To Be Your Healthiest, Pay Attention to What Happens In the Bathroom
Let’s not beat (or beet!) around the bush: There is one bodily function that is critical to your health and provides important feedback about how you're doing, dietary-wise, to be your healthiest, yet no one wants to look at it or even think about it.
This doctor says that what happens when you go to the bathroom, and how frequently you eliminate, is a vital message about your diet, and can even predict your risk for breast cancer. If you don't want to read more, fair warning: We are going to talk about poop. Because what's happening in your toilet bowl can give you daily information that can help save your life. Remember, this is all about your health, so here goes:
Dr. Terry Mason, Former COO of Illinois’ Cook County Department of Public Health and a leading Urologist, wants to get into the nitty-gritty on the connection between your health and your bowel movements. While we all understand that, like any machine, what goes into it matters in order for it to run well, and we can see from what comes out of it whether things are going smoothly: Cars have exhaust pipes, juicers have pulp catchers and we humans also have a way of seeing if everything is running smoothly in our system, too, but we rarely take advantage of this data.
For our bodies to run well we need to check both the inputs and the outputs. But chances are you never think of your bowel movements as a vital sign for health and wellbeing. Yet Dr. Mason explained why this is vital, during a recent interview for The Beet and my Awesome Vegans Influencer Series, that he wants you to check the quality, the frequency, and the consistency of what is in the bowl.
Dr. Mason's heart attack sent him on a journey to plant-based eating
First a little background. In 2004, Dr. Terry Mason experienced everyone's worst nightmare: while running on a treadmill, he had a heart attack. Immediately medical experts committed him to a life of pills and future procedures, to help return him to normal life. Thinking back on his own medical education and realizing that he only received, like most doctors, about four hours of nutritional information while in med school, so Dr. Mason, decided to dive into the facts. Rather than live a life on pills and have to endure multiple operations, Dr. Mason researched what he could do to avoid a life on meds. Ultimately, he found his way to a whole-food, plant-based diet. In doing so, he subsequently lost nearly 50 pounds.
Since then, Dr. Mason has made it his mission to help people find their way to a healthy quality life through plant-based eating, so that they, too, don’t have to commit themselves to a life of pills, doctor appointments and generally not being their most active or healthy. Because who wants a poor quality of life? The average person eats over 57 pounds of chicken a year, Mason tells us, and over 240 of meat. Yet few of us get our recommended five servings of vegetables and fruit a day. It is no wonder that so many Americans are unhealthy and suffering from heart disease, elevated blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes.
Dr. Mason’s conviction is that knowing your body and being your healthiest starts with eating healthy, and ends with what comes out of it. Think you are healthy? Eating a mostly plant-based diet filled with fiber can get things moving, in your bowels, your intestines, and that does a body good! (Consider that Americans need this information. Fun fact: One of Oprah’s most popular TV shows ever was on the subject of poop.)
Here Dr. Mason explains that the link between diet and frequency of bowel movements and cancer. In one study, women with frequent bowel movements had a 46 percent lower risk of breast cancer than those who go to the bathroom less frequently. The act of moving waste through the body, called bowel motility, helps excrete estrogens in the waste, thereby lowering estrogen in the body, to the point that your breast cancer risk goes down. The best way to move things along, Dr. Mason says, is to increase the amount of fiber in your diet.
Fiber only exists in plant-based foods, since it is the cellular infrastructure of plants (animals have skeletons and muscles to keep them upright, plant-based foods need fiber to reach for the sun.) Fiber causes your bowel movements to be regular and less dense, so if you need to keep eating more fiber until you achieve this healthy outcome, just keep adding whole plant-based foods to your diet.
A more recent study backs up the connection between fiber and breast cancer risk. The higher the fiber quotient in your diet, the lower your breast cancer risk. One reason why is the elimination of estrogen through your bathroom habits.
The fact is a regular elimination of bowel acids is healthy, Mason explains, since toxins from the bowel can get re-absorbed into the body if they sit there for too long, and these toxins get stored in the breast, which can increase risk of breast cancer, the study showed. Dr. Mason explains that the more fiber you eat, the more frequently you eliminate your bowels, the healthier it is for your body and your lifetime cancer risk.
"It is totally normal to eliminate right after breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and some people have convinced themself they are not comfortable going in a foreign place," he says. "But if you are eating plant-based and drinking the right amount of water that should lead to regular bowel movements. And if you don't go at least once a day, add more fiber to your diet."
Eat more fiber foods to keep things moving
Here is the Interview with Dr. Terry Mason:
Dr. Terry Mason: A study revealed how any woman who has fewer than three bowel movements a week has a four times greater likelihood of developing breast cancer.
Elysabeth: I thought everybody had bowel movements every day. No? Sorry the conversation’s taking a turn now we’re talking about bowel movements.
Dr. Terry Mason: But that’s all a part of life.
Elysabeth: Right, of course. It’s what you put in to get what you put out.
Dr. Terry Mason: What you put in determines when you let it out and how often and what happens is (that) when you’re only having two to three bowel movements a week but you’re eating two to three times a day…
Elysabeth: I don’t…how can your system actually hold that?
Dr. Terry Mason: Well that’s what we have right now. That’s what people are doing because a lot of the foods they’re eating don’t have any fiber.
Elysabeth: Meat has no fiber! I just learned this. I knew it had cholesterol, but I didn’t know it had no fiber.
Dr. Terry Mason: Fiber comes from the cellulose in the plant.
Elysabeth: Can’t be healthy without fiber.
Dr. Terry Mason: You can’t be healthy without fiber. So what happens, according to the study, these 1,481 women were in the study, and basically they looked at those women who have fewer than two bowel movements a week. An aspirator took out fluid from their breasts and they found that there were pre-cancerous changes in that fluid [called dysplasia]. And it’s because they weren’t eliminating the excess bile acids which are necessary to help break down the fats and the cholesterol in your blood.
But when you’re not eliminating those every, single day it gets reabsorbed into the bloodstream and when it gets reabsorbed into the bloodstream it concentrates in the breast. They checked these bile acids and checked to see if they themselves could cause cancer and they did. That’s what the study showed.
When you go from eating the standard American diet to eating a plant-based diet and you’re drinking water and now you’re having a far more normal frequency of bowel movements like: You eat, you poop. Just like your kids. It’s totally normal that after breakfast you should poop, after lunch you should poop.
Elysabeth: So you think people should poop three times a day?
Dr. Terry Mason: If they’re eating three times a day.
Elysabeth: Okay, noted.
Dr. Terry Mason: Well a lot of people don’t because they’ve trained themselves that they don’t like to poop in foreign places.
Elysabeth: Please weigh in everybody I’d love to know what you think about this. Yes, you also have to be comfortable in the spot.
Dr. Terry Mason: Well that’s what I say. They don’t like going in a foreign place and so you can always hold it but theoretically when you’re eating plant-based and you’re drinking the water, you will poop.
Elysabeth: Yeah and it’s wonderful!
Dr. Terry Mason: Yes and it’s important.
So eat your plants! Another option for someone with constipation is to use a fiber supplement such as Metamucil. Get your fiber! And head to the bathroom several times a day, for your health. To watch the full interview, click here.
Elysabeth Alfano is a plant-based expert for mainstream media, breaking down the plant-based health, food, culture, business, and environmental news on radio and TV. Follow her @elysabethalfano on all platforms.