Updated: May 29, 2020
Let's talk poop today shall we? If you are questioning how poop has anything to do with nutrition, weight loss or health in general you have come to the right place. The gastrointestinal tract collectively is the largest organ system and dare I say, the most important. Of course other medical professionals in other specialties will beg to differ, but hear me out!
1. Our poop is the end game of our second brain.
Our gastrointestinal tract contains our "second brain" also known as the enteric nervous system (ENS for short). Its main role is controlling digestion; from swallowing food, to the release of enzymes that break down food, to the control of blood flow that helps with nutrient absorption and elimination. There is a secondary role it plays that research is just now catching onto which has lead to us figuring out more on the gut-brain connection.
For years it was thought that people who were suffering from functional bowel disorders like irritable bowel syndrome, constipation and chronic diarrhea had worsening symptoms because of anxiety or depression. Conversely, newer research is showing that an offset or irritation to the gut lining is actually contributing to emotional disturbance (i.e anxiety, depression, brain fog, memory issues, chronic inattentiveness) . Have you ever had a really important test or presentation to give and all you can think about is the fact that you want to throw up or you end up running to the bathroom with diarrhea? No? Just me? That would be your nervous brain communicating with your ENS.
2. Poop can tell us a lot about the microbes in our gut.
The human microbiome. The microbiome is the genetic material of all the bacteria, viruses, protozoa and fungi that live on and in our bodies (namely the GI tract). This is the most fascinating scientific topic to me right now not just for my own health but also in my medical practice. Science has barely scratched the surface on how the microbiome plays a role in all other aspects of human function and well being. I could speak for hours on the complexity of our own unique microbiota but will keep it to the point.
Each person has an entirely unique network of microscopic bugs that is originally determined by one’s DNA. The first exposure to microorganisms is as an infant, during delivery in the birth canal and through the mother’s breast milk. Exactly which microorganisms the infant is exposed to depends solely on the species found in the mother. Later on, environmental exposures and diet can change one’s microbiome to be either beneficial to health or place one at greater risk for disease. Fun fact: poop transplants are real! It is currently approved only for the treatment of chronic cdiff colitis but will be used in the future to treat many more disorders.
Factors affecting microbiome:
- Overuse of antibiotics
- Lack of or short term breast feeding
- C-section (vs vaginal delivery where baby pics up bacteria from mother)
- Decreased exposure to dirt and animals
- Overuse of antimicrobial soap
- Unhealthy diets low in fiber, high in processed ingredients
- Poor sleep habits
- Sedentary lifestyle
So how does all of this relate to poop? Here's the deal: the diversity of the human microbiome is under a huge threat as our food continues to become more and more processed. Is it a coincidence that as the human microbiome becomes less and less diverse, there is a massive increase in autoimmune disorders and allergies? Nope. And the only way we are going to be able to preserve these precious microbes in the future is by collecting and preserving ... you guessed it. POOP! Just as the United States is using fecal transplants to treat and cure chronic cdiff infections, the hope is that we can restore microbiomes by others' poop and potentially treat and cure illnesses that may not currently have treatments. There is even research going into fecal transplants for weight loss (I kid you not). I will be talking a lot more about the microbiome in the future. Especially in regards to how food and movement affects our little gut bugs so stay tuned.
3. Poop tells you how hydrated you are and what you eat.
Poop is made up of about 75% water and the other 25% contains a combination of insoluble (dietary) fiber, cells, mucous and bacteria. So drink your water!
Bile, which is released from the liver, is what helps to break down fats. It is also the main component of what turns your poop brown. If your poop is really light colored or not brown at all, this is a sign that your liver isn't producing enough bile or that you aren't absorbing bile.
If your poop is red and you haven't eaten an excessive amount of beets or red food dye please seek medical attention or come see me! ( just kidding don't come see me, I work at a children's hospital. But really, go see you primary care provider).
For anyone looking to learn more about the gut- brain connection, I highly recommend the book Think and Eat Yourself Smart by Dr. Caroline Leaf. It is packed full of great information from a woman with an extensive background in neuroscience. She also has a phenomenal podcast for those who dont like to read. Here's the amazon link: https://www.amazon.com/Think-Eat-Yourself-Smart-Neuroscientific/dp/0801015715/ref=sr_1_1?crid=10VM47RFHNARK&keywords=think+and+eat+yourself+smart+dr.+caroline+leaf&qid=1583384857&sprefix=think+and+eat%2Caps%2C211&sr=8-1
1. Ursell, L.K., et al. Defining the Human Microbiome. Nutr Rev. 2012 Aug; 70(Suppl 1): S38–S44.