Digestion is the body’s main line of defense; it supports immune function, emotional balance, and overall vitality. It can also be the root cause of many health issues. And what is the best way to know the overall state of your digestive tract?

Your poop!

Why elimination is a good measure for the overall digestive function?

The reason why it is such a good measure is because it is the final product of all of the processes related to digestion. So your elimination tells you what has been going on from the moment you put the food in your mouth all the way to when it is finally released from the colon. Your poop is giving a detailed summary of the entire journey of your food and all of the different factors in that journey. The mind and emotions will also have an impact on digestion and your elimination. So it is not like it is just an evaluation of digestion — it is also an evaluation of your mental state. People who have digestive conditions attest that if they are having a stressful day, their bowel movements can completely change.

Poop 101 

There are several different things that can help you understand your digestive system and your elimination. One of those is the odor. In general, when you have healthy elimination there is not a strong odor; often times that really surprises people. Your poop isn’t supposed to smell like roses, but it is also not supposed to fill the space that it is in like helium in a balloon. In general, it should have a mild odor. When there is a strong odor, it often times is a sign that there is undigested food, or it can also be the sign of too much heat, inflammation, and excess Pitta in the body. Your sweat will do the same thing; it will start to smell very strong under the same conditions. The idea that poop inherently has to smell bad is not correct. A very, very strong odor is not a sign of normal elimination. The smell of your poop is important.

The other thing that is important is the characteristics of the volume that you are producing. In general, normal bowel movements will sink to the bottom of the toilet. If they are floating that could be a sign of undigested fat in the stool, or you are eating an extremely high fiber diet.

The next thing that we look at is the overall consistency. If your poop is watery, that is usually a sign of increased heat or Pitta. If your poop is watery and smelly, that is definitely a sign of excess Pitta. If the consistency is very dry, that could be a sign of lack of fluid or lubrication or an excess of Vata. If there is an excess amount of mucus, that could be a sign of excess Kapha.

Then there is the shape of your elimination. We are not trying to create complex geometric designs in the bathroom! But notice that the normal shape of your bowels is the same as the tube that it is coming out of. If the poop is very thin, that could be a sign of a mass that is in the lower bowel or a thickening of the bowel wall near the rectum.

Another thing we can look at is froth. That may sound extremely odd to have froth in your poop, but it could be present if you have problems digesting lactose, the sugar in milk. Babies for example, when they have not completely learned to digest milk, will sometimes have froth in their bowel movements.

Another topic, almost of its own, is the color of poop. If your bowel movements are black or tar-like or have coffee grounds in them, that is a sign of blood in the stool coming from the upper part of the GI system. White or grey poops can be from a lack of bile due to liver or gallbladder issues. When there is too much bile production, it can make your poop look green. A lower GI bleed can produce red poop. Keep in mind if you are eating a lot of beets or dragon fruit, your poop may also be reddish in color. But any kind of red blood in your elimination typically is suggestive of a lower GI bleed, including possibly bleeding hemorrhoids. Yellow or orange colored stools can be a sign of too much fat in the stools from poor absorption. When the bowel movements are watery, smelly, and yellow typically those are signs of excess Pitta.

This is a very simple introduction to your poop as a window to your entire digestive tract.

Herbs to regulate or optimize digestive function!

There are different herbs for digestion that address different areas of the gut. These herbs are addressing Agni, the digestive fire, as a whole, so in that sense they are very holistic herbs. One such herb is Ginger. Even for Pitta imbalances, when the Agni is out of balance, you can mix ginger with certain other herbs that are cooling to normalize Pitta Agni if there is ama, or toxins, in the digestive tract. Ginger helps enliven the digestive system. It is so easy to use! You can use ginger tea. It is one of the additions that we would often recommend for The Prime Tea, also known as Digest & Detox Tea. Or just cooking with ginger can enhance your digestion.

The second herb  recommended is triphala, also known as Digest Tone (Triphala Plus). It gets any better than triphala when it comes to supporting elimination. Once you are at a point where you are at goal with your digestion, you can move triphala from daily use to using it three times a week or at least once a week in slightly higher doses just to help clear the digestive system of toxins regularly. That is one of the recommendations in Ayurveda — at least once a week, do something just to clear out toxins from the digestive tract.