The more you know about what lands in the toilet, the more you can tell whether or not it’s normal (and if not, what to do about it).
Maybe it’s not an absolute thrill to discuss, but poop matters, as anyone with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can tell you. The more you know about what lands in the toilet, the more you can tell whether or not it’s normal (and if not, what to do about it). Better, quicker treatment could mean lower pain levels, less bloating, and fewer symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome overall.
So what is a normal, healthy poop like?
There are different types of poop, and some variation is to be expected. A regular, normal stool is smooth, long and cylindrical with some flexibility, kind of like a stuffed tube sock. On the widely accepted Bristol Stool Scale, a healthy bowel movement would score a 4. When it’s functioning well, your digestion moves food through the digestive system at an even pace, giving your body time to extract nutrients. Peristalsis, involuntary contractions of the gastrointestinal muscles, is what moves your food along. When this happens as it’s supposed to, the waste products your body is excreting emerge in a smooth, evenly-compacted mass that usually measures between four and eight inches long.
Poop that scores in the 1-3 range tends to be hard, dry, or lumpy, coming out in little blobs or chunks that are shorter than four inches and often have cracked surfaces. That consistency indicates constipation, meaning food moves so slowly through your gut it loses much of its water content. More fiber, plenty of water, and regular exercise can help with constipation. If most of your bowel movements are hard and pebbly, if it’s tough for you to poop, or if you defecate less than three times a week, you may have IBS-C.
If, on the other hand, your poop is more like a Bristol 5 to 7, it’s looser and more watery, ranging from mushy to outright diarrhea. That’s the sign of food that moves through your gut so fast your body doesn’t get a chance to digest it fully. Loose feces and diarrhea might be happening due to food allergies or sensitivities, to a previous or ongoing infection, to imbalances in your gut bacteria, or to involuntary, IBS-related contractions in the intestines that speed food through the digestive tract. If most of your bowel movements are loose, you might have IBS-D.
Though it’s good to eat fruits and vegetables that come in a rainbow of colors, what comes out the other end is usually just plain brown, ranging from light tan to a dark coffee color. Poop is brown because your liver breaks down old red blood cells to make a substance called bilirubin, which is then mixed with bile and excreted into the intestine during digestion.
If your stool color veers away from brown, you’ll want to consider what might explain the color change.
Certain foods, medications, infections, or medical conditions can change the color of your stool. These are often temporary changes or side effects that aren’t very significant, but it’s still worth keeping an eye on your toilet bowl.
If your poop is normal, it probably sinks. When stool contains a lot of fat or isn’t fully digested, it might float. When it consists more of the usual contents, which include fiber, shed bacteria, mucus, cast-off cells, and water, it’s more likely to head toward the bottom of the bowl.
If you notice pieces of corn or other undigested plant matter in your poop, that’s usually not a cause for concern, since your body doesn’t digest certain fibers and other food substances.
A single bowel movement can generally weigh up to about a third of a pound, or about the same as a banana. It’s within the normal range to have a bowel movement every one to three days. Stress or changes in your routine mean you may not go for a while, but that’s not abnormal.
We get it: poop stinks! But poop that smells particularly odiferous could signal an infection, such as giardia, or an imbalance in the microflora of your gut. Pungent poop is also associated with celiac disease, Crohn’s, and a few other conditions. In these cases, your poop may smell a little putrid, like rot.
Certain allergies, lactose intolerance, meat, cruciferous vegetables (broccoli and cauliflower, among others), and highly processed foods are linked to foul-smelling poop, too. As a rule of thumb, see if cutting out the suspect food type decreases the smell. If your poop keeps smelling unusually bad, consider visiting your physician.
In general, things that change your normal gastrointestinal bacteria colonies can change how your poop smells, too. These might be stressful situations, a course of antibiotics, or an illness. Usually, your poop returns to its usual smell in a few days.
If you’re regular, as they say, you’ll probably notice that you poop around the same time every day, or that your bowel movements follow the same general schedule. Some gassiness and bloating is normal, but abdominal pain, extreme gassiness, persistent bloating, constipation, diarrhea, or unusual bowel movements could be symptoms of IBS, of trouble absorbing your food normally (malabsorption) or other conditions.
Solid health habits like regular exercise and a balanced eating strategy that features mostly fruits and vegetables, such as the Mediterranean plan or, if you have IBS, a low FODMAP eating plan, can help you have regular, normal poops. Remember to check the toilet every once in a while and try to aim for Bristol Stool Chart #4s.
If your gut doesn’t seem to want to settle down, try exercises like stretches, yoga, or Pilates, which can help settle your gastrointestinal system. Even long walks can help. You may also want to explore some mind-body exercises like deep breathing.
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Get immediate access to a coordinated Salvo Health care team, including a certified gastro specialist and board-certified health coach when you join Salvo Health today.