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What your stool says about you and your overall health


(NaturalNews) Did you know that the shape and consistency of your stools can tell you a lot about your internal health?

That's why in 1998, two researchers from the University of Bristol developed a "stool form scale" to categorize stools from 1 (constipation) to 7 (diarrhea) and all points between. Known as the Bristol Stool Chart, this system allows people to identify the state of their own stools and learn whether they need to see a doctor or make changes to their diets.

Of course, the shape of a stool is not the only factor that a health professional might be interested in. Regardless of shape, stools should pass without straining, urgency, burning or other uncomfortable sensations.

It's all about water

The stool types classified as healthy inhabit the center of the chart at types 3-5. Type 3 is sausage-shaped with some cracks, and a diameter of 2-3 cm. Type 4 is longer with a smooth consistency like that of toothpaste, with a diameter of 1-2 cm. Type 5 is composed of soft blobs that still have clear edges.

In general, the softer forms are indications of greater health, as long as they do not become watery. The watery forms -- 6 and 7 -- typically indicate either a gut infection or an inflammatory disorder (like Crohn's disease).

The drier forms (types 1 and 2) tend to compact into large, dry stools that are difficult to pass. If such constipation becomes chronic, it can stretch and tear the anus or large intestine, as well as producing other health problems such as hemorrhoids, prolapse and diverticulosis.

A number of factors can cause the formation of stools at the high or low end of the scale. Even short-term dehydration or holding in a bowel movement can produce dry stool and constipation, while minor dietary changes such a spicier-than-usual food can produce watery stools.

Ultimately, the factor that controls the form of stools is how long it takes digested food to pass through the intestines. Because the intestines are designed to recycle water with incredible efficiency -- after all, the digestive system secretes more than 2 gallons of water per day -- the longer food stays in the gut, the more water gets pulled out. So fast digestion means watery stools. Slow digestion -- which can be caused by anything from antibiotics or painkillers to physical inactivity -- leads to dry stools and constipation.

Chronic constipation means higher cancer risk

The most well studied and well known factor contributing to constipation, of course, is the amount of fiber in your diet. That's because fiber soaks up water, holding it within the stool. This also helps dilute and clear out toxins contained within your food.

But the effects of fiber go far beyond keeping you from constipation -- in fact, fiber seems to play a key role in preventing cancer and other gut conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease. It may do so in part by regulating the community of microbes that naturally live in your gut (the gut microbiome).

It's well known that fiber dramatically affects the gut microbiome. Indeed, many of the components of fiber, such as fermentable carbohydrates, are critical food sources for many beneficial bacteria. Some of these bacteria produce waste products, short-chain fatty acids, that actually help the large intestine contract more efficiently, repair and grow cells lining the intestine, make you feel full, reduce digestive pain and inflammation and even kill cancer cells!

A 2014 study in Nature Communications showed another way in which the microbiome might partially explain fiber's anticancer properties. The researchers in that study found that just two weeks of a diet higher in fiber was enough to reduce several markers of colon cancer risk, and to increase levels of microbes that produce the anticancer chemical butyrate. Decreasing fiber intake had the opposite effect.




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