Who wants to talk about poop? Well, unless you’re 5, it’s likely not a daily topic of conversation. But, if you’re constipated, it may be on your mind nearly every minute of the day until you find relief.
Your poop can tell you a lot about your health. Its color, consistency, shape and form are important factors that reveal information about your intestinal health. How often you go is also an indicator. Straining can increase your risk of bowel and pelvic problems, while how you clean up afterward may have an impact on your exposure to pathogens.
On the topic of toilet habits, the clean-up method you use is also important, not just for your health but also for the environment. If you watch any television at all, you’ve likely been convinced that softer toilet paper is better, two-ply is important and the more squares on the roll the better the value. However, more than one pooping principle is needed to keep things moving and sanitary.
Clean Up in Aisle Two
If you were raised in the U.S. you likely grew up using toilet paper and may not be aware of other options. Toilet paper may be standard in the U.S. but it isn’t necessarily the top choice for cleaning yourself after using the restroom. The best way — a bidet (pronounced bih-day) — is used so infrequently by Americans that Trip Savvy1 has dedicated a page to helping travelers who find themselves in a room with an accessory next to the toilet.
There is some debate as to whether the bidet system was started by the French or the Italians.2 But once it was created, the designs became an art form and turned using the bathroom into an “experience.” One of the most well-known bidets was a silver one owned by Napoleon Bonaparte, who traveled with it and willed it to his son.
Dr. Evan Goldstein, a rectal surgeon in New York, spoke with Insider about bidets, saying,3 "Charmin and all these brands have done a great job making us think that toilet paper is hygienic. It's not.”
Those who advocate for the use of bidets say toilet paper does nothing more than smear poop across your backside without cleaning off the pathogens lurking in fecal material. Goldstein compared this to stepping in dog poop and then wiping off the bottom of your shoe, fully expecting all the poop to be gone.4
A bidet works by aiming a small stream of water around your anus to rinse off any material that’s left after you’ve had a bowel movement. There are several styles ranging from simple and inexpensive models that attach to your toilet, to fully automated fixtures with “antimicrobial sanitizing technology and motion-sensing lids.”5
The safety of a bidet is dependent on water pressure and the aim of the product. As you might imagine, men and women may find it uncomfortable — to say the least — if the pressure is high and it’s aimed a little too far forward. Women face a secondary risk of altered vaginal microflora and fecal contamination of the vagina.6
Since many models allow the user to aim the stream, this risk may be mitigated using the same technique women should use with toilet paper, cleaning from front to back to avoid contamination.
The Issue With Tissue Is Virgin Forest Fiber
Some toilet paper may be necessary for patting your bottom dry after using a bidet, but not at the rate Americans are burning through it. CleanTechnica7 reports the average person in the U.S. will use 141 rolls in a year, or roughly 2.7 rolls of paper a week.
With the U.S. Census Bureau8 reporting a current population of 329.2 million, all of whom will likely use toilet paper, it is obvious that tissue is big business. When choosing among the various brands, many people look for variables such as soft, strong and the ease in tearing portions away from the roll.
One variable that isn't often considered is how many mature trees must be cut down so paper can be flushed away. What is cheap and convenient on the store shelves is creating a rising debt the planet is unable to pay.
According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC),9 most toilet paper products are made from wood pulled from virgin forests in northern Canada. Yet, options exist for manufacturing sustainably produced tissue products using responsibly sourced fibers. The NRDC report revealed:10
"Procter & Gamble, Kimberly-Clark, and Georgia-Pacific use zero recycled content in their at-home toilet paper, instead relying on ancient trees clear-cut from the Canadian boreal forest (the ‘Amazon of the North’)."
Devastation of the environment is causing massive harm to indigenous peoples who call the forest their home. This area where tree harvesting is taking place is also the only place on Earth where certain wildlife species may be found. Virgin forests exist in mature ecosystems without influence from humans. CleanTechnica describes the process of stripping the environment for tissue this way:11
"Trees that sprouted when your great-great-great grandparents were born are chopped down, converted into tissue pulp, rolled into perforated sheets or stuffed into boxes, and flushed or thrown away."
In the NRDC report, they ranked tissue brands for sustainability from A to F. Brands receiving a “D” or “F” included Scott, Angel Soft, Quilted Northern and Charmin. Brands using recycled content received an “A” from NRDC and included:
365 Everyday Value, 100% Recycled
Trader Joe’s Bath Tissue
Better Bowel Movements Start With Fiber
Choosing the best way to clean yourself after using the restroom isn’t the only concern. Chronic constipation is uncomfortable, sometimes painful, and can lead to more serious health problems such as colorectal cancer12 and chronic kidney disease.13 Constipation doesn't start at the end of the digestive process but, rather, at the beginning. In other words, many times problems with hard-to-pass stools begin with what you eat and drink.
Some of the things that factor into the overall picture include dehydration, lack of fiber, changes to gut microbiota,14 taking certain medications and ignoring the urge to have a bowel movement.15 Lack of fiber and low fluid intake are two of the most frequently overlooked.
Although you might be tempted to reach for a laxative if you struggle with constipation, when those medications are used frequently, they may result in dependency that ultimately exacerbates the issue.16 Instead, focus on your fluid intake and food choices to make a difference.
Processed foods, for instance, have little fiber and they contribute to constipation, so swap them out for whole, raw fruits and vegetables. Processed foods are also high in sugar, which feeds unhealthy gut bacteria and triggers an imbalance that contributes to constipation.17 Foods known to help relieve constipation include leafy greens, avocados, fermented vegetables and prunes.
In addition to eating foods high in fiber, it's important to stay hydrated. While it may be simpler to count the number of glasses of water you drink, it turns out that many foods also have high water content, such as leafy greens and melons.
The best way to determine your hydration status is to look in the toilet after you go to the bathroom. Your urine should be a light-yellow, straw color. This color indicates you have enough fluid in your body to support your kidneys and intestines. As the color of your urine comes closer to amber, it means you're becoming dehydrated.18
Also, don't wait until you’re thirsty to start drinking.19 By the time you feel thirsty you're already dehydrated, which in turn can lead to constipation as your body tries to retain more water by drawing it out of your stool.
Consider Your Potty Posture to Relieve the Pressure
The posture you use on the toilet also has an influence on how easily you can empty your bowels. Most people sit on the toilet to poop but this actually puts your lower intestines in an awkward position, making it hard to fully evacuate. When you sit, your knees are close to a 90-degree angle in relation to your stomach.
In this position the muscle around the neck of the rectum — the puborectalis muscle — tightens and makes it more difficult to pass stool.20 On the other hand, while you're squatting the puborectalis muscle relaxes and the rectum opens more fully, allowing for easier movement.
If you find this conversation uncomfortable, it might be helpful to know even in medical circles discussions about assuming the position to poop has been avoided.21
Changing toilet habits over the years from squatting to sitting has increased the burden of pelvic disease, including bowel disease and pelvic floor injury in women. The authors of one recent study said:22
"To conclude, the porcelain throne has caused unnecessary suffering to many. It also wasted billions of dollars of the countries as health-care costs. The time has come to reacquaint people with their natural habits and put this unfortunate experiment to an end."
As evidence continues to emerge in support of changing your pooping posture, several devices have entered the market to help you achieve a squatting position while sitting on a toilet.
After all, you don't want to give up indoor plumbing and most of us aren't coordinated enough to balance squatting on a toilet seat. One simple device is a foot stool23 that places your body in a more natural position. It is an inexpensive way to improve your posture and virtually anyone can benefit.
Turn and Look Before You Flush
Having a regular bowel movement is important to optimal health and how you feel. If they come too frequently or not often enough it can make you bloated and uncomfortable, interfering with your body's ability to absorb nutrients. However, what's regular for one person may not be regular for another.
Most experts consider anything from three bowels movements a day to three a week as being within a normal range.24 More important than this number is the ease with which you are able to go. It should take no more effort than urinating or passing gas.
Once you've completed your mission it's important to turn around and look. Don't be embarrassed — no one's watching. Your stool is about 75% water25 and the rest is dead bacteria, indigestible food, fats and inorganic matter.
What you see is an indication of how your gastrointestinal tract is functioning. You're evaluating the color, odor, shape, size and even the sound it makes when it hits the water, as well as whether it's a "sinker" or a "floater." The Bristol Stool Chart below was originally published in the Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology in 1997 and is a visual representation of what you might find in the toilet.
Ideally your stool should be close to Types 3, 4 or 5, with Type 4 generally considered "the Holy Grail" of poop.26 You'll find a list of factors to help you determine what's healthy and what's not at "What Should Your Poop Look Like?" If you have a change in your bowel habit or stool formation with abdominal pain, be sure to seek medical attention.
Source: mercola rss