Is my Poop Normal?
Everything you need to know about poop
People are generally delighted to tell you what they’re eating – in fact, a vast proportion of social media pictures are of the meals in front of them. At the other end of our bodies, after our food has gone through a complicated digestive process, we eliminate the waste. This isn’t something we’re nearly as comfortable talking about – in fact it’s often a taboo subject. Many people admit to their ‘anal retentiveness’ and how they couldn’t possibly poop in a public bathroom or when they’re away from home.
It’s surprising that there is such sensitivity around poop – after all, how your gut functions, resulting in the elimination of waste, is a crucial indicator of the health of your entire body. A healthy gut contributes not only to your body’s well-being but also to your mental state. Constipation, lack of nutrients, and bowel disorders all have an effect on your moods. Your poop can also alert you to a possible illness, so it’s a quick and easy way to self-diagnose. But still, many people tend to resist the subject and certainly shy away from conducting their own inspections. This needs to change!
What is poop and how is it formed?
Very simply, when you eat food, you need to expel waste – along with toxins in your body. After a healthy gut has absorbed all usable nutrients from food, you don’t need what remains and it’s essential to get rid of it. Your gut, when it’s working well, is a healthy garbage disposal unit, effectively ridding your body of what it doesn’t require, and pooping is the way you do this.
There are many processes that occur as your food moves through your stomach and intestines and down to your colon. Various enzymes and hormones work in conjunction with your circulatory system to ensure that food is broken down into usable nutrients that are then taken up in the body as needed. When your digestive system is working well, you’ll process food efficiently, and your waste will quickly and painlessly pass through your body. However, when even one part of this complex system isn’t functioning well, you’ll experience side effects and you’ll know it by your poop.
Understanding your poop
Now that you know the importance of poop, how do you know what signs to look for? Believe it or not, there is actually a chart, known as the Bristol Stool Form, that will be an excellent guide as you start to learn how to diagnose your poop.
This scale classifies poop according to the time it’s taken to form in the colon, as well as its transit time through your digestive system. On this scale, there are 7 different groups of poop. If you fall into the diagrams for 1 and 2, you typically are constipated. Types 3 and 4 are ideal, while 5 to 7 indicate diarrhea. In addition, if your poop is constantly very skinny, this is a warning sign that you might have hemorrhoids or even colon cancer.
If you fall in categories 1 or 2, you could drink more water and try eating more ‘living’ foods such as fruit and vegetables. These foods are also rich in fiber, which will greatly assist with constipation. Categories 5, 6 and 7 often indicate diarrhea, which might show that you have an infection, a food intolerance, or even a disease such as irritable bowel disease (IBS). On-going diarrhea should definitely prompt you to seek medical advice.
Actually, it’s not uncommon for people to experience a variety of different poops depending on what they’ve been eating, as well as their location (e.g. away from home), and their stress levels. The rule of thumb is that your poop should usually be soft and easy to pass. Experts say that the ideal poop is connected in a smooth ‘S’ shape – this indicates that you’re getting enough fiber and are drinking sufficient water.
Does the color of your poop matter?
Poop doesn’t only contain the remainder of food, but also dead and live bacteria, mucus and dead cells. There could also be fiber, undigested fats, undigested food (corn and oats are well known for this) and cholesterol in your poop. As a result, color is another great indicator of the health of your body. Normal poop is brown in color, but you may notice your poop looking green, red, white, or black. Here’s what you can learn from this:
- Green poop – your food may have been digested too fast, which isn’t a reason for concern
- Yellow poop – this might mean your gut is having difficult digesting fats. As fats are essential for our wellbeing, you should find out whether you have malabsorption issues or something like Celiac Disease
- Black poop – this could be simply explained if you’ve been taking iron supplements. On the other hand, it could indicate internal bleeding, so pay attention.
- White poop – this usually suggests bile duct obstruction. If it continues, you should see a physician.
- Red poop – if you’ve been eating berries or beets, this is probably the explanation. If you haven’t, red poop usually indicates the presence of blood and this could be serious, so you should seek medical help.
- Floating poop – this isn’t a color, but it’s a different kind of poop that probably just means there’s trapped gas. If this happens occasionally it’s no cause for concern, but if you keep passing ‘floaters’ it could indicate that your body is not effectively absorbing fats and oils.
The smell of your poop could be telling a story
Depending on your diet, the smell of your poop will change. Ideally, humans are designed to be herbivores, but have been carnivores for centuries. Your digestive system is not optimally designed to process meat, so sometimes your poop might smell really bad when meat has passed slowly through your digestive system and has almost ‘rotted’ inside of you. This is why vegetarians have poop that smells much less pungent than that of meat-eaters.
Generally, you shouldn’t be too perturbed about the smell of your poop as this is, after all, a waste product containing eliminated toxins and bacteria. However, if the odor becomes particularly foul this could be a sign that something serious is happening in your gut and consulting a physician might be necessary.
Is there a normal ‘pooping schedule’?
Many people are concerned if they miss a day without a bowel movement, but actually some very healthy people poop only every second day. If you go three days without needing to poop, this would indicate a problem, while if you need to poop three or more times a day, this is also not normal.
You’ll establish what your own normal rhythm is, so don’t be too alarmed. Some people even poop at specific times of the day, while others are not that regular in their habits. Some feel that pooping more than once a day is ideal as you’re getting rid of waste, but this isn’t true for everyone.
Your digestive process is definitely influenced by your stress levels. The gastrointestinal tract is lined with the same serotonin receptors that are found in the brain, which means that your brain and your gut actually have a very close relationship. When you’re particularly tense, your gut wall can constrict, which causes constipation. Other people have a gut that works overtime when they’re nervous, leading to diarrhea. Something like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) has been definitively linked to ongoing, high levels of stress.
Your diet also plays a big part in your pooping schedule. Cheese and other dairy products are known to slow your digestive system, as will foods that are hard to digest, like steak. Alcohol and coffee, on the other hand, can cause you to poop more often.
Red flags when it comes to poop
- Regularity of pooping is important, but so is the experience of passing a stool. If you have pain or you find that you’re having to strain unnecessarily, this is a clear sign of an impacted poop that has been in your colon for some time.
- If there’s blood in your poop, you should consult a physician
- A healthy poop shouldn’t break up into multiple pieces
- Pooping too little or too frequently (several times a day) should also receive attention
- On-going diarrhea is definitely a sign of a health issue, which could indicate that you have a food sensitivity (for example, to gluten or dairy) or a number of other conditions such as ulcerative colitis or leaky gut.
Solving gut problems – dos and don’ts
- Work on your stress levels – try to get a good night’s sleep and even try meditation if this helps to calm you.
- Eat fiber-rich foods – fiber is a binding agent that facilitates the whole digestive process. Foods like meat and refined carbohydrates are not good sources of fiber, while whole foods, such as fruit and vegetables, are much kinder to your gut. Pay attention to what you eat, as you may find that some foods are more digestible than others. This way you can mindfully modify your diet.
- Avoid alcohol and caffeine – both of these dehydrate the colon, which causes digestive problems. Try not to drink either if you’re having issues with your gut.
- Drink a lot of water – dehydration is a major cause of gut problems and caffeine and alcohol make the situation worse. You should try to drink water regularly throughout the day, aiming for at least 8 glasses for maximum hydration. If you’re being very disciplined about having fiber in your diet, keeping yourself hydrated is even more important as fiber swells in your gut and needs water for optimum absorption. Fiber minus sufficient water is a major reason for bloating.
- Look after your liver – bile is essential to digest the fats in your gut. With insufficient bile, your system can back up quickly and constipation can result. A regular liver cleanse is a good idea.
- Maintain your probiotics – a healthy gut is like a garden filled with micro-organisms, consisting of good and bad bacteria. If you’ve been taking antibiotics, you’ll destroy the good bacteria along with the bad, and this will seriously impact your digestion. Taking probiotic supplements will help keep your gut healthy and functioning well. There are also foods rich in probiotics such as kimchi, sauerkraut, and high quality yogurts.
- Harsh laxatives are not the answer to constipation – they may even exacerbate the problem. Rather improve your diet and drink more water as a first step.
- Foods that contribute to inflammation are really bad for your gut, and should be avoided. Sugar is a major problem when it comes to good digestion as refined sugars actually destroy the healthy bacteria in your gut, while promoting growth of the ‘bad’ bacteria. This often leads to autoimmune disease and leaky gut syndrome. Dairy and gluten can also be harmful to many people’s guts, and there may be certain foods that are uniquely bad for you if you have an allergenic reaction to them.
- Don’t be a couch potato – exercise is crucial for health, so keep moving as much as possible. Not only will this aid your digestion, it could also stave off dementia and Alzheimer’s. In fact, health practitioners are increasingly adamant that even 10 minutes of exercise a day will have a remarkably positive effect on your health.
In general, your gut is so important that some physicians refer to it as ‘your second brain’. The well-being of nearly every part of your body is influenced by the health of your gut, so it’s never been more important to pay attention to your diet and to take good care of your digestion. Follow these steps, be aware of your poop, and you’ll find that you’ll quickly be able to greatly improve your overall health.
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