Most people avoid talking about their stool; however, keeping track of your bowel movements is important. The color, shape, and texture of your poop can help you understand how healthy your digestive system is. Any changes can be an indicator of an infection, a digestive problem, or a serious health problem.
Your poop is made up of a number of substances, including undigested food particles, bacteria, salts, proteins, and other wastes produced by the body. Everyone’s poop is unique in scent, size, and shape; however, there are several things that can indicate how healthy or unhealthy your digestive system is.
Types of Poop
Healthy poop is unique as you are; however, there are a few things you can look for to determine your digestive health. Let’s take a look at the things to look for when accessing your poop.
- Color – The color of your poop is the first thing to consider. Bilirubin gives your poo its distinct color. Bilirubin is a compound that forms when red blood cells break down in your body. This compound is then eliminated from the body in your waste.
- Consistency – The consistency of your poop should also be considered. Poo can range in consistency from soft to firm. Normal for you may be abnormal for someone else. Therefore, you should determine what is normal for you and if it sways from one way or the other, you may need to increase your water consumption or increase your fiber.
- Frequency – How often you have a bowel movement can help you determine the health of your digestive system. Bowel movement frequency can vary from person to person. Some people poop three times a day, while others poop three times a week.
- Shape – Your poop is formed in your intestines, which gives it its log shape. When your poop does not have a log or sausage shape, it can be an indication that something is going on inside your body.
- Size – Your bowel movement should be easy to pass, a couple of inches in length, and comfortable. If your poop is too large or hard, it can be a sign of a digestive issue.
- Time – Healthy bowel habits mean that you can poo relatively quickly. A healthy bowel movement should be easy to pass and should only take a minute or two to push out. As a general rule, a bowel movement should take no longer than 10 to 15 minutes.
What Affects Your Poop
There are numerous things that can impact the frequency, consistency, color, shape, and size of your bowel movements. Let’s consider how your diet, activity level, age, and health impact your bowel movements.
- Activity Level – Your activity level can impact your bowel movements. Activity helps move food through the digestive tract. Increasing your activity levels by walking, swimming, weight lifting, or any other type of exercise to help improve your digestive health.
- Age – As you age, your risk of constipation increases. In addition to this, age affects digestion, and gastric movement is reduced. Unfortunately as we age, out digestive system works slower and therefore our bowels may become slowed.
- Medications – The medications that you take can slow down your gut motility and alter the gut microbiome.
- Diet – The foods that you eat can affect your bowel movements. Eating a diet filled with whole grains, vegetables, and fruits increase your fiber consumption, which promotes healthy bowel movements. It is also important to drink least eight 8-ounce glasses of water each day to prevent dehydration and make your stools easier to pass.
- Health – Certain illnesses like inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, etc.) can cause periods of diarrhea along with periods of constipation. The stomach flu, bacterial infections, and pain medications can influence your poop.
Bowel Habits – When Should You See A Doctor?
If your bowel habits have changed, the first thing you should consider is your activity levels and your diet. It is natural for your bowel movement timing, consistency, color, etc. to change from time to time. If these changes last longer than one week or if you have any of the following symptoms, you should contact your digestive health specialist.
- Blood – Blood in your stool can be scary. It is important to realize that blood in your stool can be caused by numerous conditions. Gastrointestinal bleeding can be caused by inflammatory bowel disease, stomach ulcers, constipation, intestinal infections, hemorrhoids, and diverticulosis. Blood in your stool can appear as black poop, red poop, or your poop can have the consistency of coffee grounds.
- Reduced Bowel Movements – If you are unable to poo for longer than three days, it can be a sign of a health issue. First, try increasing the amount of fiber and fluids you consume for a day or two to see if this relieves your constipation. In addition to this, increase your physical activity, and drink hot liquids to see if they will promote a bowel movement. If these suggestions do not help, contact your doctor to discuss your bowel habits.
- Severe Abdominal Pain – If you are experiencing abdominal pain, it can be a sign of an underlying medical problem. For example, if you are experiencing upper right quadrant pain, it can be a sign of an inflamed gall bladder, pancreatitis, and kidney stones. Conversely, pain in the lower right quadrant can be a sign of appendicitis, intestinal gas, ovarian cysts, a kidney infection, or irritable bowel syndrome. Finally, if you have left side abdominal pain, it can indicate there is a problem in your colon. It can also be indicative of diverticulitis, a hernia, gas buildup, and pelvic inflammatory disease.
More About Your Poop
If your poop is hard, little lumps that are difficult to pass, or if your poop is log shaped, yet lumpy, it can be a sign that you are constipated. Normal poop is log or snake like and can have cracks or be smooth, depending on how hydrated you are. If your poop is soft, easy to pass, and made up of little lumps, it can be a sign that you need to increase the amount of fiber in your diet. Finally, diarrhea can cause your poop to be watery or fluffy in appearance. Increase your fiber consumption to help bulk up your stools and relieve your diarrhea.
The color of your poop can also help you determine how healthy your digestive system is. If your poop is brown or even a little green, you shouldn’t worry. If your poop is green, it can be a sign that your food is passing through your digestive system too quickly. Black stools can be caused by iron supplements, medications, or bleeding in the upper gastrointestinal tract. Pale or clay colored stool can be caused by a gall bladder issue or problems with fat digestion. Red poop can be caused by bleeding in the lower intestines or hemorrhoids. Finally, yellow poop can be caused by malabsorption, consuming too many fatty foods, or celiac disease.
How Can We Help?
Examining your daily bowel habits can provide you with a wealth of information about your health. If you notice anything out of the ordinary, don’t panic. However, you should keep an eye on your poop for the next few days. If your bowel movements do not return to normal, schedule an appointment with your functional medicine provider. Our digestive health experts love discussing your bowel habits in order to determine any underlying medical conditions. In addition, we may recommend lifestyle modifications or dietary changes to improve your digestive health.