Here is the skinny on your inner slime and what it might be trying to tell you.
So what is it exactly?
Although we tend to associate mucus with a cold or sinus infection, it's a normal secretion that your body produces ALL the time to the tune of about one or two quarts a day.
Mucus is made up of water, proteins, antibodies, antiseptics and salts, and this gooey concoction serves several impressive roles:
- It’s your body’s built-in moisturizer and is found on the tissues that come into contact with elements from the outside world (like the nose, sinuses, and mouth). Without mucus, these tissues can dry out and crack, cause soreness and bleeding, and leave you susceptible to illness.
- The antibodies in mucus help your immune system attack dangerous toxins, viruses or bacteria you ingest. When this happens, your mucus gets thick and cloudy to trap the invader.
- Antiseptics in mucus kill pathogens directly on the spot like a terminator.
- Mucus protects your body’s delicate internal membranes by coating every single thing you eat or drink -- even water!
- It acts as a natural defense against acids. For example, when you eat dairy products, the sugar in them (lactose) changes to lactic acid. If it weren't for your mucus surrounding the lactic acid, it could actually burn a hole in your cells, tissues or organs...and possibly kill you!
- Mucus humidifies the air you breathe.
- It keeps your eyes lubricated and contributes to the development of tears.
Although normal mucus is clear to light white, here are other possible colors for mucus and what they might mean:
Gray: Mucus that is blown from your nose may be gray, especially if you’ve been exposed to a lot of dust and dirt.
Yellow or Green: Infections typically produce yellow or green mucus. Note that the vast majority of sinus infections are actually viral, so don’t necessarily rush to the doctor for antibiotics because they are useless for a viral infection. Unnecessary antibiotics will merely obliterate your friendly gut flora and increase your risk of antibiotic resistance.
Here are signs where antibiotics may, in fact, be necessary:
- Your infection drags on for more than 10 days, or if it gets worse after a week
- The discharge is thick and uniformly white (it looks like pus)
- There is a high fever that isn’t improving
- Your symptoms don’t respond to over the counter cold or sinus medications
Orange, Red or Rust Colored: People with pneumonia may produce orange mucus in the respiratory tract. Pink, red or rust colored mucus suggests the presence of internal bleeding—see a doctor if necessary.
Mucus in your BMs
Although the mucous membranes in your large intestine helps stool to slide through, a normal BM will not contain much mucus, and you probably can’t see it with the naked eye.
When stool has visible mucus, it can be a sign of bacterial infections (like Salmonella), anal fissures, a bowel obstruction, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or Crohn's disease. If you suspect a problem, see a doctor to rule out any conditions that require medical attention.
Sometimes it goes overboard
Clearly, mucus is something you don't want to be without, but the problem arises when mucus gets too thick and there’s too much of it.
And the primary cause of that is food!
Many people have a diet that is heavy in foods that trigger lots of thickened mucus. The foods either contain toxins or they break down into an acid residue in the digestive tract and sound the mucus alarm.
The worst offenders are dairy products, followed by meats, white flour, processed foods, chocolate, coffee and alcohol.
Over time, thick mucus can build up in your intestines, trapping feces and other debris. This can weaken your intestinal walls (making you susceptible to diverticulosis) and create an environment that favors harmful bacteria.
Harmful bacteria overgrowth (dysbiosis) can cause gas, bloating, constipation and diarrhea, as well as impaired immune function and worsening symptoms of asthma and allergies.
Do you have too much?
Here are some signs of excessive mucus inside of you:
- Frequent constipation or diarrhea
- Frequent gas and bloating
- Bowel movements with an excessively foul odor
- Mucus in your feces
- Cold hands and/or feet
- Nasal congestion not related to allergies or a cold
- Lung congestion not related to asthma
- White coated tongue
- Frequent throat clearing
If you suspect excess mucus is a problem for you, or want to keep your mucus defense "in line" and working like it should, here are ways to help:
Make sure to include fiber-rich alkaline foods like fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet, and drink at least eight 8-oz glasses of water a day. These will help buffer the mucus production caused by the mucus-creating foods and keep the digestive process running smoother.
Eat spicy foods! Great mucus-fighting spices include horseradish, wasabi, ginger, garlic, chili pepper, and turmeric.
Also, a full-spectrum probiotic can help support a strong gut wall, encourage more regular bowel movements and help sharpen your immune system so that you can be less susceptible to mucus-creating infections and colds. Probiotics also help curb symptoms of asthma and allergies, which can lessen your mucus load too.