Loose stool can be a very aggravating problem. Unfortunately, it is also far too common.
Many people experience loose stools at some point in their life, with their stools becoming watery, sludgy, or mushy. However, for some people, loose stool can be a reoccurring problem that affects their day-to-day life. In fact, over one in 10 people live with a digestive disorder, and loose stools are a common symptom.
Some people are confused about what is loose stool compared to diarrhea. Diarrhea is when you have three or more loose bowel movements per day, but it’s also possible to have loose stool at a lower frequency. For instance, you could only need to defecate once per day, but still have very loose stools, and that can be a problem.
Typically, loose stool is the body’s way of clearing out toxins, bacteria, or viruses from the digestive tract. However, loose stools can end up causing dehydration, malnutrition, and other problems which can have an impact on your health.
Loose stools can also have a big effect on your life, causing frequent trips to the bathroom and uncontrollable urges, as well as stress, anxiety, and depression that come with dealing with the condition.
It’s important to find out what’s causing your loose stool and figure out the right treatment that will give you normal bowel movements.
What causes loose stools? There are actually a number of causes, ranging from minor food sensitivities to serious health conditions. It can be hard to narrow down what is the cause of your loose stool, but finding the right treatment means figuring out your loose stool causes.
Eating dietary sugar: Eating a high amount of sugar has been linked to loose stool. Sugar consumption actually increases the water content of stool, which leads to diarrhea. As well, sugars are hard for your intestine to digest, which is why eating a large amount of sugar can cause loose stool.
Infections: Infections in the digestive tract are one of the most common causes of loose stool. Infections can be from bacteria, viruses, or parasites. Food poisoning is a gut infection, but it’s also possible to have chronic infections, where viruses or bad bacteria in the gut cause loose stool and other digestive symptoms over a longer period of time.
Malabsorption disorders: If you have a malabsorption disorder, your body isn’t releasing enough digestive juices to break down the food you are eating. This undigested food can lead to inflammation and diarrhea.
Food sensitivities: You may have loose stool due to a food sensitivity, where a specific type of food is causing your digestive issues. Lactose intolerance and Celiac disease are both conditions that involve sensitivities to foods which commonly result in loose stool and diarrhea. It’s also possible to have minor food sensitivities and allergies that cause diarrhea.
Chronic disease: There are a number of digestive diseases, such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel disease (IBD), and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which can cause loose stool, along with other digestive symptoms. These conditions can be quite severe – for instance, Crohn’s disease can be life-threatening.
Caffeine/Alcohol: Both caffeine and alcohol have been linked to diarrhea and loose stool. Caffeine can act almost as a laxative, especially when consumed in high amounts. Alcohol causes your body to produce more stomach acid, which leads to inflammation and digestive upset.
Medications: Drugs can have a variety of side effects. For many drugs, diarrhea or loose stools are a possible side effect. For any medications you are taking, look over the list of possible side effects to determine if it could be causing your loose stool.
Some people may only have loose stool in the morning, after getting up. While this may seem strange, it can actually help narrow down what is causing your loose stool.
If you’re experiencing loose stool first thing in the morning, then it’s important to note any substances you are ingesting either when you get up or before you go to bed. For instance, alcohol can cause loose stool. If you were drinking the night before, then it could be causing a delayed reaction the next morning. Other substances to rule out are medications, coffees, and illicit drugs.
Another possible cause of morning diarrhea could be stress upon waking up. For people with anxiety, depression, or severe stress, waking up and experiencing these emotions can cause loose stool. When you are asleep, your body is relaxed and so is your bowel, but a sudden increase in stress can change that.
Some other causes to rule out are abnormal hormonal levels, eating breakfast too soon after waking up, disruption of your circadian rhythm, pregnancy and morning sickness, and food sensitivities to something eaten during breakfast. Loose stool in the morning can also be due to the buildup of stool and water in your colon during the night, which can cause diarrhea upon waking up.
It’s possible to have loose stool every once in a while due to something you ate or a medication you are taking. However, once you have loose stool for a week or more, you need to treat it.
Loose stool can lead to dehydration, malnutrition, and other issues that can have a big effect on your health. Luckily, there are steps you can take to treat loose stool.
Drink more liquid: Dehydration is one of the biggest risks of loose stools. Drinking more water will help you avoid dehydration, and can also help with clearing out viruses during illnesses. Aim to drink between eight to 12 glasses of water each day. You can also have ginger ale, clear soups, and sparkling water to up your liquid intake.
Eat small meals: Smaller meals are easier on your stomach and digestive system, while larger meals are more likely to lead to loose stool. Instead of eating three meals per day, try to eat tinier portions throughout the entire day. This will ensure that your stomach and intestine can properly digest the food you are eating.
Avoid problem foods: Clean up your diet to help recover from loose stool. Try to determine if you have a food sensitivity and eliminate any foods which may be causing your reaction. An elimination diet can help you figure out what foods may contribute to your loose stool. However, there are some common foods that can cause digestive upset. These include foods that are spicy, greasy, and fried, or which contain dairy, caffeine, or alcohol.
Take probiotics: Bad bacteria in your gut can cause digestive problems, like loose stool. Returning healthy bacterial strains to your gut is one of the best ways to improve your bowel movements and eliminate loose stool. Probiotics can be purchased in health food stores, supermarkets, and pharmacies. You can also eat more fermented foods, such as sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, yogurt, and kombucha. These are teeming with healthy bacteria that can improve your digestion.
Take herbs: There are a variety of herbs which can help with your digestion, and research is confirming that specific herbs can provide benefit for those with loose stools. One meta-analysis found that herbs including carob and guava can help reduce diarrhea, while another study found that ginger and milk thistle may hinder the growth of bad bacteria in the gut.
Try traditional Chinese medicine: Loose stool and diarrhea have been treated in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. Practitioners often use foods with warming properties, such as ginger and garlic to help ease loose stool. They may also use acupuncture and other alternative therapies, which some people claim to have benefited from greatly.
See a doctor: It’s important to rule out conditions like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, which may require more aggressive treatments. Just because you have a chronic health condition doesn’t mean you can’t use natural treatments. For instance, Celiac disease is treated by removing gluten from your diet, but you will need a doctor to diagnose the condition.
Loose stool is more than just an annoyance. Not only can loose stools have a negative effect on your day-to-day life, but they can also lead to health conditions, such as dehydration or nutrient deficiencies. It’s important to find out what’s causing your loose stool and determine which treatments are right for you.
There are so many different causes of loose stool, but often simple changes can be enough to resolve the problem. Drinking more water, avoiding problematic foods, eating smaller meals, and taking probiotics can all have a big effect. In some cases, a health condition may be behind your loose stool, so it’s important to see a doctor.