Poop — it's one of those things people don't talk about very often. In addition to being embarrassing, the topic of poop feels private. Your poop can offer some valuable insight into your health, though.
How to Tell If Your Poop Is Normal
Your daily bowel movements are a great indicator of how well your body's systems are working or not. Here are some things to pay attention to:
While it may sound unpleasant, your stool's consistency is the first thing you'll want to look at when determining if it's healthy or not. The Bristol Stool Chart is a great place to start. This chart lays out the seven types of feces and whether they're healthy or unhealthy. Here's a simplified breakdown:
- Type 1 — Separate, small lumps of floating poop. Also called "squirrel poop" due to it looking like small nuts.
- Type 2 — Large, sausage-shaped feces that is lumpy.
- Type 3 — A consistent, sausage-shaped feces with cracks on the surface.
- Type 4 — A long, soft feces that is shaped like a snake.
- Type 5 — Soft blobs of feces that are easy to pass.
- Type 6 — Mushy feces with ragged edges.
- Type 7 — Feces that is entirely liquid.
While Types 3-4 are ideal, types 1 and 2 indicate constipation and types 5, 6 and 7 indicate diarrhea.
Diarrhea is related to inflammation in the gut. Gut inflammation is very common because many people consume highly inflammatory diets. This leads to bouts of diarrhea, leaky gut syndrome, and autoimmune disease.
If you find yourself in Type 6 or 7 of the Bristol Chart, the first step is to evaluate your diet and remove inflammation-producing foods, including dairy, gluten, soy, sugar, corn, and grains.
While personal frequency ranges greatly, the average person evacuates their bowels once a day to three times daily. Keep in mind, though, that average may not be normal for you. As long as you're pooping at least a few times a week and it's neither too hard nor too soft, it's likely your system is healthy and working well.
If you're pooping more than three times a day or less than a few times a week, though, and the feces is difficult to pass or very watery, then these may be signs of constipation or diarrhea.
- Duration of Evacuation
The duration of bowel evacuation is another vital factor in bowel health. Most physicians agree pooping should be an easy process, and evacuating your bowels should only take a few minutes. Straining to pass a bowel movement can lead to hemorrhoids, while experiencing runny, very loose stools could lead to dehydration.
If you're routinely spending 30 minutes trying to clear your bowels, it may be time to see a doctor. Keep in mind that each bowel movement should also be a complete evacuation, which leaves you feeling relaxed and empty.
- Quality and Color
Your stool's appearance can tell you a lot about whether it's healthy. Poop is about 75% water. The rest is a combination of bacteria, digested food, cells, mucus and soluble fiber. Healthy poops are a version of brown or green, depending on diet. If your diet is heavy in leafy green vegetables, for example, your poop may be very green. If you've recently eaten beats, it may look red at your next bowel movement.
The two largest things to look out for in terms of fecal quality and color are dark black or bloody stools. While black stools can indicate internal bleeding, freshly bloody stools may indicate a tear or lower GI problem.
Tips to Promote Healthy Bowel Movements
If you're looking to be more consistent, have healthier bowel movements, or just want to feel lighter and healthier, try these tips:
- Eat More Fiber
Adding soluble fiber to your diet helps your stools retain more water. This makes them larger, firmer and easier to pass. Add fiber-rich foods like fruits, beans, and Psyllium to prevent constipation.
- Add Probiotics and Fermented Foods
You may also need to ensure you're chewing foods completely and adding digestive enzymes to your diet. Some people even choose to undergo a regular colon cleanse.
- Exercise More
Inactivity is a primary risk factor in constipation. To make your daily move smoother, get more active. Because regular exercise decreases the time food spends moving through your gut, it makes poop easier to pass and stimulates the natural activity of your digestive tract. Simple activities, like walking, yoga and biking, are ideal.
- Drink More Water (and Less Caffeine and Alcohol)
Remember — healthy stools are three-quarters water. Drinking more hydrating water, and less dehydrating caffeine and alcohol, can help keep your bowel movements normal.
- Reduce Stress
Stress — both physical and mental — can take a serious toll on your bowel movement. With this in mind, decrease the amount of stress you feel daily. Attend a yoga class or start journaling to release the emotional stress of everyday life, and learn about proper toilet position to reduce physical stress while clearing your bowels.
When to See Your Doctor
If you're concerned about the health of your bowel movements, or if you have bloody, hard or very soft stools or mucus in your poop, it may be time to see your doctor. Early attention by a gastroenterologist can help stave off further digestive problems and ensure your gut is functioning in a normal, healthy way.
Take our quiz to find out what your bowel movements and daily habits can tell you about your intestinal health.
Each time you eat, your food passes through your gastrointestinal tract assisted by the constriction and relaxation of the intestinal muscles. These wave-like movements are known as peristalsis. Several things can slow peristalsis, such as illness or poor nutrition. This can result in constipation. Having uncomfortable or irregular bowel movements is not only inconvenient; it’s bad for your health. What you see in your toilet can give you a good picture of the state of your gastrointestinal health.
Healthy poop is comprised of around 75 percent water. When you become dehydrated, your body will absorb as much water from your food as possible, which will leave you with dry, lumpy and bumpy appearing poop. Fiber is your best friend because it helps poop pass more easily through your intestines. There are two main types of fiber.
- Soluble fiber: this is the kind that dissolves when mixed with water. It forms a gel-like substance. It helps reduce high cholesterol and lower glucose levels. Soluble fiber is found in natural sources such as beans, peas, barley, psyllium and citrus fruits. It can also be obtained as a supplement.
- Insoluble fiber: this is the kind that helps to speed up the movement of waste material through your intestines. It bulks up the stool and helps prevent constipation. Natural sources of insoluble fiber are bran, nuts, vegetables and whole wheat flour.
However, even if you’re getting plenty of fiber, if you’re not getting an adequate amount of water, then you’ll have to suffer, hard and painful poops. Eight glasses a day is a good goal. Regular exercise can also stimulate healthy bowel movements. You may not realize it, but stress can also play a negative role in your intestinal health. If you’re under a lot of stress, it can reduce blood flow to your digestive system and elevate the oxygenation in your stomach, resulting in constipation. Exercise, meditation, relaxation techniques and a regular sleep pattern will all help to reduce stress and support intestinal health.