Loose stools can be temporary; often due to an infection, irritation or during or after a course of antibiotics. Occasionally loose stools become a constant feature leading to discomfort, uncertainty and have a significant impact on day to day activities. Waste that moves quickly from your stomach to the toilet is usually due to a digestive tract that has been irritated.
This fast movement can cause issues with digestion and absorption of nutrients. Food needs to spend enough time in the small intestine to allow for optimal absorption. There can be issues with absorption of fat and possible dehydration too.
What causes loose stools? Loose stools can occur due to infection from parasites – giardia, cryptosporidium, or bacteria – campylobacter, shigella, salmonella, clostridium, e.coli and staphylococcus. Sometimes it comes on after using antibiotics when the gut flora have been significantly altered.
What we eat and drink can be major factors that affect our gut function. Foods we are intolerant to, that we struggle to digest or alcohol intake can be problematic. Excessive use of sweeteners can also cause loose bowel movements. If you have a family history of coeliac disease then it is worth seeing your GP to rule this out as a possible cause. Coeliac disease can begin at any point, diagnosis is most common between 40 and 60 years old.
Emotional stress can also affect bowel transit time, as can physical stress – for example over-exercising. Over 60% of athletes in one study reported lower bowel issues after exercising. Careful choices and timing of food before exercising can help as can staying hydrated. However, it is possible that the re-distribution of blood flow can be a factor in athlete’s diarrhoea.
Gall bladder issues could be contributing to fast transit time. A yellow stool might indicate excessive bile secretions by the gall bladder. Whereas floating stools are more likely to indicate fat maldigestion due to a sluggish gall bladder. In this instance stools are more likely to be a pale colour.
As well as identifying if bacteria, parasites or altered gut flora (dysbiosis) are present. It is also worth ruling out Carbohydrate malabsorption and SIBO (small intestinal bacteria overgrowth). Loose stools can sometimes indicate inflammatory bowel disease. Testing for raised calprotectin can help to rule this in or out as a possibility.
Testing can help identify specific issues. For parasites, bacteria, dysbiosis, fat maldigestion, inflammation (calprotectin) you can run a GI Effects Stool Test. To identify SIBO you can run a hydrogen and methane breath test. For unmasking food intolerances you can run a food intolerance test.