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50 shades of brown

Knowing your 'poo', better through Ayurvedic view!

The most awkward part of an ayurvedic consultation in my experience in the UK is the conversation about bowel habits. The awkwardness is less from the nature of poo itself but is more from the fact that how less some people know about their bowel nature. There are two particular reasons an ayurvedic doctor gives attention to details of bowel movements. One is explained in the process of diagnosis in Ayurveda and another is the definition of health itself.

The diagnostic process in Ayurveda gives importance to 8 specific parameters. They are Nadi or pulse, Mutra or Urine, Mala or feces, Jihwa or tongue, Sabda or voice, Sparsa or touch, Drik or eye/vision and Aakriti or body shape. Any analysis done without paying attention to bowel nature is incomplete. The definition of health as explained in the compendium by Acharya Susrutha[1] in 1000 BC is as below.

Sama dosha Sama agnischa Sama dhatu Mala kriyaaha|

Prasanna Atma indriya manaha swastha iti abhidheeyate ||

Sushruta Samhita

The above mentioned phrase means: One is in perfect health when the Three doshas (vata, pitta and Kapha) Digestive fire (digestion, assimilation and metabolism) all the body tissues & components (Dhatus) (the entire physical body) all the excretory functions (the physiological functions of urination and defecation) are in perfect order with a pleasantly disposed and contented mind, senses and spirit. This clearly explains the need to understand the nature of poo for defining one’s health and balance.

Let’s learn to understand normal and abnormal poo and observe abnormalities and relate it to food, fluid intake, and emotions. After all our motion is very much connected to emotions (sic!).

Sinking or Floating

An article published in the New England journal of medicine studied the reason behind floating and sinking stool based on fat content and gas content[2]. The study interestingly found that it is the gas content that makes stool float. The ayurvedic understanding is that with increased Vata (air!) your motion will float and will be dry and pellet-like. In the case of Kapha imbalance, the stool becomes heavy and loose. Due to increased water content and less air, it sinks! Ayurveda not just knew the reason for it, but also understood the impact of having such evacuation. The presence of sinking mucus in the stool and poo that sticks to your toilet is considered as a sign of AMA or improperly digested food and toxins accumulated in the system.

Different shades of brown

The color of our poo indicates various information as serous as an improper liver function or something inconsequential as the presence of beetroot in meals. Any shade of brown is considered normal. If the color is pale or more towards yellow, that indicates a pitta imbalance and stress on the liver function. The bile pigments give the brown color to our stool and if there is block or stone in the gall bladder, that can also have a similar effect. Black color can happen due to medications like iron supplements or bleeding from the upper digestive tract. Green could be most of the time due to chlorophyll pigment in green leaves. Red usually indicates beetroot in meals or unsurprisingly bleeding from the rectum. The cause for this bleeding will be a mostly nonserious condition like hemorrhoid.

I'm in love with the Shape of 'poo'

A well-formed stool is a sign of good fiber intake and healthy digestion. An aggravated Vata tendency creates more dryness within the colon and possibly cause constipation and dry pellet-like poo. Pitta causes loose and not well-formed stool which is easy to pass and may create some burning sensation on its way out. Kapha imbalance makes the stool heavy and with some mucus, could be mostly easy to pass, but may have some form.

Frequency – How often is good enough?

Ideal frequency is to have a daily regular evacuation with no doubt. It’s a habit ingrained into us along with the circadian rhythm. Based on the amount of processed food like bread and cheese one may take, the bulk of the stool may get reduced and hence the frequency. An ideal healthy diet must hence include fiber-rich bulky, non-calorie dense foods made of whole grains and vegetables. These not only form healthy stool but also acts like a sweeping, cleansing and massaging form on the colon membrane preventing inflammation, accumulation of toxin, healthy gut bacteria and could prevent even cancer[3]. Less frequent bowel habit associated with no other discomfort like Bloatedness of stomach pain can be still normal but will indicate a lack of fiber and fluid in the diet. While vata aggravation makes it feel difficult to evacuate comfortably, pitta and kapha imbalance usually creates a sense of urgency.

Any variation from your regular bowel habit should be observed and if it was not possible to explain based on the food you eat, it should be discussed with your doctor. Irregular bowel habits even after similar consumption of food, could indicate an issue related to not just the colon but your whole system.


[2] Floating Stools — Flatus versus Fat Michael D. Levitt, M.D., and William C. Duane, M.D.

[3] Cancer Metastasis Rev.Revisit dietary fiber on colorectal cancer: butyrate and its role in prevention and treatment. Encarnação et al

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