Let’s Talk Sh*t
What your poop can tell you about your gastrointestinal health and the number one thing you can do to improve it.
I recently went to a workshop on the human microbiome by Dr Jason Hawrelak (nutritionist, naturopath, lecturer, researcher - basically a very smart guy). I was so excited when I came home, I wanted to find out more about stool testing, gut bacteria and all things digestive health. I got so excited that I wanted to share it with you guys. So here goes... When explaining the microbiome to clients, I tend to liken the bacteria that lives in our gut to a garden. There’s lots of different bacteria and fungi living symbiotically in our gastrointestinal tract, much like plants do in a garden bed - they all need fertiliser, they’re all unique, they have their benefits but sometimes the weeds take over. You see our microbiota assists us with digestion by helping to breakdown foods and absorb the nutrients. We need these bugs to live. We’re colonised from before day one, mum starts providing bacteria in the womb - the moment your mother gave birth to you, you were “colonised” with some of the bacteria you will be carrying around now and for the rest of your life. If you were born via Caesarean-section, you’re potentially missing some bacteria that any vaginally birthed person has - your first bacterial colonies came from skin contact of the hospital staff and your mother. Your microbiome develops in the first few months from breastfeeding and anything you come into contact with - which is why if you’re having gut issues especially, any natural health clinician will be asking you about how you were birthed and if you were breastfed. This wonderful garden is plays a part in gut motility, nutritional status, modulating the immune system, resisting colonisation of pathogenic bacteria, production of vital Short Chain Fatty Acids (SCFA), weight management, mood management, blood glucose control and insulin sensitivity. That’s a whole lot of functions that these incredible bugs do for us - so what do we do for them?
Are you using-and-abusing your flora? Or do you care-and-repair? Diet, antibiotics and medications throughout life will affect the microbiota and can create a “dysbiosis”. This imbalance of bacteria can lead to all sorts of issues and has been linked to many health concerns like depression, chronic fatigue syndrome, endometriosis, metabolic syndrome and more (not even including the gastrointestinal diseases). How do you know if your gut garden is thriving or wilting? Or if the weeds are getting out of control? Well (get ready for the sh*t talk), if you’re passing a stool daily, it’s consistency is well formed (not runny, not pellets and easy to pass), if there’s no obvious food particles in your stool and it’s not any funky colours.. You’re probably doing okay. But if you have any of the health concerns from above, you’re having weight issues, or any gastrointestinal symptoms like bloating, cramping, abdominal pain, reflux, diarrhoea or constipation - your garden may need a bit of work. Now here’s the exciting part - previously, we’ve relied on labs to test stool samples by creating cultures in Petrie dishes to determine what’s happening in our colonic microbiome. This can give an indication, but overlooks any bacteria that only grows anaerobically (without oxygen). What’s exciting is that molecular stool testing is now available to everyone, so you can literally work out what bacteria you’ve got, how diverse the microbiota is and what might be causing you some issues (though having said this, I’d highly recommend seeing a natural health practitioner to help you decipher your results). What can you do? Once you’ve figured out what you’re lacking or what may be a little too abundant in your garden, there’s lots of supplements (not just probiotics) that can help pull out the weeds and fertilise the good stuff, but it’s best to chat to a professional to find the right ones for you.
So what can you do at home to support your flora? Well, reducing stress, moderate exercise and adequate water consumption are all absolutely necessary for a thriving garden. Along with this, your diet (obviously) plays a massive role. So the main tip I have for you is: Consume more fibre. I’m talking veggies and legumes and a lot of variety! Dr Jason recommends your diet contain 40+ different plant-based fibre sources every week! Now if you calculate each plant-based fibre source (vegetable, grain and legume) you eat in a week, and add them all up, would you reach 40? To help you out here’s some examples: each type of apple counts as a different fibre source because the molecular structure in each is slightly different (gala, pink lady, golden delicious - all different), each different colour of a grain/legume is another point (i.e. red quinoa, black quinoa, chickpeas, kidney beans, butter beans - all different sources and another point), each different leaf you put in a salad is a different fibre source (rocket, spinach, kale, mizuna, cabbage - add another point). So how is your tally looking now? If you’re lacking a little, work on building up that variety slowly, add in an extra two or three different sources each week and soon enough you’ll be eating over 40 with no trouble! Here’s the deal with fibre. There’s a few different types and all are necessary for a happy, healthy gut and microbiome. Imagine doing the dishes: Soluble fibre is like your rinse - it draws water into your digestive tract to help move things along. Insoluble fibre is like the brush - it scrubs away anything that sticks to the sides. Resistant starch is the food - this is a prebiotic and feeds your microbiota keeping the good guys at appropriate levels. By increasing the variety of fibres in your diet you’re feeding all of the diverse range of bacteria in your gut - not just feeding the same few over and over. Unfortunately, the Standard Australian Diet (SAD for short) is actually really sad. It’s generally full of bread, pasta, white rice, refined sugars and packaged foods. These do nothing for your microbiota, or your health in general! By switching these food-type products out for an extra serve of veggies you should be feeling more fulfilled and healthy in no time.