Let’s talk about poo. Yes, poo. Why?
Because learning to “read our poo” is a very accurate and reliable indicator of our internal organ health.
In traditional Chinese medicine, asking patients about their poo is one of the most important tools we have in our consultation bag of tricks. In fact, it is among the top 10 first questions that all medical practitioners should be asking.
Talking about our poo seems like such a taboo. (Yes, it rhymes!) We have even designed our toilets to sweep away our poo so that we don’t have to see it or smell it like we used to. The good old Asian squat toilet is quite the opposite. The Asian squat toilet has a little bench area carved out where the poo can sit so that we can have a good look at it before we flush it away.
So, if our poo is an indicator of our internal health, what is healthy poo and unhealthy poo? (I hear you ask…maybe?)
Okay, let’s talk about healthy poo first.
A healthy poo is a poo that is easy to pass, is neither too loose nor too compact, is brown in colour, has some ribbing marks on the side and doesn’t smell too much.
Another good sign is the frequency and timing of our poos. Ideally, we should be pooing in the morning; before breakfast is ideal and it should be happening about once a day. After the poo, we should feel light, a little empty and with a spring in our step. Of course, there can be slight variations in the regularity of our poos, as we are all a little different. However, it should be, on average, around once a day.
Here is a picture of a healthy-looking poo.
Okay, now let’s talk about an unhealthy poo, or a poo that is suggesting signs of imbalance. There can be a lot of variations here, so I will just discuss the most common versions.
The first type of unhealthy poo is one that is very loose and watery. It smells like it’s going to peel the paint off the walls. It can often come with abdominal cramping.
If there is a burning sensation when passing, it is a sign of too much heat in the body. Heat is often caused by too much spicy food, alcohol, coffee or meat in the system. The heat and general toxicity in the system cause the organs to let it move through the system fast so as to get it out of the body. Once it’s out of the body, it reduces the toxicity load and will also help cool the system.
To give you a better idea, here is a very convenient and neat picture of what watery, loose, poos tend to look like. If there is a lot of heat involved, they will also be very dark in color.
If there is no burning sensation on passing and the stools are loose, it could likely be due to too much “cold” in the body. This means that the organs don’t have enough energy or heat in them to process the food properly, therefore letting the food simply pass through the system unprocessed. Common signs include being able to see unprocessed food in the poo. This often occurs with people who eat “cold” foods like raw foods; eat too much fruit; use a lot of laxatives; follow extreme diets and don’t balance them out with warming drinks; hang out in warm environments; or engage in exercises that generate internal heat.
Another type of unhealthy poo is on the opposite side of the spectrum. We commonly call it constipation, meaning that poos come every two, three or four days, or even weeks at a time.
These are difficult to pass and may have us sitting on the loo long enough to be able to finish reading a novel. They are also often pebble-like in appearance and are usually dark and compact. This is a sure sign of “stagnation,” meaning that the body is clogged up and the energy is not flowing smoothly. It is often related to a lack of exercise and an excessive consumption of wheat products, especially breads. It can also be related to the mind of the individual as well as the body, indicating that the person is resistant to change, finds it hard to adapt or let go, or is very stubborn in some way.
Generally speaking, small periods of time with any of these expressions of unhealthy poos are normal and common.
For example, if we have a big night out drinking and being merry, it is normal to have a hot, smelly poo the day after. Or if we are on the road and changing our living quarters regularly, it will often disturb the regularity of our bathroom habits.
However, a general rule of thumb is that if the unhealthy poo patterns continue for longer then two weeks at a time, that’s a sure sign of some underlying organ system imbalances at play.
When left untreated or ignored, it will often lead to some form of disease. It may not present as an illness directly connected to the bowel system, yet the bowel system provides an early indicator of an overall imbalance that may manifest in another part of the system later on.
Therefore, the moral of the poo story is that looking at, inspecting and keeping tabs on the quality of your poo will give you insight into your internal health.
If you regularly experience unhealthy poo signs, try adjusting your diet and exercise regimen. Tweak your lifestyle and see how this influences changes in your poo. Consider your poo to be an indicator of your body’s health. The good news is that changing the quality of our poo can be a quick process and that you can see positive changes in just a few days. Therefore, it’s a great way to keep tabs on your progress.
If you have been experiencing unhealthy poos for a long time, I would suggest seeing an acupuncturist, Chinese herbalist or traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) practitioner to get treatment or advice as to what you should adjust in your lifestyle or what herbs will bring things into better alignment.
I suggest TCM practitioners specifically more so then medical doctors or other health practitioners simply because in TCM poo is a large component of the medical approach. Therefore, TCM practitioners are very open to discussing it because they acknowledge how important it is. In fact, a TCM practitioner could even inspect your poo and come up with a fairly accurate diagnosis and treatment plan without even needing to talk to you.
If your poo shows indications of being healthy and regular, it’s a great sign that everything is working well and things are on track. I would suggest keeping up with whatever lifestyle you have set up because you would generally be in a good place physically, mentally, emotionally and, potentially, spiritually. Who would have thought that your poo could be connected to how healthy you are spiritually?
I wrote this blog with the goal of bringing poo out of the taboo, and to help people become more clued in about how our poo can help us identify imbalances and health indicators early on. It also provides direct feedback regarding our lifestyle choices.
I bet you didn’t expect how much your poo could tell about you!
(Yes, I had to finish it with another cheesy rhyme:)
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