Darn it poop, why are you not blue ?, I thought as I stared into the toilet and desperately tried to figure out why the color of my number two had not strayed from the standard. I’ve done a lot of weird things in the name of gut health, but intentionally trying to make my jaw blue might be most out there. (Even more so than the next coolest thing I’ve tried in the name of the digestive wellness test at home, testing a microbiome test kit called Viome, $ 150. exciting.)
Maybe I should take a backup and explain why I initially tried to make my jaw blue. As you may or may not know – depending on how much the topic of digestive hygiene excites you – there is a lot that your poop can tell you about your health. Frequency, structure and color are all clues. Recently, the gut health company Zoe published a scientific study in the peer-reviewed journal Gut about what time it is for the intestines ̵
In the study, the researchers tracked participants in the transit time of the gut by having them eat muffins colored in a vibrant Cookie Monster shade of blue. This way, it would make their jaw blue and the participants would know that their excrement was specifically from buns and not anything else they ate. “We found that by eating a light blue muffin, developed by our researchers and seeing when your jaw turns blue, we can generate a basic snapshot of your gut health based on your gut transit time,” a company publicist emailed me. In fact, Zoe was willing to send me blue buns to get the chance to learn about my gut transit time. Will I try it?
Cut to me and look into the toilet bowl and stare at my poop. But in addition to just doing the experiment, I also talked to gut experts at Zoe and a GI doctor who was not affiliated with the company to learn more about how gut transit time can tell someone about their health – and what an ideal gut transit time looks like.
Why intestinal transit time matters
The blue buns were sent to me ready to eat; no baking required. I usually have oatmeal or a protein bar in the morning, so the opportunity to eat muffins for work was welcome. I cut my muffins open, topped each side with butter and tossed them in the microwave – because blue or not, muffins are meant to be enjoyed.
Kl. 9:15 I ate my blue buns with an oatmeal latte and got to work. See you on the other side. I forgot them until 6 p.m. 11:45, when I felt like, well, you know. I was disappointed when I saw that my business was not blue. Around 1:30 pm, I chose a salad for lunch when I thought the fiber could help move things along. Kl. 18:30 unfortunately a repeat of my performance 11:45 – no blue. It was only at 8:45 the next morning that I finally saw what I was expecting: poop that looked like it came from a Smurf. Okay cool, mission completed. Now I wanted to know: Was I normal? How long does it take to poop?
“Transit time in the gut is very important because it is not only the microbes that are important, but also the ability to move the microbes. If your colon is stagnant, [bad] bacteria accumulate, ”says Sabine Hazan, MD, author of Let’s talk Sh! T ($ 15) and gut health expert unrelated to Zoe.
When I spoke with Nutritional Science Professor Sarah Berry, Ph.D. and Professor of Genetic Epidemiology Tim Spector, MD – both of whom worked on Gut study and work with Zoe – they also explained to me why exactly transit time means and how long it should take. Dr. Spector explained that the importance of intestinal transit time has not really been recognized until recently; Bristol stool cards – a poster of different types of poo – have long been used to gather information about what poop can tell someone about their digestive disease. “We wanted to see if we could get a measure that would give people better information about the microbes and their overall health,” says Dr. Spector. And through scientific research, he says, they actually found that transit time was a more informative measurement.
So what is the ideal transit time for the gut?
Of the 863 people who participated in the study, intestinal transit time ranged from four hours to several days. “What we saw on average was a correlation between faster transit time and a healthier-looking intestinal microbiome,” says Dr. Spector. “The diversity of [good gut bacteria] was higher in people who had a short transit time and the diversity was lower in people who had a long transit time. The correlations, he says, were more accurate than using the stool table in Bristol to determine how diverse in good bacteria someone’s gut was. This is exactly, they say, why it is so beneficial to know your bowel transit time. A microbiome that swims with various good gut bacteria is not just a sign of digestive hygiene; it is linked to better overall health, including brain health and lower depression.
Dr. Berry says previous bowel transit studies indicate that the healthiest time fell between 14 and 50 hours, and they found that the majority of people fell within that range. But Dr. Spector says that based on what they found, a bowel transit time of less than 24 hours should be ideal. Dr. Hazan is a little more liberal with what she feels is optimal. “Just because you do not have a bowel movement every day does not mean that there is something wrong with you,” she says. If you only look every other day, but generally feel good without bloating or discomfort, she says it is not worth worrying about. “In my opinion, consistency is more important,” she says. “If you are used to pooping once a day but then start experiencing diarrhea several times a day, or if you only start walking every few days, it is more something to be aware of.”
Dr. Spector points out that it is not new to use dye to track intestinal transit time; it is performed in hospital and clinical settings by gastroenterologists. “Another way that doctors also track transit time is with ‘smart pills’ that you can actually track on your phone or a monitor, but they are very expensive,” adds Dr. Berry. Both agree that eating blue buns is a more accessible way for people to learn about their gut health.
How to improve bowel transit time
But it should definitely be more complicated, I asked, examining the experts. For example, what if in addition to eating the blue buns, one person ate high-fiber foods during the day while another ate carbohydrate- and fat-rich foods. Wouldn’t that affect how quickly muffins were digested?
That’s exactly the point, they told me. “As long as you eat buns on a day where you eat what you would normally be, it will give you an accurate snapshot of your gut health,” said Dr. Berry. “If you eat another blue muffin the next day, the transit time will be the same.”
I decided to eat more blue buns to see if she was right. (Fine, I also wanted muffins for breakfast again.) That was her. My bowel transit time was about the same. Since my bowel transit time was also just under 24 hours, it also meant I could work on improving it. Both Dr. Spector and Dr. Berry stresses that anyone who goes several days without stool or at the other end of the spectrum experiences diarrhea several times a day should definitely reserve some time with a GI dock. But they also hope that even people who fall within the “normal” range of 14 to 50 hours will think about how they can improve their bowel transit time through diet. Eg. Could you eat a wider variety of nutritious foods?
Zoe has a tool to help someone improve this front that I was trying to see what I could exercise for myself. Anyone who makes the blue buns can take a quiz where they enter some quick stats about themselves and their gut transit time. They were “matched” with a participant from the clinical trial who obtained similar results. (The participant’s name changes when it is matched to protect their identity.) Then you can see how many different types of good gut bacteria they have. My match had nine of the 15 types of good gut bacterial strains that the study participants were looking for; the logic is that I probably have about nine too. Along with my results, I was asked to try eating five new types of plants a week to increase my gut bacteria diversity. Seems reasonable, I’m used.
Watch the video below to learn more about the best foods for gut health:
Stress was something else, I asked Dr. Berry and Dr. Specter om. Anyone who has ever had nervous poops before a big event can tell you that stress can have a direct effect on gut transit time. The experts agreed that this is true and it is an intestinal factor they hope to include in their latest research. “The way stress affects transit time is so individual; there is no simple formula where we can say that stress doubles or halves the transit time, it is not that simple to find out, ”says Dr. Specter.
But knowing your gut transit time is generally a useful place to start. The blue buns can help you figure it out, but Dr. Spector also says there is another food you can eat and easily see at the other end: corn. Whatever, you end up, is, the redness with knowledge.
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