Are You Cool With Your Stool?
Updated: Aug 9, 2021
We are overloaded with the signs and symptoms of an unhealthy gut. And for good reason. Nearly 61% of Americans report having at least one GI symptom. The most commonly reported symptoms were heartburn (30.9%), abdominal pain (24.8%), bloating (20.6%), diarrhea (20.2%), and constipation (19.7%).
It's very likely that you have experienced one of these symptoms in the past week. While they may seem like ordinary GI issues, these symptoms are often your body signaling a much deeper, and more serious medical issue. Every year, 236,000 Americans die because of GI, liver, and pancreatic diseases.
Knowing if your gut is healthy is critical in obtaining your optimal health. Below are the signs of a healthy gut:
No stomach pain:
If your stomach is not often in pain or cramping, congratulations! You passed the first marker of good gut health. When bacteria in your gut are imbalanced, it can lead to conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which causes symptoms like gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, and stomach pain. When gut bacteria are balanced, your microbiome is healthy and functioning properly.
An imbalance in gut microbiome has also been linked to chronic fatigue syndrome. If your energy levels stay high all day, it's likely your microbiome is happy. In one study, the researchers found that nearly 50% of patients with fatigue also had IBS.
Low energy accompanied by headaches and chronic diarrhea can also be a sign of a “leaky gut”. A leaky gut is a condition where the gut lining has formed gaps that allow partially digested food, bugs, and toxins to seep into tissues beneath it. Increased intestinal permeability has been linked to gastrointestinal conditions like celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, and IBS.
No sugar cravings:
Do you find yourself often craving sugar and other sweets? If so, unfortunately, your gut microbiome might be off-balance. A decrease in your beneficial bacteria with an overgrowth of candida can lead to sugar cravings. The bacteria in our gut control our food cravings and mood through the secretion of special proteins that imitate the hunger hormones- leptin and ghrelin.
If you succumb to such cravings, you feed the bad bacteria in your gut, which then in turn crave more sugar. A healthy microbiome will lead you to increase your cravings for healthy fruits and vegetables.
Great smelling breath:
Halitosis, chronic bad breath, is caused by microbes that reside in the GI tract. These microbes are called H. pylori bacteria. When H. pylori are present in the stomach, it will cause bad breath and potentially lead to stomach ulcers.
An overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestines (SIBO) has also been known to cause bad breath. Other symptoms of SIBO include bloating, excessive flatulence, and belching. SIBO can also lead to the malabsorption of nutrients like fatty acids, vitamin B12, and iron.
You don’t get sick very often:
Your immune system is strongly bolstered by the gut microbiome. A poor immune system and tendency to catch a cold easily can be a sign of poor gut health. One study found that those with lower levels of gut bacteria had a lower immune response to a flu vaccine when compared to those with a healthy gut.
Researchers have also found that bad bacteria in the gut, specifically Bacteroides fragilis, produces a protein that can trigger the development of autoimmune conditions. Conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, and multiple sclerosis have all been linked to poor gut health.
If your skin is clear and you do not suffer from acne, psoriasis, or eczema, your gut is probably healthy too! Scientists have discovered a complex series of immune mechanisms between the gut and your skin. Research has even suggested that taking probiotics and prebiotics can help prevent or treat inflammatory skin issues like psoriasis and eczema.
Good mental health:
Our gut has a powerful influence on our brain and mental health. An unhealthy gut can lead to symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders. The gut contains around 400 times more serotonin than the brain. GI disturbances can cause production problems in the gut, which will then affect the availability of these neurotransmitters in the brain and can suppress the activity of the frontal cortex. One study suggested that probiotics may help treat inflammation in the central nervous system, which potentially causes mood disorders.
Normal sleep patterns:
An unhealthy gut can cause you to wake up feeling tired or cause you to wake up several times throughout the night. GI issues like inflammatory bowel disease, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), IBS, and functional dyspepsia have all been liked to decreased sleep quality. Patients with such conditions also report insomnia, night-time waking, and excessive sleepiness in the day.
But the relationship between sleep and gut health is a double-edged sword. Poor sleep will cause detrimental effects on your gut health. People with insomnia are more likely to develop GI problems. Conversely, people with GI problems are more likely to develop insomnia.
Good looking poop:
Being cool with your stool is a great way to judge your gut health. Your poop should be smooth like sausages, not hard and lumpy or too squishy. The Bristol Stool Chart (pictured at the end of this blog) is a great way to determine how your poop is supposed to look.
A healthy gut also produces poop that is brown. A very unpleasant smell accompanying your poop is a sign of poor gut health. (This also applies to flatulence.)
There is no magic number for how many times you should be pooping per week, but doctors suggest 1 to 2 times daily is healthy. If these poops are well-formed and easy to pass, you’ve got a happy gut.
A great way to truly know if your gut is healthy is through microbiome testing. A healthy gut will have large biodiversity without an overgrowth of candida or other potentially pathogenetic bacteria that may lead to chronic health conditions. GI testing will also show inflammation, the ability to absorb fats, digestive enzymes, and immune response.
Specific therapeutic recommendations can then be recommended based on symptoms and testing.
You shouldn't be living on the toilet or with chronic stomach pain. There are solutions to your gut problems- and they start in your microbiome.
For further information about microbiome testing at the Johnson Center, click here to contact us!
The Johnson Center for Health services patients in-person in our Blacksburg and Virginia Beach / Norfolk locations. We also offer telemedicine for residents of Virginia and North Carolina!