The small intestine includes three sections—the duodenum, jejunum, and ileum. In the ascending and transverse colon much of the water, electrolyte and sugar balancing occurs between the inside and outside world, except for, perhaps the kidneys. It is also in this area that the symbiotic (living mutually together) bacteria live. It is reasonable, therefore, that their products should be absorbed from this area.
You may have specific nutrient deficiencies depending on which sections of the small or large bowel are not functioning properly or were removed.
The sites of nutrient absorption in the small bowel are the:
- Upper section (duodenum), where iron is absorbed
- Middle section (jejunum), where carbohydrates, proteins, fat, calcium and vitamins are absorbed
- Lower section (ileum), where bile acids and vitamin B-12 are absorbed
The nutrient absorption in the entire length of the large bowel is the:
- Salts and electrolytes. Mainly sodium and potassium.
- Dissolved minerals
- Vitamin K
- Vitamin D
- Folic acid
- Many of the B vitamins in small quantities.
Without these nutrients, the blood is chemically unbalanced, a condition that can lead to illness and chronic poor health.
Ferment, Absorb & Eliminate
Fermentation: The cells lining the large intestine do not produce enzymes, but contain huge numbers of bacteria, which have the enzymes to digest and utilize the substances the enzymes produce. The microbial floras of the large intestine are primarily responsible for two processes:
- Digestion and metabolism of carbohydrates not digested in the small intestine.
- Synthesis of vitamin K and certain B vitamins
Cellulose is the fiber in the diet, but no human cell is known to produce a cellulase, an enzyme that breaks down fiber for digestion. Several species of bacteria in the large intestine produce cellulases and digest celluose. Importantly the major end products of microbial digestion of cellulose and other carbohydrates are volatile fatty acids, lactic acid, methane, hydrogen, carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide. Fermentation is the major source of intestinal gas.
Volatile or short-chain fatty acids (especially acetic, propionic and butyric acids) generated from fermentation are not only generated from fermentation within the intestinal lining, but can be absorbed by diffusion and contribute to systemic metabolism and other metabolic processes.
The job of the large intestine is to absorb water and salts from the material that not been digested as food and get rid of any waste products left over. By the time the food mixed with digestive juices reaches your large intestine, most digestion has already taken place. What’s left is mainly fiber or plant matter that takes a long time for bacterial digestion to occur.
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While your digestive cells are absorbing sugars, starches, fats, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients, waste products continue traveling down the line. In the colon, all the leftovers are combined, packed together, and partially dehydrated. What remains – our feces – consist of water, indigestible fiber, undigested food (such as corn and small seeds), sloughed-off dead cells, living and dead bacteria, intestinal secretions, and bile. (The worn-out red blood cells in bile give excrement its distinctive brown color.) In the large intestine, bacteria feed on this mixture. These helpful bacteria produce vitamins that are absorbed into your blood.
Proper blood supply to the intestinal tract
The blood supply to the gastro-intestinal tract must be whole and intact to allow proper assimilation of the absorbed materials into the body. This is controlled through the Vasomotor components of the NEI Supersystem. Read More … Any damage to, or scarcity of blood supply from whatever cause, will limit the effectiveness of absorption.
The main function of the the enteric nervous system is to coordinate the movement of food through the gut (peristalsis) and trigger the release of the appropriate hormones and enzymes that are necessary for digestion and controlling blood flow in the gut wall which is important for the absorption of nutrients.
The two parts of your automatic nervous system (Autonomic nervous system) control the blood supply to the organs. The “Rest & Digest” Parasympathetic stimulation will increase overall blood flow to the gut as well as increasing secretions and general gut activity. The “Fight or Flight” Sympathetic stimulation will have the opposite effect.
Symptoms of Excess Sympathetic / Deficient Parasympathetics
* Anxiety-like response * Enlarged pupils * High blood pressure
* Infrequent bowel movements * Nervous strain
* Tension headaches * Irritability * Indigestion
* Rapid heartbeat with palpitations or weak pulse
* Nightmares * Muscle tension
Symptoms of Excess Parasympathetic / Deficient Sympathetics
* Sluggish/poor digestion * Lethargy/fatigue * Cold hands/feet
* Low blood pressure * Small pupils * Sweats easily
* Sensitive to noises and touch * ADHD * Mental confusion
* Difficulty concentrating * Restless sleeping * Urination at night
Parasympathetic dysfunction has been observed in patients with rheumatoid arthritis who have secondary Sjögren syndrome and may be due to circulating autoantibodies.
What Does an Ideal Bowel Movement Look Like?
If all goes, as it should, you’ll end up with a healthy bowel movement. Although digestive idiosyncrasies, variations in intestinal bacteria, and other variables can produce different standards for a healthy stool, in general it should be brown to light brown; formed but not hard; cylindrical, not flattened; fairly bulky and full-bodied, not compacted; somewhat textured but not too messy; and very easy to pass. And it shouldn’t smell – much. You’re passing methane and bacterial, degraded foodstuffs, so there’s always going to be a little odor, but it shouldn’t be a very strong, pungent odor.
An ideal bowel movement is medium brown, the color of plain cardboard. It leaves the body easily with no straining or discomfort. It should have the consistency of toothpaste, and be approximately 4 to 8 inches long. Stool should enter the water smoothly and slowly fall once it reaches the water. There should be little gas or odor.
Experts Disagree On Two Stool Characteristics: FLOATING versus SINKING?
Opinion A) Stools should float because buoyancy is a sign that the body has absorbed the minerals in the food and that these nutrients are not contained in the waste.
Opinion B) Stools should sink because of their bulk and fiber content.
I am not impressed with either argument: most stools will sink. Whether it floats or sinks really doesn’t seem to make any difference. An occasional deviation from this total picture is usually considered okay; chronic deviations (or any featuring blood) are not, and should be checked with a doctor.
Stool That Sinks Quickly
Rapidly sinking stool can indicate that a person isn’t eating enough fiber-rich foods, such as vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, or drinking enough water. This stool is often dark because they have been sitting in the intestines for a prolonged time. Only members of the International Stool Watchers Association (ISWA) with advanced skills will be able to determine if their stool sinks rapidly.
What Are Floating Stools?
Stools normally sink in the toilet. However, a variety of things, mainly diet, can cause a change in your stools. Changes to the structure of your stools may result in floating. Occasional floating stools are usually nothing to be concerned about. Your stools will most likely return to normal without any treatment. Floating stools are not an illness or disease; however, they can be a symptom of some illnesses and diseases.
Common Causes of Floating Stools
The most common causes of floating stools are excess gas and fats in the stool. Both provide buoyancy to the stool preventing it from sinking.
Certain foods are easily fermented by bacteria and can cause gas in your stools. Foods that ferment and the resulting gas include those that contain large amounts of sugars, lactose, starch, or fiber, such as beans, milk, cabbage, apples, soft drinks, and sugar-free candies. This can indicate a microbial overgrowth.
Fat malabsorption is a condition that results in a very limited ability of the body to absorb fats in the gastrointestinal tract. Fat malabsorption can result in a deficiency of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. It can be caused by a number of underlying conditions, such as impaired gallbladder function, liver dysfunction, pancreas exocrine insufficiency.
Malabsorption can occur when your stools pass through your intestines too quickly, such as when you have diarrhea. Malabsorption can also occur when your body does not process and absorb fats correctly.
Malabsorption of Fat Due to Pancreatic Insufficiency
Diarrhea is a common problem and presents as loose, watery, oily or foul-smelling stools that can be caused by insufficient amounts of pancreatic enzymes in the intestines. This leads to malabsorption as undigested food passes quickly through the digestive tract.
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If you have severe malabsorption, your floating stools may also have a strong odor and be greasy in appearance. A common cause of malabsorption is gastrointestinal (GI) tract infections as the bacteria change their behavior, producing more toxins than nutrients. GI tract infections can be caused by viral or bacterial infections. These infections usually go away without any treatment.
Some of the diseases that can cause floating stools include:
Atrophic gastritis is a process of chronic inflammation of the stomach mucosa, leading to loss of gastric glandular cells and their eventual replacement by intestinal and fibrous tissues. As a result, the stomach’s secretion of essential substances such as hydrochloric acid, pepsin, and intrinsic factor is impaired, leading to digestive problems, vitamin B12 deficiency, and megaloblastic anemia and a failure to stimulate the pancreas, gallbladder and liver to process fats. It can be caused by persistent infection with Helicobacter pylori, or can be autoimmune in origin. Those with the autoimmune version of atrophic gastritis (Autoimmune Atrophic Gastritis) are statistically more likely to develop gastric carcinoma, Hashimoto’s disease, achlorhydria, and pernicious anemia.
Short Bowel Syndrome
Short Bowel Syndrome (SBS) is when the intestines do not absorb nutrients properly. This can occur due to intestinal disease or when part of the small intestine is missing from either a genetic defect or surgical removal. Most overlook the un-named intestinal disease contribution to Short Bowel Syndrome considering it only with a named intestinal disease, i.e. Celiac, Crohn’s, or IBS. Chelation therapy poisons the bowel lining causing not only SBS but also Barren Gut Syndrome (BGS). BGS occurs when the lining of the intestines is so damaged beneficial bacteria have no place to adhere to.
Short Bowel Syndrome (SBS) is defined as malabsorption resulting from anatomical or functional loss of a significant length of the intestines (small or large). Short-bowel syndrome is a disorder clinically defined by malabsorption, diarrhea, steatorrhea, fluid and electrolyte disturbances, and malnutrition. The final common etiologic factor in all causes of short-bowel syndrome is the functional or anatomic loss of extensive segments of intestines so that absorptive capacity is severely compromised. The amount of bowel that must be lost to produce malabsorption is variable and depends on which section(s) is/are lost, and whether the ileocecal valve is functioning.
What are the signs and symptoms of short bowel syndrome?
Chronic diarrhea is the classic symptom of severe short bowel syndrome. Other symptoms may include:
- Weakness and fatigue
- Pale, greasy, watery diarrhea
- Particularly bad-smelling stools
- Weight loss
- Food sensitivities
- Fluid retention
- Pain in the stomach or abdomen
Because of the body can’t absorb enough nutrients, patients with short bowel syndrome often exhibit symptoms of nutrient and vitamin deficiencies, such as:
- Anemia due to iron, folic acid, and/or vitamin B12 deficiency
- Skin rashes and scaling of the skin or hyperkeratosis due to vitamin A deficiency
- Bruising and blood in urine, due to vitamin K deficiency
- Muscle spasm and bone pain, due to vitamin D and calcium deficiency
- Osteoporosis due to calcium deficiency
Children diagnosed with short bowel syndrome are also often slow in growth or development, due to lack of nutrition.
Lectins and Short Bowel Syndrome
Dietary lectins naturally occurring in all legumes, grains, fruits and vegetables are highly toxic to the gastrointestinal lining from the mouth to the large intestine. Biologically irritating to the cells, lectins cause the lining to thicken while increasing the porousness by damaging the connections holding the cells together. Thus contributing to Short Bowel Syndrome. The cells can no longer absorb nutrients but toxins, microbes and food particles pass between making their way in to the blood provoking an inflammatory response. Most of the time the inflammatory response is the TH17 cytokine storm. Lectins stimulate the release of gut hormones that shut off chemical digestion and the mixing movement of the stomach, small intestine and large intestine.
Floating stools commonly occur in people who have lactose intolerance when they drink or eat dairy products. Lactose intolerance is the inability to digest lactose, which is a sugar found in dairy products. Ingesting dairy products when you are lactose intolerant can cause gas in your stools and diarrhea, which can lead to malabsorption.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that causes damage to the lining of the small intestine when gluten is eaten. An autoimmune disease is one in which your body’s immune system mistakenly produces substances (antibodies) to attack your own tissues. Gluten is a protein found mainly in wheat products. Celiac is an inherited disease. Symptoms of the disease can begin in childhood or adulthood. There is no cure for celiac disease. The symptoms go away when gluten is avoided.
Cystic fibrosis is an inherited and often fatal disease that causes an excess production of thick and sticky mucus in the lungs and digestive tract. The excess mucus in the pancreas prevents the proper absorption of nutrients, which can cause floating stools. There is no cure for cystic fibrosis. Treatments, including medications, may reduce floating stools, as well as other symptoms of the disease.
Extremely rare genetic diseases that can cause floating stools include:
- Bassen-Kornzweig syndrome (a genetic disease in which the intestines cannot absorb fat)
- biliary atresia (underdeveloped bile ducts, which make the intestines less able to absorb fats)
- disaccharidase deficiency (a deficiency or absence of enzymes, such as sucrase and isomaltase, which are needed to break down some sugars and starches)
Preventing Floating Stools
If you have floating stools, but no other symptoms, you may want to try a home treatment. There is a good chance that your floating stools are caused by your poor chemical digestion rather than diet. Keep a record of the foods that you eat and your bowel movements. Take note when you have floating stools. When you do have floating stools, look to see what foods you recently ate. If you continually keep a food intake and bowel movement record, you may be able to identify which foods cause your floating stools. Once you identify the offending foods, you can determine which phase of your digestive process is not working properly.
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The Number Of Pieces And Their Buoyancy
WHOLE OR PIECES?
a) Each bowel movement preferably should be in one piece, about the shape and size of a banana and tapered at the end.
b) Stools don’t have to be well-formed logs. They can disperse in the toilet water; they can break down.
If Your Stool Looks BLACK, TARRY, AND STICKY It Could Mean:
- Bleeding in your upper digestive tract. The black color comes from digested blood cells.
If Your Stool Looks VERY DARK BROWN It Could Mean:
- You drank red wine last night or have too much salt or not enough vegetables in your diet.
If Your Stool Looks GLOWING RED OR MAGENTA It Could Mean:
- You’ve eaten a lot of reddish foods such as beets.
If Your Stool Looks LIGHT GREEN It Could Mean:
- You’re consuming too much sugar, or too many fruits and vegetables with not enough grains or salt.
If Your Stool Looks PALE OR CLAY-COLORED It Could Mean:
- Minimal amounts of bile are being excreted, perhaps because of problems with the gallbladder or liver.
- Stool that is pale or grey may be caused by insufficient bile output due to conditions such as cholecystitis, gallstones, giardia parasitic infection, hepatitis, chronic pancreatitis, or cirrhosis. Bile salts from the liver give stool its brownish color. If there is decreased bile output, stool is much lighter in color.
- Other causes of pale stool is the use of antacids that contain aluminum hydroxide. Stool may also temporarily become pale after a barium enema test.
If Your Stool Looks BLOODY OR MUCUS-COVERED It Could Mean:
- Hemorrhoids, an overgrowth of certain bacteria in your gastrointestinal tract, colitis (inflammation of the colon), Crohn’s disease (also known as inflammatory bowel disease), or colon cancer.
- Red blood usually means the ailment is located near the end of your digestive tract, whereas black blood signals partially digested blood coming from an ailment higher up the tract. Seek medical advice promptly.
If Your Stool Looks PENCIL-THIN AND RIBBONLIKE It Could Mean:
- A polyp or growth in your colon that narrows the passage for stool.
- Spastic colon. It can also be from a prolapse at either side of the transverse colon constricting the colon and lack of fiber.
If Your Stool Looks LARGE AND FLOATING, WITH GREASY FILM ON TOILET WATER It Could Mean:
- Malabsorption — your digestive system isn’t getting full nutritional use of food.
If Your Stool Looks LOOSE AND WATERY, SOMETIMES DIARRHEA WITH UNDIGESTED FOODSTUFFS It Could Mean:
- Possible causes are food poisoning, lactose intolerance, antibiotics, antacids, dietary intolerance, dietary changes, travel, anxiety, stress, inflammatory bowel disease, or irritable bowel syndrome.
If Your Stool Looks SMALL, HARD, ROUND PELLETS It Could Mean:
- Constipation – even if you’re defecating frequently.
- Possible causes are eating too much dry food, including protein, and not enough vegetables and raw foods; laxative abuse; worries; or irritable bowel syndrome.
If Your Stool (Has) ALTERNATING BOUTS OF DIARRHEA & CONSTIPATION It Could Mean:
- Irritable bowel syndrome. This chronic condition can be aggravated by red meat, spices, sugar, alcohol, lack of fiber, allergy-causing foods, irregular hours, and chaotic relationships.
If Your Stool (Is) REALLY BAD SMELLING It Could Mean:
- An imbalance of intestinal bacteria or eating too much animal protein, which can putrefy in your digestive tract.
- An overgrowth of Sulphate-Reducing Bacteria.
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