What Your Poop Says About Your Health
Everybody poops, but most of us don’t talk about it. And when it comes to your poop, everyone is different. Your stool is affected not only by what you eat, but also your sleep, water intake, hormones, exercise and medications.
You should pay attention to your bowel movements, because the consistency, color and frequency of your stool can tell you a lot about your digestive health.
When It Comes To Poop, What’s Normal?
The Bristol stool scale categorizes stool types into seven categories, based on texture and size:
· Type 1: Stool is pebble-like, made up of hard lumps like nuts
· Type 2: Lumpy and sausage-like, hard to pass
· Type 3: Firm, but with cracks on the surface
· Type 4: Like a sausage or snake, smooth and soft
· Type 5: Soft blobs with clear edges
· Type 6: Mushy, ragged edges, fluffy
· Type 7: Watery, no solid pieces, entirely liquid
Types 1 and 2 stools are considered constipation, while Types 6 and 7 are considered diarrhea. Stool Types 3 to 5 are considered ideal.
You should know what your normal is and take note of any changes in your stool color, consistency and frequency. This may be a warning sign that signals something is amiss with your digestive health or diet.
The color of your stool can vary daily, depending on what you’ve eaten and any medications you’ve taken. Sometimes, the color of your stool can be a sign that something is wrong, with potential issues including:
Brown. Brown is the most normal poop color — ranging from light brown to fairly dark brown. The liver breaks down red blood cells in the body and produces bile, which contains bilirubin (a pigment compound) and is responsible for the coloration.
Pale. This indicates a potential blockage in the bile duct obstructing the flow of bile into the lumen and mixing with stool so that it looks like clay, pale and colorless.
Black. If you haven’t taken Pepto Bismol (which can change your poop to black), a dark stool can indicate bleeding in your upper gastrointestinal tract that changes color as it moves through the intestines. This bleeding could be related to ulcers in the stomach or duodenum, cancer in the stomach or small intestine and overuse of medications like high-dose aspirin, ibuprofen or naproxen sodium that can erode the intestine. Black bowel movements also can be caused by high levels of iron intake.
Green. If you’ve been eating a lot of leafy green vegetables or foods with green food coloring, your stool may be greener than usual. Green stool can also be a sign of food poisoning. It may also mean that food is moving too quickly through your large intestine and is common in people with conditions like colitis and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Red. Before you panic about seeing red poop, think about what you’ve eaten or had to drink in the past 24 hours. Some foods — such as beets, tomatoes and food colorings— can cause red stools. If what you’ve consumed isn’t the culprit, red stools may mean hemorrhoids, a polyp, diverticulitis or sometimes can indicate colon cancer.
White. Some medications, like those containing barium, can cause pale stools. White stools may also indicate lack of bile, which is common in people with liver conditions leading to a blocked bile duct from strictures or cancer in the bile duct.
Yellow. Yellow stools that float may indicate that your body is having trouble digesting fats. If you have consistently yellow, greasy stools, this may be a sign of chronic pancreatitis due to a condition called exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI), in which the pancreas is not producing enzymes in enough quantities to digest fat.
You may occasionally notice your bowel movement floating on the surface of the water in the toilet bowl. This means the stool is less dense and is not always an indication that something is wrong. Sometimes it can be caused by an increased amount of gas, water or both.
If your stool is frequently floating, this can be a sign of malabsorption, meaning your body is not adequately absorbing nutrients from the foods you’re eating. Malabsorption is usually caused by celiac disease, lactose intolerance or pancreatitis.
People with celiac disease struggle to digest gluten (found in grains), and people with lactose intolerance have trouble digesting lactose (found in dairy products). With pancreatitis, the floating stool is caused by a lack of pancreatic enzymes during the digestive process.
Hard stools indicative of constipation can be because of inadequate water intake or excessive water loss from the body, medications or problems with colon movement. This could also be due to colon cancer or problems with the anal sphincter or the pelvic floor muscles.
Alternating constipation and diarrhea is worrisome and needs immediate attention to determine whether it’s caused by irritable bowel syndrome or potential colon cancer.
A healthy frequency of bowel movements can be anywhere from three times a day to three times a week. In western countries like the United States, many of us don’t get adequate fiber in our diets, so a large percentage of the American population doesn’t poop every day. In other places in the world with high dietary fiber intake, people may go once or even twice a day.
How To Improve Your Poop
There are ways to keep your bowel movements healthy, including:
● Eat a healthy, high-fiber diet. Foods rich in dietary fiber —beans, fruits, whole grains and vegetables to name a few — can help prevent constipation and improve digestion. If you need a little help increasing your fiber intake, dietary fiber supplements dissolved into water are a good over-the-counter solution.
● Exercise regularly. Exercise can help improve digestion and decrease the time it takes for food to move through the large intestine.
● Stay hydrated. Drinking two liters (or eight 8-ounce glasses) of water each day will help prevent constipation and keep your digestive system working as it should.
● Judicious use of medications. Some medications, especially pain relievers, may affect the movement and health of the colon and intestine, so only use them when you really need to.
When To See a Doctor About Your Poop
The occasional bout of constipation or green poop is generally not cause for concern. However, there are times when it’s important to speak with your doctor, particularly if you’ve experienced:
● Blood in your stool
● Changes in consistency or color
● Chronic diarrhea or chronic constipation
● Foul-smelling stools
Your doctor can help you determine the cause for your stool issues and work with you to come up with a treatment to restore your bowel health.
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