Saturday, February 16, 2013

What Your Poop Tells You

What is Normal Stool?

Your stool is about 75 percent water. The rest is a fetid combination of fiber, live and dead bacteria, miscellaneous cells and mucus. The characteristics of your stool will tell you a good deal about how happy and healthy your digestive tract is – the color, odor, shape, size, and even the sound it makes when it hits the water and whether it’s a “sinker” or a “floater” are all relevant information.
If you’re one to poop and scoot quickly out of the bathroom without looking in the toilet, you might want to slow down and look down. The Bristol Stool Chart is a handy tool that may help you learn what you’re going for. Ideally, your stool should approximate Types 3, 4 and 5, “like a sausage or a snake, smooth and soft” to “soft blobs that pass easily.” Type 4 is the Holy Grail.
Fiber tends to bulk up your stool and acts like glue to keep the stool stuck together, instead of in pieces. If your stool is on the softer side, short of diarrhea (“soft serve,” as some call it), it could be related to lactose intolerance, artificial sweeteners (sorbitol and Splenda), or a reaction to fructose or gluten.

Look, Listen and Smell Before You Flush

What’s normal and what’s not when you look into the toilet? The following table will help you narrow down what to look for, so that you aren’t needlessly alarmed. Of course, there are a few signs that ARE cause for concern. If you have a change in stools accompanied by abdominal pain, please report this to your physician.
Healthy StoolUnhealthy Stool
Medium to light brownStool that is hard to pass, painful, or requires straining
Smooth and soft, formed into one long shape and not a bunch of piecesHard lumps and pieces, or mushy and watery, or even pasty and difficult to clean off
About one to two inches in diameter and up to 18 inches longNarrow, pencil-like or ribbon-like stools: can indicate a bowel obstruction or tumor – or worst case, colon cancer; narrow stools on an infrequent basis are not so concerning, but if they persist, definitely warrant a call to your physician5
S-shaped, which comes from the shape of your lower intestine6Black, tarry stools or bright red stoolsmay indicate bleeding in the GI tract; black stools can also come from certain medications, supplements or consuming black licorice; if you have black, tarry stools, it’s best to be evaluated by your healthcare provider
Quiet and gentle dive into the should fall into the bowl with the slightest little “whoosh” sound – not a loud, wet cannonball splash that leaves your toosh in need of a showerWhite, pale or gray stools may indicate a lack of bile, which may suggest a serious problem (hepatitis, cirrhosis, pancreatic disorders, or possibly a blocked bile duct), so this warrants a call to your physician; antacids may also produce white stool
Natural smell, not repulsive (I’m not saying it will smell good)Yellow stools may indicate giardia infection, a gallbladder problem, or a condition known as Gilbert’s syndrome – if you see this, call your doctor
Uniform texturePresence of undigested food (more of a concern if accompanied by diarrhea, weight loss, or other changes in bowel habits)
Sinks slowlyFloaters or splashers
Increased mucus in stool: This can be associated with inflammatory bowel disease like Crohn’s disease, or ulcerative colitis, or even colon cancer, especially if accompanied by blood or abdominal pain

Does Your Stool Have a Really Bad Odor?

If your stool has an extraordinarily bad odor, it should not be ignored. This mean an odor above and beyond the normally objectionable stool odor. Stinky stool can be associated with a number of health problems, such as:
  • A malabsorptive disorder
  • Celiac disease
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Chronic pancreatitis
  • Cystic fibrosis
Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a disease caused by a defective gene that causes your body to produce abnormally thick, sticky mucus, which builds up and causes life-threatening lung infections and serious digestive problems. Most cases of CF are diagnosed before the age of 2, so this is more of a concern with infants and toddlers.
Speaking of malodorous things, what about gas? Passing gas is normal. Not only is it normal, it’s a good sign that trillions of hard working gut bacteria are doing their jobs. People pass gas an average 14 times per day – anywhere from one to four pints of it!8 Ninety nine percent of gas is odorless, so you may even be unaware you’re passing it. Think about it – were it not for an exit, we’d all blow up like balloons!

~excerpted from Dr. Mercola

Friday, February 15, 2013

5 Mini Mindfulness Methods To Do Anywhere

5 Minute Meditation1. A Five-Minute Meditation
For beginning meditators, try a basic five-minute practice.

Sit down, close your eyes, and focus on something like your breath, an image, or a word—“one” is a popular choice—and simply allow your mind to drift, returning to your focus when you need to.

Knoles compares this exercise to brushing your teeth, an essential habit that should be done at least once a day to clean (and clear) your brain. But unlike brushing your teeth, you can try this anywhere, anytime. Try it on the el!

2. B-r-e-a-t-h-e
It’s easier said than done, but there’s a reason that slowing your breath calms you down. When people are stressed, they tend to take sharp, short breaths. Our nervous systems are wired so that inhalation is linked to the stress response and exhalation to the relaxation response. Taking a short inhale and emphasizing a long exhale helps prevent classic stress responses (like the "fight or flight" response, adrenalin rushes, insomnia) from kicking into gear.

3. Harness the Hand-Mind Connection
Stress exists for a reason: it notifies your body that you're in a dangerous situation.  It brings physical symptoms—your heart races, and it also pulls the blood out of your toes and fingers and sends it to your internal organs.

So as a calming practice, try immersing your hands in warm water (rubbing them briskly together also works in a pinch) to open up the blood vessels and trick your brain out of its stressful state.

Woman's Arms Stretched4. Un-tunnel Your Vision
Usually when you’ve done something stupid, it’s because you’ve been in a heightened state of stress; the physiological response to stress gives you a single point of focus and you can’t see any other option. Playing with your peripheral vision helps your mind expand, so it can think of other possibilities. Here's how: Extend your arms to your side in a T-formation and wiggle your fingers. Then slowly bring your arms forward until the fingers are in sight, and then extend them out again.  Repeat. 

Another approach is, when stressed: "take 5" - stop what you are doing - for 5 seconds or 5 minutes. Find a private space (even a toilet stall will do!). Visualize yourself as the stressed person. Then inhale the stress from your body and exhale comfort, ease and loving kindness. Breathe this way for as long as you need to feel the healing transition.

Woman Listening To Music5. Tune In and Tune Out
Studies that show that listening to music can change repetitive thought patterns. It doesn’t have to be classical music, just something you like. Loud sounds, however, can trigger stress responses, so aim to decrease your exposure to noisy environments. If that’s not possible as you roam the city, wear earbuds—nobody will know they aren’t plugged into your iPod!

Friday, February 8, 2013

The GMO Primer: GMOs and how they affect your health

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are complicated and controversial, and for the average person, separating good science from industry promotion in a meaningful way is nearly impossible. It’s also incredibly important.
So we poured through the research and talked to scientists to find to out what you need to know about the controversial crops and how they may affect your health.
Here’s what we learned.
What are GMOs?
GMOs are created by inserting a piece of DNA from the cells of one plant or animal into the cells of another. This reprograms the cells’ genetic blueprint, giving it new properties. Most commercial GMOs are created to withstand herbicides or produce insecticides. For example, one of the most common, Roundup Ready Soybeans, was engineered so that farmers can spray their crops with the herbicide Roundup to kill weeds without also killing the soybean plants.
What are GMOs in?
In the United States, GMOs are estimated to be present in about 80 percent of processed foods. Ninety-five percent of soy and close to 90 percent of corn crops contain GMOs, and they are barely tested or regulated and not required to be labeled.
How GMOs affect your body and health
“There’s a growing body of scientific literature around the health risks of GMOs, and the papers that are showing the risks are deep and systematic science,” says Dr. John Fagan, a genetic engineer and expert who founded Earth Open Source and is an anti-GMO advocate. Because the genetic interference disrupts the plant’s functioning, it may also, in turn, disrupt your body’s, he explains.
Non GMO ProjectSome of the health risks that have been suggested in numerous animal studies include kidney and liver problems, reproductive issues, and increased risk of cancer. Studies have also shown that GMOs may be allergenic, and may reduce the nutritional value of foods. For example, one study showed that genetically-modified soy had less healthy isoflavones.
The biggest long-term study to date, published last fall in the journal Food and Toxicology,showed a marked increase in tumors and premature death among rats fed genetically-modified corn. But while the study made waves, it was also met with intense criticism from many scientists, who cited major flaws in its design. And some studies have shown little to no health risks, includingthis literature review of recent research published in the same journal last year.
Side effect: More exposure to chemicals
Another concern, aside from the effects of the GMOs themselves, is that as foods are engineered to withstand herbicides, more of the toxic substances are sprayed on the plants, increasing herbicide residues found in foods. (Since farmers don’t have to worry about killing the plants, they end up spraying the herbicide much more liberally.)
“When Roundup Ready Soy was first approved for use in Europe, the government increased the threshold of Roundup that could be found in the soy,” Dr. Fagan notes. So your tofu may come with an extra serving of Roundup, which has been linked to cancer, birth defects, neurological disorders, and other health issues.
The controversy
Conflicting research is tricky enough to sort out, but it’s even worse when larger forces are at play. Much of the research that’s cited as proving GMOs are safe (but not all) is done by the companies that create them (yes, seriously). Also alarming: these studies tend to be done over 90 days or less, so as not to expose possible long-term health risks.
And anti-GMO advocates say that companies such as Monsanto (manufacturers of RoundUp Ready soy, corn, herbicides, and more) engage in campaigns to control the research that’s being done and discredit studies that show risks.
“Much of what they’re doing is attacking the scientists. They’re not bringing up counter-science, they’re just throwing the kitchen sink at these guys,” says Dr. Fagan. “In addition to that, they have done everything they can do to control whether research can be published.”
In the end, it seems like the debate over the safety of GMOs in our food supply is only just beginning, and hopefully, skilled, independent scientists will put even more muscle into providing us with concrete answers. —Lisa Elaine Held

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