Balance Your Bacteria
You can bolster your microbiome by eating a moderate amount of fiber, a wide variety of vegetables, probiotic foods (kefir, kombucha, fermented vegetables like kimchi and sauerkraut, or high-quality dairy products) and consider taking a multi-strain probiotic supplement. You can experiment with eating foods that are rich in prebiotic starch like beans and legumes, fruits, or starchy vegetables. Bear in mind these fermentable carbohydrates can irritate the gut in some people (we’ll touch on this next).
Fix Your Diet
If you’re having bowel issues, one of the best things you can do is experiment with your food choices. There are common problem foods like dairy, sugar, gluten, grains, and nuts that you can try removing from your diet to see how you feel. It’s certainly not the case for everyone, but intolerance to these foods is common, and even if there are no obvious symptoms, your poop might be a clue that something in your diet isn’t agreeing with your gut.
Studies have found that people with self-reported “gluten sensitivity” actually had zero bad gut effects from eating gluten and experienced complete elimination of their gut issues after they underwent a dietary reduction of fermentable, poorly-absorbed, short-chain carbohydrates (FODMAPs). These could be things like sugar alcohols, lectins, and fructose that you’d find in fruits, processed foods, and seeds and grains. In the same vein, you can experiment with an elimination diet or autoimmune diet to identify sensitivities and gradually incorporate foods back into your diet once you’ve found your trigger foods.
When all else fails, or you’re over playing smelly rounds of Twenty Questions with your toilet bowl (“does it rhyme with falutin?”) trying to identify problem foods, it’s best to get tested. If you want to rule out food allergies and sensitivities, you can get a simple allergy test from your doctor, or if you want the gold standard in food allergy testing, this is the best option. If you want to learn more about the health of your gut flora, there are testing kits for that too. Since your gut microbiome is a dynamic ecosystem, and changes throughout the day, I like to use a 3-day gut panel. This allows you to take multiple stool samples and gives you a more complete reading of digestive enzyme production and the health of your gut bacteria. If your gut bacteria is significantly imbalanced or you aren’t adequately producing digestive enzymes, your digestion will be impaired, and it’s more than likely your poop will reflect this.
Take Digestive Enzymes
If you’ve ever been to Italy, or maybe the Olive Garden, I don’t know, you may have experienced the post-dinner elixir known as the digestive. It’s an herbal-infused alcohol derivative that can aid in digestion. Ingredients like fennel, caraway, and savory aid in digestion and alcohol also has a stimulatory effect on production of the enzyme pepsin, and on pancreas and gallbladder secretions. Additionally things like lemon juice, ox bile extract, HCL, various herbs, and digestive enzyme supplements can aid in digestion as well.
If you want to learn more about the various digestive enzymes you can take, and how to take them, check out this podcast I recorded on the subject entitled Probiotic Enemas, Digestive Enzyme Myths, Breathing 10 Kilograms of Oxygen, Low-Protein Diets & More!
Chew your food
This seems obvious, but chewing efficiently can help you better digest your food. Mechanical digestion in the mouth is where digestion actually begins, and if you eat too quickly, you’ll just be passing the buck onto the stomach and intestinal tract to pick up the extra work, so try to be more mindful about your mastication habits (that’s chewing). A useful trick I’ve found is that, much like starting off the day with deep-breathing exercises or gratitude journaling, focusing on chewing each bite of food at breakfast makes me more mindful of my chewing throughout the entire day. Chewing more not only makes foods more bio accessible and readily absorbed by the body, longer chewing times has also been shown to result in fewer calories being consumed and increased levels of appetite-regulating hormones.
If your issue is constipation or rock hard stools, there’s a good chance you’re dehydrated. Water aids in the digestion process by easing the passage of food and helping your gut bacteria do their thing.
While it’s not particularly compelling, it must be said: make sure you’re not over-stressed. Stress can impair the digestion process big-time, so find some time in your day to unwind, and see if that makes your bathroom experience a little more enjoyable.
If you’re having problematic poop, the biggest clue it can give you is that your digestive system needs attention. Since the gut is such a complex system, learning what your poop says about its health is almost like a game of charades or twenty questions. It can give you the clues to help you narrow down your search, but you may need to do some more digging. Your poop can be an early red flag that something is wrong, and experimenting with your diet and getting tested are two ways to ensure you get to the root of the problem.
Read more: Typical Stool Color in Infants
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