Employee Wellness: Why You Should Know About the Bristol Stool Chart
Bowel movements can be such a taboo or embarrassing topic. But, maybe for your health, you should start taking a peak at what yours look like every day. Your stool could be the first sign of a major health issue. Keep on reading as we take a deep dive into what you should be looking for in that daily bowel movement.
What is the Bristol Stool Chart?
The Bristol Stool Chart was created in 1997 by Dr. Ken Heaton from the University of Bristol. It is comprised of a chart showing seven different types of stool with their description and visual representation. This chart was designed as a tool to help patients and doctors communicate about the patient’s bowel movements and to show how long it takes for a bowel movement to pass through the patient’s body. The shape and form of your stool can help your doctor with certain diagnoses of digestive issues.
How are bowel movements categorized?
Type 1: Hard lumps, like stones or nuts
Type 2: Sausage-shaped feces with lumps
Type 3: Sausage-shaped feces with cracks
Type 4: Soft snake-like feces
Type 5: Feces in the form of soft lumps
Type 6: Porous and soft feces
Type 7: Watery stool
Types 5-7: Signs of diarrhea, i.e., stool moving too quickly through the body.
Types 1-3: Signs of constipation, i.e., stool being held in the body for too long.
What type is ideal?
Type 3 & 4 are thought to be easy to pass and the most healthy of all the types.
Causes of suboptimal stool
Many lifestyle factors can affect whether your bowl movement is a type 1 or the ideal type 4. What causes our stool to be subpar? Let’s take a look at some of the reasons.
Stress can cause bowel dysfunction. Depending on the person this can cause diarrhea, which can result in nutrients not being absorbed as they should be, or it can cause constipation, which can cause complications when long term.
2. Not enough fiber
Fiber helps to bulk up stool helping it pass more easily. Fiber also helps to reduce cholesterol and blood glucose levels by causing them to be expelled with the bowel movement. The American Heart Association recommends 25-30g of fiber per day. However, the average American intake is only 15g per day.
3. Alcohol and caffeine
I’m sure many already know how alcohol and caffeine can affect your bowel movements. But for the sake of this blog, alcohol and caffeine can either increase or decrease your bowel movements. Depending on how much you drink, most people experience one or the other side effect.
How to get your stool closer to the ideal shape/form:
1. Increase fiber intake
Aim for the recommended 25-30g per day.
Here’s how you can achieve this:
Switching your grains to whole grains
Adding oats to your smoothies
Adding beans and legumes to any meal
Incorporating at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily
Eating whole fruit instead of fruit juice
Having fresh fruit for dessert
Getting fiber from whole foods is much more beneficial than taking a fiber supplement or eating fiber fortified foods to reach the recommendation.
Drinking enough water ensures your stool will have enough moisture to move through your intestines properly. Being dehydrated can cause constipation. There is no one-size-fits-all amount of water to drink daily, but it is generally recommended to drink between 0.5-1 ounce of water per pound of your body weight.
3. Probiotic foods
Your gut, AKA your microbiome, is full of bacteria. There are good and bad bacteria. When your microbiome gets overrun with bad bacteria it can be problematic for your body. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria which we can introduce to our microbiome by eating them. They help to level the playing field and help to ensure the bad bacteria don’t take over. Studies have shown probiotic intake to increase stool transit time, increase amount of weekly bowel movements, and helped to soften stools.
Foods high in probiotics:
Exercise stimulates the bowels and lymphatic system, which helps push waste out. It relaxes the mind and can help to reduce stress. If you don’t have time for a workout, even getting an evening walk in can be beneficial.
Bottom line (no pun intended)
Your bowel movements are a very important health indicator. They can be early signs for very serious medical issues or indicators that your daily lifestyle needs a little TLC. Either way, we have to fight the stigma and start taking a look.
These suggestions are not meant to be taken as medical advice. Suffering long term with stool issues can be an indicator of serious medical conditions and should be evaluated by your doctor.
Written by: Claire Dewechter, Wellness Workdays Dietetic Intern
4. UCSF Health