Updated: Mar 11, 2022
Gut health directly influences your immune system, chronic disease defenses, food allergies and intolerance, autoimmune reactions, and possibly even your body weight. Yes, poop happens, but does it always happen in a good way?
Do you want to know how healthy your gut is?
Bowel problems are not something you should "diagnose" yourself in order to rule out serious bowel disorders. Always seek medical advice if you notice a change in bowel habits, recurrent abdominal pain, or detect blood or slime in your motions. If you’re concerned about serious digestive and gut issues, you should see your professional healthcare provider and ask about lab tests.
There are of course a number of lab tests (stool sample analysis, etc.) designed to medically check your gut health. Yet, if you’re just curious about how things are going down there, you can perform a few simple at-home tests to gauge the state of your gut and determine if you have any indications of potential problems!
Bowel Transit Time Test
“Bowel transit time” is the duration of the cycle between your ingesting food and the bowel movement elimination (in other words, the time food takes to pass through your entire digestive system). This kind of test is also commonly performed in clinical setting where patients are given capsules filled with X-ray detectable dyes. You can conduct “Bowel transit time” test at home by eating on empty stomach (at least 2 hours) the following foods which are easily identifiable in a bowel movement:
a tablespoon of whole sesame seeds mixed into a glass of water, or
a cup of cooked kernels of corn, or
a cup of shredded red beets (cooked or raw; don't worry if your pee is pinkish as red beet may pigment urine)
The ideal bowel transit time is anywhere between 12 to 24 hours.
Record the time of ingestion and wait for it to “re-appears” in your bowel movement!
Repeat this test three times (on different days) to get a good average of our bowel transit time!
Studies have shown that men tend to have faster transit times than women when eating the same diet.
A bowel transit time longer than 24 hours indicates constipation which may be caused by gut flora imbalance or a diet too low in fermentable substrates.
A bowel transit time longer than 48 hours indicates increased risk of cancer, diverticulosis and candida (overgrowth of unfriendly bacteria), which weakens the immune system and puts one at higher risk for all types of cancer.
A bowel transit time less than 10 hours can mean lack of absorption, Crohn’s disease or other gut pathologies. Make sure to see your doctor.
Bristol Stool Form Chart
Developed by researchers at the University of Bristol in the 1990s, this seven categories chart is a basic visual aid that helps distinguish abnormal bowel movements from healthy ones.
Types 1 & 2 are abnormally firm (constipation) and result from a slow bowel transit time.
These seem to be linked with an increased risk of gallstones.
Having bowel movements that match Type 1 indicate problems with constipation from lack of fiber (such as attempting a zero-carb diet), low levels of beneficial gut bacteria, or from recently taking antibiotics.
Type 2 can be a symptom of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and can also be associated with hemorrhoids, anal fissures, and long-term chronic constipation.
Types 3 & 4 are described as “perfectly normal bowel motions.”
Type 3 is considered normal, but in some cases, may indicate latent constipation and some of the problems associated with Type 2.
Type 4 is optimal!
Type 5 is poorly formed, soft and verging on abnormal.
Type 5 is considered normal for people with two or three bowel movements per day, but it can also indicate incomplete digestion of food (especially if food particles are visible) or insufficient amounts of fiber and other carbohydrates that feed gut flora.
Types 6 & 7 are abnormally loose (diarrhea).
Type 6 suggests an abnormally fast bowel transit time, and can be a result of excessive stress, the use of laxatives, or certain gut disorders.
Type 7 is classic diarrhea—the result of foodborne illness, the flu, Crohn’s disease, and extreme gut irritation.
Types 1, 6 and 7 are considered abnormal and suggest a current bowel problem or increased risk of developing one in the future.
Again, bowel problems are not something you should "diagnose" yourself in order to rule out serious bowel disorders. Always seek medical advice if you notice a change in bowel habits, recurrent abdominal pain, or detect blood or slime in your motions.
Along with gauging bowel movements against the Bristol Stool Form Scale, some other visual indicators can tell us a lot about or gut health!
“Floaters” are usually caused by diet-induced gas, but they can also result from a
gallbladder diseases, and
certain other health conditions.
Contrary to popular belief, undigested fat is not the cause of floating feces! If no other symptoms are present, floaters usually don’t indicate a problem. But, when consistent, they might indicate an underlying disorder, or a gut microflora imbalance.
Undigested food particles:
There may be a few possible causes of spotting undigested food particles in your stools. Devouring your food too quickly, not chewing well, drinking large amounts of liquid while eating, and consuming hard-to-digest foods (like small seeds, nuts, corn, and the tough skin of certain fruits and vegetables) can all lead to undigested food particle sightings!
When the undigested particles are from food items that should have been digested thoroughly, this may suggest intestinal inflammation, poor absorption, low hydrochloric acid in the stomach, a deficiency in enzyme excretion in the pancreas, and other underlying health conditions. If undigested food makes a frequent appearance in your stools, talk to your doctor!
Color of your stool:
Dark color may mean you might have internal bleeding, too much iron in your body, or eaten something really dark.
Very light colored stool may mean that you might have too much fat in your stool (your liver might not process fat well) and too little bile (gallbladder issues).
Yellow green color my mean that you might have gallbladder issues.
Frequency of Your Bowel Movement
Although the number of bowel movements depend on your diet, bowel movement frequency can also tell you about the state of your gut health.
A frequency of two times per day to four times per week is generally considered fine. If you are on the lower end of the normal spectrum, this may indicate that it’s time to up your fibrous vegetable intake. If the frequency of your bowel movements is more than three times per day or less than three times per week, that could indicate problems with poor absorption or constipation, respectively. You need to talk to your healthcare provider.
Symptoms Check List
Look for these "relatively consistent" symptoms which may suggest abnormal digestive health and an underlying gut disorder:
Gas, bloating, and belching after meals
Frequent loose stools
Alternating constipation and diarrhea
Undigested food in the stools
Indigestion and heartburn
Chronic food sensitivities
Mucus in the stool
Pain or straining while passing a bowel movement