Talking about your bowel movements with anyone, including your doctor, can be an uncomfortable discussion, literally. But poop is something we all have in common and vitally important to our wellbeing.
Not only do we all go number two, but our poop can give us big clues as to what’s happening in our bodies.
In fact, recent studies have shown there is a strong connection between our digestive system and disease, including migraine and other mental health conditions.
Understanding Your Gut
As with any other system in the body, the digestive system is complex. The bacteria living in your gut can have either a positive or negative impact on your health, depending on what’s going on and what you’re eating.
As humans we have two brains, the one protected by our skull and the other, known as the enteric nervous system. Our “second brain” extends from our esophagus to our anus and is called the alimentary canal. The gut is the second brain because of its ability to have its own senses and reflexes. In other words, your gut can work independently from the brain in your head. Western medicine often isolates symptoms, negating the idea that conditions like migraine could be caused by an imbalance in the digestive system. But, the connection between the gut and brain is undeniable. The gut-brain axis (GBA) is challenging this methodology, raising questions about the link between our intestinal function and cognitive centers.
The Scoop on Poop
The digestive system is as unique and complicated as any other system in our body. It communicates when something isn’t quite right, but we don’t always listen. How do you know what’s ‘normal’ and what could be a sign of trouble?
There is no “perfect poop,” but there are a few characteristics to look for:
- Texture – Ideally, your poop should be sausage or snake-like with a soft consistency. Stool that appears watery, fluffy, or comes out in blobs could be a sign of trouble.
- Color – Your diet and how much bile is in your feces will affect the color. Healthy stool should be a mixture of the foods you eat and one of the many shades of brown. If your poop is black, has red in it, or is very light in color, it could be indicative of a problem with your digestive system.
- Consistency – Pay attention to your normal bowel activity and if you notice any significant changes in frequency or if you have pain, it may be time to see a doctor.
- Frequency – You should be pooping every day, at least once per day. Most experts will agree, an ideally functioning gut will poop after each meal, eliminating waste, dead cells and bacteria from the gut approximately 1-3 times daily. Anything less than once daily is constipation, no matter what Dr. Google says.
Knowledge is Power
Listening to the sounds in your stomach, looking at your feces, paying attention to any cramps or other abdominal pains, and making note of the smells your body produces may all help you understand what exactly is going on with your health.
Pregnant women are a great example of this, as the body goes through incredible changes during these months. Many women report experiencing migraines and other mental health problems for the first time, as well as changes in digestive health. Migraines are often caused by hormonal changes and a wave of activity by brain cells, resulting in narrowed blood vessels and serious migraine pain.
The more we learn about the gut-brain axis, the more knowledge we have to properly treat conditions like migraine. If you’re not a good pooper, this may be a huge clue to what’s going on in your first brain. With an additional focus on proper digestion, you may be pleasantly surprised with a resultant reduction of migraine frequency, intensity and overall duration.