Science Wants Pictures of Your Poop for AI

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Your poop says a lot about your overall health. In fact, it’s a direct reflection of your gut, which contains a complex microbial ecosystem. It exerts such a strong influence over your body it is frequently referred to as the “second brain.”

There is a strong connection between your gut health and mental health, affecting your subconscious thought and immune system. Health conditions associated with your gut microbiome include obesity, chronic fatigue syndrome and allergies; your gut health also influences your risk of cancer and Parkinson’s. Optimizing your gut microbiome may be one of the more important strategies you could undertake to prevent disease.

The diversity of your gut microbiome also plays a role in your heart health. The authors of one study found that those who suffered a heart attack had a larger number of metabolites produced by certain gut microbes. This high level was not found in those who did not have a heart attack or have atherosclerosis.

Scientists have found that eating more plants and fiber affects the formation of your stool and reduces the number of bacteria producing metabolites linked with hypertension and heart disease.

Researchers See a Goldmine Being Flushed Down Your Toilet

The size and shape of your poop is one indication of the health of your gut. If you’ve been in the habit of flushing before looking, you may be making a mistake. One group is also asking you to take a quick pic of your poop before pressing the toilet lever and flushing it away.1

Researchers from MIT are building a database of images to train artificial intelligence (AI) they hope will ultimately play a role in patient care and research. An MIT startup, Auggi, and a microbiome company, Seed, have teamed up for the project to develop a program able to analyze human poop.

The team hopes 100,000 people will turn and shoot before flushing, sending the image to be included in the database. The team first tested the software using blue Play-Doh poop and a 3-D printed toilet to mimic real life.2 The researchers decided to use blue since they didn’t “want to scare people in the lab.”

The initial training with 36,000 pictures of fake poop resulted in 100% recognition by the software. However, this may have been since the researchers could perfectly mold the Play-Doh. For real data they next turned to images people were posting pictures of their poop on Reddit.

The team is now asking 100,000 people to submit pictures of their poop to improve the accuracy of the AI program and create the first image database of human poop. You can participate by using your mobile phone to go to where you’ll enter your name and email address and the time of your regular poop schedule. If you’re ready, you can shoot a picture then and there to send.

If you need a bit of time, you can ask the site to send an email reminder. The company says that once you’ve collected the image and sent it, they will strip the identifying metadata, including your email address and other digital information that may potentially be used to identify you, before the picture is added to the database.

Auggi Will Use AI to Match Stool With Bristol Stool Chart

The group has engaged the help of seven gastroenterologists who will evaluate the images as they are collected, making notes for the software program.3 The goal is for the AI to identify which of the seven categories your poop falls into on the Bristol Stool Chart.

In 1997, Dr. Ken Heaton from the University of Bristol4 developed the chart as a means for patients to report the consistency and formation of their stool. This helps medical professionals recognize whether their patients are short on fiber, severely constipated or dealing with diarrhea. The lucky 66 volunteers who helped Heaton changed their diets swallowed marker pellets and recorded the weight, shape and frequency of their poop.

The Bristol chart is a widely used tool that involves a seven-point scale. It ranges from Type 1 indicating constipation to Type 7 indicating diarrhea with a variety of consistencies, shapes and forms in between. Types 3 and 4 are considered normal and ideal. Types 6 and 7 indicate diarrhea and inflammation.

It is normal for your stool consistency and shape to fluctuate from day to day, particularly when you change your diet. However, most of the time you should aim for Types 3 and 4 that some describe as a torpedo, sausage or snake.

stool chart

What’s in It and How Often Should I Go?

The consistency and shape are largely determined by fiber and water. When food travels rapidly through the intestinal tract your body absorbs a limited amount of water from the waste product, leading to a loose or liquid stool. A slower transit time allows the body to absorb more water, leading to harder stool.

The average time it takes between eating and defecating varies from person to person and depends upon your age, sex and the type of food eaten. Loose stools or diarrhea may be a sign of infection, causing the body to move food and fluids rapidly through the digestive tract. The most common type of acute diarrhea is attributed to bacterial infections.

Chronic diarrhea may result from irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, drugs, endocrine diseases or malabsorptive diseases such as celiac disease or reactions to fructose or gluten. When you experience poor nutrition, lack of exercise, dehydration or a low fiber diet it may lead to constipation.

Normal frequency varies from three bowel movements per day to three per week. For more information about signs of a healthy stool, see my past article, “What Should Your Poop Look Like?

AI Tracking May Help Researchers and Patients

The team hopes their software will help people take control of their own gut health and better understand the relationship between lifestyle choices and the symptoms they experience. David Hachuel, a co-founder of the startup Auggi, is building the AI platform. He commented on the patients who experience bowel irregularities and the impetus behind the software development:5

“They struggle every day making decisions on what to eat, how much exercise to do to keep their symptoms at bay. And so it’s really critical to build this database and to develop these simple monitoring tools to allow those patients to essentially do that at home.”

The team's goal is to train the platform to categorize photos using the Bristol Stool Chart to make inferences about overall health. They hope to roll out the application publicly in the first quarter of 2020 to help those who keep a log of their stool, helping them and their physicians guide treatment.

Dr. Jack Gilbert from the University of California San Diego School of Medicine is co-founder of the American Gut Project and also solicits stool samples from research participants. He commented to CNN6 that the application may help reduce research bias and variation since nearly every clinical trial he conducts requires the participants to rate their stool on the Bristol chart.

Gilbert said, “Human beings are just not very good at recording things.” The automation of this process would potentially help patients improve their treatment protocols and researchers gather more accurate data.

Tips to Optimize Gut Health and Stool Form

With the information and knowledge currently available, it's no longer necessary to guess the types of changes needed to improve your health and the condition of your stool. can help make suggestions to help you achieve the “perfect stool.” The Bristol Stool Chart is also a useful tool to rank the health of your stool.

Shape, color, diameter and texture are all factors you can use to gauge whether your stool is healthy or unhealthy. If your stool is not ideal, it's important to pay attention to your diet and water intake. Whether the stool is too hard or too loose, it's important to increase fiber intake. Good options include organic psyllium and freshly ground organic flaxseed. Shoot for 25 to 50 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories you eat each day.

You can boost the health of your intestinal microbiome by adding naturally fermented foods. If you suspect you're not getting enough beneficial bacteria from your diet it may also be important to add a probiotic supplement. Your bowel health may be optimized by removing gluten, the most common sources of which are wheat, barley, rye, spelt and other grains. Avoid sugar, artificial sweeteners and processed foods.

You will make a significant impact on the movement of stool through your intestinal tract by exercising at least 30 minutes each day and moving as much as possible throughout the day. Another strategy to try is changing the position you use while pooping. Sitting on a typical toilet does not allow the muscles involved in bowel control to fully relax.

In order to fully evacuate you must push or even strain. However, while squatting, these muscles relax easily, making elimination easier. The combination of squatting and lifestyle changes can make a significant difference. However, if you continue to experience problems, schedule a visit with your holistic health care provider to rule out any medical issues.

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