Acne patients are often lost at what to do about their skin. Despite all the hard work and effort nothing seems to work. In some cases the problem is genetic and there’s not much they can do about it. But more often than not some hard to pin down problem aggravates the skin.
Quite often the problem is found in the gut. There’s a link between gut health and skin health; with acne patients showing higher prevalence of gut problems. And many people aren’t even aware they have gut issues. Because the symptoms can be quite subtle before the problem gets serious. And they are easily chugged off as normal rumblings from the tummy.
So in this post I’m going to show you 3 ways to get a temperature of your gut health. So you can know if this is an issue for you or not.
Are your bowel movements ‘natural’?
I’m not sure there even is such a thing as ‘natural’ bowel movement. The medical profession or other reliable sources haven’t defined anything of the sort. On the other hand alternative and natural sites are full of advice on what bowel movements should look like.
For example gutsense.org says natural bowel movement has the following characteristics. Note that I don’t want to endorse the site. They are correct in that fiber in excess can cause problems for some people, but that gem is buried under a huge pile of nonsense.
- Strong need to go. You should have a strong (but not necessarily urgent) need to go after each major meal or at least once a day.
- Small-size, soft stools. The stools should be fairly small and soft, types 3 to 5 in Bristol stool scale (see below).
- Small volume. The stool shouldn’t clog the toilet. Instead it should be no more than 100 to 150 grams per bowel movement (please don’t ask me how to weight them!).
- Effortless act. There shouldn’t be any straining or effort required. Everything should come out quickly and easily without feeling of incomplete defecation. #2 shouldn’t be any harder than #1.
Since there’s a lack of reliable information on the subject, I can’t vouch that all these characteristics are correct. But the bits about stool form and effortless act make sense. And what I’ve seen in medical literature these are used as signs of constipation.
Bristol stool form chart
Many natural health websites feature this stool form chart as a way to self-diagnose the health of your bowel movements. It’s known as the Bristol Stool Form Scale. It’s one of those rare things that I dismissed as just another self-diagnostic quackery (like the Candida spit test), but later on found that it actually has some scientific basis.
Researchers at the Bristol Royal Infirmary wanted to see if stool form corresponds to intestinal transit time (how long it takes for a food to pass through the digestive system). The answer was tentative yes. Stool form can give an indication of intestinal transit time.
Here’s the chart they produced.
The seven types of stool are (from Wikipedia):
- Type 1: Separate hard lumps, like nuts (hard to pass)
- Type 2: Sausage-shaped, but lumpy
- Type 3: Like a sausage but with cracks on its surface
- Type 4: Like a sausage or snake, smooth and soft
- Type 5: Soft blobs with clear cut edges (passed easily)
- Type 6: Fluffy pieces with ragged edges, a mushy stool
- Type 7: Watery, no solid pieces. Entirely liquid
The smaller the number the longer the intestinal transit time. For example type 1 stool spent around 100 hours passing through the digestive system, whereas the average for type 4 was 30 to 40 hours.
Of course a chart like this is not perfect, and researchers have criticized it as not being completely valid. And for each type there was quite a large variation in intestinal transit time. That said, it remains a useful indicator of gut health. When your gut works well most of the time you should produce types 3-5, with 4 said to be the ideal. On the other hand if you often find types 1 and 2 or 6 and 7 in the toilet, then you may have a problem.
Food and symptom journal
When a food digests properly you should experience little to no digestive symptoms. Digestion is like a referee in a sports match, it works the best when you don’t notice it.
Keeping a food and symptom journal is a great way to learn when your digestive system goes out of order. Journal also provides you contrast. Say that overall your symptoms are very mild and they only happen after you eat one or two types of foods (say apples and onions). Since you probably don’t eat those foods at every meal the symptoms are easy to miss. And even easier to dismiss as just normal rumblings from the tummy. Food and symptom journal helps you to pin down those, because you can see that the symptoms only occur after certain foods.
Here are some tips:
- Note down everything you eat
- Pay attention to any discomfort and rumblings from the digestive system for 2 to 3 hours after a meal. Sometimes the symptoms appear quickly; this is usually the case for abdominal pain. But sometimes they take a few hours, like in the case for bloating and excess gas.
- It’s helpful to note down bowel movements also. Healthy gut should move fairly regularly, so if you notice irregularities that could indicate a problem. Note down approximate time and stool form, as per the above Bristol scale.
- Eat simplified meals. If your meals are complex it can be hard to pin down the culprit foods. Another reason for simplified meals is dosage. Eating 7 apples produces more noticeable symptoms than eating a single apple.
- To provide contrast, at times consider eating processed, unhealthier meals. These are usually much easier to digest.
Keeping a food and symptoms journal doesn’t have to take a long time. You need to only spend a few minutes a few times a day noting things down. And this miniscule investment can yield surprising returns in knowledge.
A management guru Peter Drucker says you can’t manage what you don’t measure. This holds certainly true for my gut. I’ve been aware of the link between gut and skin health for quite some time now, but always figured out it’s a problem for other people. Because there’s nothing wrong with my gut. But as I learn more about signs and symptoms of gut issues I’m proving myself wrong.
Using the simple tips outlined in this post I’m noticing some problematic signs, and have identified some problem foods. Time will tell if this is really a problem for me or just a temporary glitch.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about this. Did I miss something? Do you have your own way to tell when your gut gets cranky? Please share your questions and experiences in the comments below.