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Let's Talk Poop

We’re not shy about gut health…but you might be. Browse this page for answers to digestive health FAQs, even ones you’re too embarrassed to ask.
I’m pooping every day, but when I go it doesn’t feel like I’m really emptying completely. Is this normal, and does it matter?

This is a form of constipation—small, hard, rabbit-like droppings that take a lot more effort than you’d like. Bowel movements like this don’t allow your colon to empty properly, letting bacteria that should only be temporary get a little too comfy and set up shop in places along your GI tract they don’t belong. This can lead to small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) or other gut dysbiosis. So, what can you do about it? Well, it depends. This type of constipation can be caused by diet, which is corrected through—you guessed it—eating better, but it may also be caused by muscle weakness or malfunction (common with older age and pregnancy). An anorectal manometry test can determine if it’s the latter. This test uses a balloon-type device inserted into the rectum to measure the strength and reflexes that are necessary for a normal bowel movement. Maybe not the most pleasant exam, but it can give some insight that leads to huge relief.

Is it normal to have gas after eating things like beans and broccoli?

Everyone fartsmen, women, children, adults. We fart because we need to release the gas that comes from 1) swallowing air and 2) the normal bacteria in our guts breaking down the food we eat. Some foods cause more gas than others, like beans, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, green peppers, onions, celery, and carrots, to name a few. These foods feed the normal bacteria that reside lower down in the GI tract where the gas byproducts mentioned above are more likely to be released at the nearest exit.

Is it bad to hold in farts?

So, maybe it’s not great for your street cred, but for your body, it’s best to let those toots out. There’s not a huge amount of scientific evidence out there, but some clever scientists at the University of Copenhagen published an article about farts on a plane (a well-known issue for frequent flyers as air pressure at high altitudes makes gas expand, thus increasing flatulence). In short, holding in farts is not good for your system. It can lead to (obviously) pain, discomfort and bloating but also heartburn, emotional stress and loss of sleep! There’s more: it can even lead to elevated blood pressure and heart rate.

If the color of my poop is something other than brown, should I be concerned?

Not usually. If you see something weird, you can usually chalk it up to food. Leafy greens, red fruits and veggies (like beets), medications or supplements, and artificial food coloring can alter the color of your poop. However, a significant amount of bright red blood in your poop could signal a polyp in your large intestine or rectum, rectal inflamma­tion, diverticulosis, or even colon cancer. Very small amounts of blood are usually just a sign of fissures or hemorrhoids. Tarry black poop could be older blood from higher up in your digestive tract, possibly due to a stomach or upper-GI ulcer. Yellow poop may indicate a problem with fat digestion and absorption.

So, how do you know when to be concerned? If it’s food related, your poop color should return to normal in a day or two. If the unusual color continues or if you have other digestive symptoms (urgency to go, vomiting, stomach cramping, diarrhea, etc.), then you need to talk with your doc.

Why does my poop smell so bad?

Strong smelling poop doesn’t mean anything is wrong with you. It’s normal for the bacteria in your colon to produce various gases with unique odors. It can definitely be embarrassing or unpleasant, but it’s normal. If you’re really self-conscious about it, pick up some of that before-the-go toilet spray that’s so popular. People swear by it, keeping it in their bathrooms at home and in their purses, backpacks, cars, or desks so it’s handy when they have to poop in a public restroom.

Should it hurt when I poop?

A normal bowel movement should NOT be a painful, but sometimes it can bewhether you have a chronic GI condition or not. Here are some common reasons for pain during “the go.”

1) Constipation: If you’ve been blocked up for a while, stool becomes hard and dry and can be painful to pass, requiring straining.

2) Hemorrhoids (aka “piles”): When the veins in your rectum or anus become swollen and inflamed, it can cause pain, itching, bleeding and very uncomfortable bowel movements.

3) Anal fissure: A cut or tear in the lining of your anus that can cause severe pain and even bleeding. This is often caused by persistent severe diarrhea, constipation and straining.

There are other reasons you can feel pain when pooping. If you have GIThrive, your Care Team can help you get to the bottom of it. We’re just a tap away.

I’ve heard there’s a scale for classifying poop. What is that and how is it scientific?

Ever seen the pain chart in a doctor’s office that ranges from smiley face to horrible grimace? It’s kind of the same thing here. The chart helps classify your poop into one of 7 types without you needing to provide a sample! The shape and form of your poop indicate everything from constipation to severe diarrhea. This chart can help diagnose or determine the severity of various digestive conditions as well as evaluate the effectiveness of treatments.

Do probiotics even do anything? Is it scientific, or is this kind of pseudo-science?

They’re legit. Probiotics are basically the good bacteria that help achieve and maintain a healthy gut. They’re live microorganisms you get from certain foods or supplements. Yup…they’re ALIVE! They help digest food so that our bodies can absorb nutrients through the GI tract. They also police our guts to stop the harmful bacteria from growing out of control. Probiotics are also great for replenishing the helpful bacteria that are killed off when we take antibiotics.

Beware, though: there are literally hundreds of different probiotics out there and not all of them work. Different probiotics contain different types of bacteria, so it’s best to find out from your healthcare provider which are the right kind for you. Psst…if you’re enrolled in GIThrive®, your personal pharmacist can answer this question for you.

What’s the deal with gluten? Should I go on a gluten-free diet to help my digestion?

If you have celiac disease, a wheat allergy, or non-celiac gluten sensitivity autoimmune disorder (aka “gluten ataxia”), then yes, definitely ditch the gluten (the protein found in wheat, barley and rye).

Some folks without celiac or gluten allergy have gone gluten free and swear by their newfound health, energy, and even weight loss. Some of this is true, BUT ditching gluten completely typically affects your overall consumption of fiber (important), vitamins (important). and other nutrients (also important).

So, what’s the take-away message? For those with celiac, a gluten-free diet is essential. For those without, it is an option which offers promising benefits BUT working with a dietitian FIRST is key. Otherwise, it may end up doing more harm than good.

Do all these drugs prescribed by my GI doc actually help, or do they just cause nasty side effects and burn a hole in my wallet?

When you hear the long list of nasty side effects, or worse, experience side effects firsthand after forking out for a pricy drug, you might wonder what the point is and if the drug is even worth it. Well, medicines have a key purpose, which is to interrupt whatever process is occurring that’s making you sick. So, if you’re gut is inflamed, the prescribed medications target tiny molecules inside your gut that cause this inflammation. If you catch a bacterial infection, the meds you take—antibiotics—are designed to kill off the bad bacteria. The annoying part is that a lot of medicines take time to travel to the exact place they need to be in order to do their job, and on the way they may unintentionally take effect somewhere else—side effects. Here’s the interesting thing, though: side effects are actually a good indication that a medication is working!

It’s also important to remember we’re all different, outside and in. While one med may do its job outstandingly for one person, it may be a total dud for someone else. This means it’s often necessary to try many different treatment options before finding the sweet spot.

Here at Vivante, we help you compliment your med therapy with diet and lifestyle improvements to help you get the best possible results from your meds while minimizing the side effects. We can also give you some great advice if cost is an issue.