There is an increased interest in gut health after the death of a beloved actor, in his early 40’s, from colorectal cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, rates among those above age 50 decreased due to screening, but rates among people under 50 rose 2.2% each year from 2011 to 2016. In 2020, 12% of colorectal cases are in people under 50. Why this is happening, no one knows yet. Obesity rates have increased in the last four decades, and this may be a contributing factor. Other theories include antibiotic use and its effect on the microbiome. With more research studies on our gut, the microbiome is the new buzz word of the decade. Many health gurus state the gut is the second brain, influencing our brain function and hormones.
The microbiota are bacteria existing in the gut which help with digestion, protecting against other germs, and vitamin production. The microbiome refers to the genetic material of the microbiota. The microbiome impacts immunity and inflammation, affecting chronic disease and cancer. Two factors influencing the gut microbiome are exercise and diet. Exercise decreases stress hormones, controls weight, and decreases inflammation improving the microbiome. Fiber rich foods are considered pre-biotics which feed “good” bacteria. Lots of veggies and the microbiome flourishes. Too much sugar, and dysbiosis occurs. When bacteria in the gut is off-balance, we often have symptoms such as abdominal discomfort, diarrhea, constipation, and gas. Some of these symptoms are labeled as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), when we can’t find an infectious or inflammatory cause. The thought is that IBS is related to stress, which is impacting gut function and the microbiome. On the flip side, ninety percent of the hormone serotonin is made in the gut. Serotonin is key to regulating sleep, anxiety, and depression. There is a definite mind-body-gut connection and gut health could be impacting us more than we think.
Because of the mind-body-gut connection, those of us in functional medicine are obsessed with poop! Scatological humor aside, why? Stools can help providers identify nutritional and bodily dysfunction which are related to the gut microbiome. So how do stool and stooling patterns give us information? A solid healthy brown stool lets us know that you have plenty of fiber, which is in a plant-based diet essential for a healthy microbiome. Loose stools, infrequent stools, diarrhea, gas, constipation, or discoloration all are clues on your microbiome and therefore clues to other issues in the body. Testing of stool is a powerful way to get information on digestion, nutrition, and overall health. Conventional medicine rarely asks about bowel movements or does stool tests only for severe symptoms. Many people are embarrassed to bring up issues about their bowel movements and stools to their providers! However, don’t ignore your symptoms. Furthermore, if you have constipation, diarrhea, blood in your stool, abdominal pain, or weight loss, talk to a health professional urgently. Your poop could be telling you something!
Please check out https://www.lotusintegrativehealth.com for help with your poop!
Carol Burke MD “Let’s Talk” , Shape Magazine, September 2020.
American Cancer Society, cancer.org