by Annie Coughlin, Intern, Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine
Fun fact of the day: The average human digestive tract is home to approximately 2kg of bacteria. That equates to trillions of individual bacteria, which work together to transform our food in order to carry out necessary daily functions.
When these helpful bacteria are working efficiently, they are able to break down undigested carbohydrates into usable energy sources, build important vitamins like B and K, reduce harmful toxins that sneak into our digestive system and discourage ‘bad’ bacteria and yeasts from wrecking havoc on our bodies. Once the transformative breakdown is complete the digestive tract expels the leftovers 1 to 3 times a day as poop.
Bowel movements, stool, or poop, may not be a popular dinner conversation, but this important waste product does need your attention. According to the University of Massachusetts, stool is about 75 percent water and 25 percent bacteria, indigestible fibre and waste materials from the intestines. Changes in the gut environment, whether caused by stress, poor eating habits or illness, can greatly alter the bacterial community profile resulting in uncomfortable changes in the appearance or frequency of your poop - diarrhea, constipation or both.
Some common causes of bowel movement change include:
- Low fibre diets
- Inadequate fluid intake
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Traveller’s diarrhea (or other infectious causes)
- Antibiotic-associated diarrhea
Whether things are moving too fast or too slow, supplementing your diet with probiotics is one safe and easy way to address bacterial imbalance and regulate the bowels. Taking a probiotic floods the digestive tract with billions of ‘good’ bacteria, which then compete with harmful strains to take up room on the intestinal walls. Proper bacterial strains can regulate gut transit time (how long it takes food to pass through the digestive system), decrease bloating and improve the consistency of the stool either by acting as a bulking agent or stool softener.
While no single probiotic strain has been proven superior to address all digestive complaints, using a multi-strain product that includes healthy bacteria like Saccharomycese bollardii or Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species can make a difference. Furthermore, including prebiotics (the preferred fuel source of probiotics) in your diet - think artichokes, garlic, and onions - will help these healthy bacteria strains to flourish. While there is debate over how many of the probiotics we ingest actually make it to the gut, using products with over 5 billion is a good place to start.
So that’s the poop scoop! Until next time, may regularity and health be part of your life!