Bowel movements: What’s actually healthy?

bowel movements | how to stay regular

Your gut microbiome, the collective genome of microbes living in your gastrointestinal tract, is highly sensitive to what you put in it. The more nutritious foods and supplements you consume, the better your gut health (and your overall health) will likely be. When it comes to how to stay regular in the bathroom, a healthier gut microbiome is more likely to produce more comfortable and regular bowel movements — which are associated with a healthier metabolic profile, reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, a stronger immune system, better glucose management, and healthier moods and energy levels.

What’s more, your feces, far from being just the unwanted, waste product of the digestive process, actually represent a clinically relevant window to how well (or not) the gut microbiome is working, giving us a way to better evaluate gut and overall health. 

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Clinical research has long supported the nutritional guidance that a daily diet rich in plant-based whole foods — such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds (or a modified diet, such as the Mediterranean diet, that contains those same foods, together with a moderate component of  healthy fish, some lean meats, and certain dairy products) — best positions you to achieve gut and bowel movement health.

However, it’s also worth considering a nutritional supplement containing many of those same features, especially if you struggle to consume enough fresh, whole plant-based foods. Eden’s daily synbiotic supplement, a blend of five prebiotic fibers, polyphenols, and probiotics, not only targets total metabolic and immune health, the product also supports general digestive health — and, consequently, healthier bowel movements.

3-in-1 Synbiotic Superblend

Feces and your bowel movements: What’s important?

Stool, or feces, is the material produced by a bowel movement, and it consists of a mixture of live and dead bacteria, cells from intestinal linings, undigested food, and mucus. You might notice your feces might have a variety of shapes and consistency. Interestingly, doctors and scientists have been able to classify bowel movements into distinct types in a system called the Bristol Stool Chart. Although your feces might change because of diet, certain other changes might reflect serious health detriments; therefore, identifying what your bowel movements look like can provide important insight into your gut health. The Bristol Stool Chart organizes feces into seven different types:

  • If you are constipated, your feces will likely fall under Types 1 or 2. 
    • Type 1: Separate hard lumps.
    • Type 2: Lumpy and sausage-like.
  • The ideal feces type falls under Types 3 or 4 and is easily excreted.
    • Type 3:Sausage shaped with cracks.
    • Type 4: Smooth, soft sausage.
  • If you need a bit more fiber in your diet to bulk up your feces, you likely have Type 5. 
    • Type 5: Soft blob with clear edges.
  • Finally, if you’re experiencing diarrhea, you likely fall under Type 6 or 7
    • Type 6: Mushy consistency.
    • Type 7: Liquid, watery consistency. 

We all no doubt have experienced every type of feces throughout our lifetimes. Amazingly, the shape of our stool can tell us so much about our lifestyles and health: What are we eating and drinking? Are we sleeping well? Stressed? Are we getting enough exercise? 

What your bowel movements can tell you about your health

Beyond the Bristol Stool Chart, there are many ways your feces can provide clues into several health issues. In essence, feces can give you an early warning sign that it may be time to see your medical provider. There are several signs to look out for:  how frequently you have bowel movements, whether your feces float or sink, and the color and smell of your feces. 

Experts often look out for the following bowel movement indicators:

  • Color: While the color of feces may change depending on what you eat, light-colored feces can be a sign of inflammation in the gallbladder, liver, or pancreas. On the other side of the spectrum, black feces could be an indicator of bleeding or tumors in the digestive tract, although if you eat foods like black licorice or take iron supplements, this can also change the color. Similarly, blood in stool can take on a red appearance and can be indicative of bleeding in the rectum or anus, abnormalities in blood flow to your digestive system, or cancer in parts of the digestive system. 
  • Frequency: Bowel habits vary from person to person. However, if you find your habits begin to change from your usual norm, stay alert. If you have bowel movements more than three times a day, and your stool is loose and watery, you have diarrhea. Diarrhea can be caused by several factors, including bad food or water, the flu, food intolerances, and gut diseases (including Crohn's disease; irritable bowel disease, or IBD; and irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS). On the other hand, if you find yourself only having three or fewer bowel movements per week and your feces is hard and dry, you are likely constipated. This can be caused by lack of fiber, dehydration, or lack of exercise. 
  • Look and smell: Other signs to look out for in your feces include floating or unusually bad-smelling feces. Floating feces can be indicative of excess gas, or a more alarming health concern such as malabsorption, gastrointestinal infection, or pancreatitis. Similarly, if you find your feces smelling worse than usual, there are several causes that your healthcare provider may want to rule out, including celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, pancreatitis, intestinal infection, colorectal cancer, or cystic fibrosis. 

Staying regular is vital for your gut health. Keeping a close eye on the patterns of your bowel movements and using your feces to “measure” gut health might provide early indications of potential health detriments and critical information for your healthcare provider. 

How can you stay regular?

Since your bowel movements are reflections of your health, maintaining a healthy lifestyle is highly beneficial to both your gut and your overall health. Here are a few ways you can stay regular and maintain or improve your gut health: 

  • More fiber: When we feel constipated, often the advice given is to consume more fiber, either in the form of prebiotic foods (e.g., high-fiber vegetables) or with a fiber supplement, such as Metamucil®. However, some experts suggest that fiber alone is not enough for regular bowel movements, especially in those who are already constipated. Fiber appears to be helpful in increasing stool frequency, but does not always improve stool consistency or painful defecation. (Some reports even suggest that reducing fiber intake in those partaking in a high-fiber diet can improve regularity.) However, while there is some controversy regarding eating fiber alone, let’s be clear: Our gut hosts a rich ecosystem of microbes, and for this gut microbiome to prosper, it must be fed a healthy diet that includes prebiotic fibers and other important nutrients. When fed well by fiber, the gut produces an increased amount of “good” bacteria, while “bad” bacteria decreases, resulting in a healthier digestive and metabolic system. 
  • Probiotics: The World Health Organization (WHO) defines probiotics as “live microorganisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.” Most familiarly found in yogurt, probiotics are also contained in fermented foods and beverages, including kimchi, kefir, and kombucha, and there are many supplements that contain probiotic bacteria, as well. Increased consumption of certain probiotics has been shown to be associated with regular bowel movements, and so could help with constipation and various other gastrointestinal problems. Some of the most beneficial strains of probiotic bacteria include:
  • Bifidobacterium lactis
  • Lactobacillus plantarum
  • Streptococcus thermophilus
  • Lactobacillus reuteri
  • Bifidobacterium longum

However, as in the case of fiber, probiotics alone might not be sufficient to maintain regularity.

Eden’s daily synbiotic

Carefully crafted and scientifically backed, the Eden’s synbiotic formula is designed to support gut health, which is key to healthy bowel movements, overall digestive health, and many other parameters of total health (including cardiometabolic health). Key ingredients include five prebiotic fibers that, by feeding beneficial microbes, can improve digestion and stool quality, helping to reduce uncomfortable gastrointestinal symptoms. Select probiotic ingredients help reduce the risk of diarrhea by restoring gastrointestinal flora. Finally, select polyphenols further aid in digestion and promote gut flora balance, further easing gastrointestinal (GI) distress. 

Key Takeaways

Feces does not make for the best dinner conversation, and many of us just want to flush it away as quickly as possible. But it is important to keep in mind that your bowel movements represent an invaluable tool to help measure your gut health. To keep them healthy, a diet rich in plant-based (and fiber-rich) whole foods is your best bet, together with regular physical activity. Achieving a high standard of dietary consistency is not always easy, however, so supplementation with a well-balanced blend of the best prebiotic, probiotic and polyphenol ingredients (like in the Eden’s synbiotic blend) may make sense for you. Consult with your healthcare provider before making any radical changes in your diet or lifestyle, or if you do feel or see anything abnormal with your bowel movements.

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