Making Meaning of Your Movements
Before the days of laboratory diagnostics, health practitioners relied on accurately making meaning of the body’s signs, symptoms, and patterns in order to discern how to correct dysfunction and heal disease.
While today’s lab innovations are impressive, they still may not be able to tell you as much as the information that is relayed every day through your body’s elimination habits (or lack thereof).
As a Chinese medicine practitioner, I enjoy collecting data from functional medicine labs, but nothing gives me as accurate a picture of what is distressing a patient’s body as his reports about things like bowel movements, urination, and sweating. That’s because what comes out of the body is a direct reflection of what is happening inside the body, and thus contains many suggestive signs that can direct and lead to greater treatment success.
This article focuses on clues you can receive from your bowel movements, which look and smell the way they do as a consequence of the functioning of the GI tract, liver, gallbladder and nervous system.
Please note that the following associations primarily come from traditional Chinese medicine’s correlations which have been passed down for centuries, refined by the empirical and clinical experiences of many generations of practitioners. These associations are not necessarily corroborated by Western scientific research, nor is this article meant to supercede a medical diagnostic process. It is intended to empower you to better understand your body and support you in making informed and intuitive decisions about your health as a result.
Generally speaking, while all bowel movements have some odor, very foul-smelling bowel movements are indicative of infection of the colon (such as acute giardia or food poisoning). Chronic diarrhea with no particular foul smell more likely indicates an inflammatory disorder that is not primarily due to a microbial infection.
Dry bowels may indicate dehydration of the whole body, and often occurs in people who tend towards dry skin and hair, or who often feel thirsty. It is also a common problem among elderly people.
Helpful remedies include drinking more water (I recommend adding a pinch of sea salt or mineral electrolytes to aid absorption into the cells) and supplementing with magnesium which draws more water into the bowels. Cannabis seed tea moistens the intestines and is a very gentle way of supporting the passage of dry stool in people of all ages (including young children and seniors).
At the other end of the spectrum, loose unformed bowels, or worse – watery stools – occurs due to an excess of water in the bowels, inflammation, or spastic hyperactivity of the gut. Loose stool is often an indication of poor digestion with an inability to break down certain substances (such as fats), and malabsorption.
Episodic loose stool may also indicate irritation of the gut lining due to eating processed foods or foods allergens.
Watery diarrhea that lasts more than a couple of days is cause for concern. If you’re taking antibiotics, pause the protocol and call your doctor. Helpful remedies for loose bowels include fiber, probiotics, the elimination of food allergens, and binders such as liquid bentonite clay or activated charcoal.
Pellet-type stool is a sign that stress or nervous system tension is constricting the bowels. Herbs, supplements and lifestyle practices that promote relaxation and healthy liver function will help improve this type of bowel movement.
Healthy bowel movements are a chocolate brown color. It’s useful to know that what you eat can shade the fecal matter and that’s normal (so if your bowels are tinged pink, it was probably caused by the beets you ate for dinner the night before) – and nothing to worry about if it passes in a day.
Pale brown to whitish stool indicates a lack of bile (that’s what gives the fecal matter its color), so pales stool may indicate gallbladder congestion or poor bile production in the liver.
Black tarry stool may indicate internal GI bleeding and requires immediate medical evaluation.
What’s That You See?
Undigested food, medication or supplements: This indicates that your GI system is unable to break down some of what you are ingesting. I recommend taking a break from foods and medicines that are not being broken down successfully and working on healing your gut through diet and targeted GI support. Often this inability to break-down and absorb substances is caused by untreated leaky gut, SIBO or some other bacterial overgrowth disorder. Insufficiency of digestive acids and enzymes also can play a part, and further compromises gut function.
Mucus: Potentially a sign of parasites, who cling to the mucosal lining of the gut and constantly irritate it.
White specks: may be undigested fats (including nuts or seeds), or due to candida yeast infection.
Large blobs of mucous (biofilm), whole or partial worms, flukes, egg sacs, and other unidentifiable things may also be eliminated through the bowels during the healing process. Most people with Lyme and tick-borne illness take antibiotics and/or herbal antimicrobials at some point. I encourage my patients to do some form of colon cleansing when on an antimicrobial regimen to help the body rid itself of the waste that accumulates from die-off.
The clearing of waste other than feces is a cause for celebration! It means you are gaining momentum with clearing the toxins and infections out of your body. Colon cleansing is a highly recommended tool for advancing the pace at which your body eliminates waste. A simple tool are at-home enemas using a kit such as the Aussie enema kit.
Ideally you have a bowel movement at least once per day, and it is substantial in quantity and feels complete. Many people go less often, pass only a small quantity, and it feels incomplete and unsatisfying. These are all signs that the body is constipated to some degree and colon cleansing or some type of bowel movement support is highly recommended.
Why Healthy Bowel Movements Help Healing:
When the bowels are moving well and helping the body to rid itself of the massive amounts of waste that is congesting the body’s cells and tissues, several major benefits occur. First, other treatments start to work better as more inflammatory waste is cleared from the body’s blood and tissues. Second, the liver, gallbladder, and organs of the gastrointestinal system all begin to function better, and this supports the body and immune system in many ways. Third, focusing on improving the bowel function often results in symptom relief in a myriad of ways, from improved energy levels to feeling less inflamed overall, and helps to generate momentum towards healing.
My conversations with patients always include changes and observations of the bowels. The more you observe, the more you will learn about your body and what it’s telling you.
I hope you enjoyed this tutorial about the bodily wisdom of the bowels! One of the greatest gifts of illness is developing the ability to receive clear messages from your body. You may discover a deeper sense of intuitive knowing and a clearer understanding of what’s going on inside your body that becomes a reliable guide on your healing journey.
Making sense of our signs and symptoms enables us to take ownership of our health and empowers us to make better decisions about the treatments and lifestyle choices that are best for us because we’re engaged in a clear dialogue with our body.
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The above material is provided for information purposes only. The material (a) is not nor should be considered, or used as a substitute for, medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, nor (b) does it necessarily represent endorsement by or an official position of Global Lyme Alliance, Inc. or any of its directors, officers, advisors or volunteers. Advice on the testing, treatment or care of an individual patient should be obtained through consultation with a physician who has examined that patient or is familiar with that patient’s medical history.
*Opinions expressed by contributors are their own. Hillary Thing, is Clinic Director of the Nourishing Life Health Clinic in Kingston, NY, which specializes in the treatment of Lyme and complex chronic illness with natural medicine. You can learn more about her treatment approach at www.uprootinglyme.com.