Feces, or “poop” to the younger set (the favorite topic of Dr. Oz), is an old-fashioned, time-honored way for doctors to gauge your body’s health. In medicine, before fancy lab tests and x-ray scans, doctors looked at, measured, in some cases tasted various body fluids and solids to determine what was wrong with the patient. (Like tasting urine to test for the sweetness of diabetes.)
In many cases, these examinations are still valid and useful today.
So for “poop” – what can you learn about your health by paying attention to it? One new book written by a bowel specialist called “What’s Your Poo Telling You?” is worth a look. But for here – a few basic facts:
Baby poop is yellow because of bile from the liver. When dead blood cells and other foods are introduced, the poop becomes brown – the normal color.
In an adult, white or yellow-colored poo or greasy poop that floats means there is undigested fat in the stool. This can indicate that the liver or the pancreas is not functioning properly. And is one of the early signs of pancreatic cancer (or possibly gall bladder disease). This is a signal to consult a doctor immediately.
Black poop means bleeding high up in the bowel, from the stomach or the small intestine.
Red poop means bleeding from the large intestine. The brighter the red color, the closer the bleeding is to the anus – which could be either hemorrhoids or cancer. Red poop can also be from eating beets (see below).
Poop should be well-formed, solid and brown. Softer or runny poop signals that food is going through the bowel too rapidly – from caffeine, high fruit fiber, bacterial infection, or even a metabolic or genetic disease (like sprue). Diarrhea is not normal.
Poop should not be hard, cracked or in “rabbit” pellets. The most common cause is too little water intake or too little fiber in the diet (such as a meat and potatoes diet), but this can also be as a result of the poo spending too much time in the colon from slow gut motility, anxiety, or mechanical bowel dysfunction.
The normal time it takes for food to move through the digestive tract is 24 – 36 hours. Longer times suggest poorly functioning bowel, low fiber/high meat diet, or too little water. Shorter times suggest infection or malabsorption for several different reasons. The longer the poop remains in the colon, the higher the risk of colon cancer.
To find out your transit time, eat a lot of beets and see how long it takes for the color to begin showing up in the poop. A good, well-formed, brown poop every day is a sign of good health.
A Word about Colon Cleansing
It is good to keep the poop moving through the gut. A high-fiber poop carries away excess cholesterol and a quickly-moving poop keeps the cholesterol from being reabsorbed. Bacteria naturally forms in the gut. It makes vitamin B12 in vegans. It digests solids and keeps the gut healthy. Don’t kill them or wash them away.
The best colon cleanser is eight glasses of water a day and a high fruit, vegetable and whole grain cereal (fiber), low meat diet. Colonic cleansing is a waste of time and money and is potentially dangerous. Know your own body to your good health.