We all poop. Most of us every day, and some of us at the same time every day, like clockwork. Some of us take our time in the bathroom, choosing to read and relax a bit, catch up on some texts or email. Others like to get in and out as quickly as possible. Most are familiar with the foul odor of a “number two,” but how many of us actually take the time to look at what ends up in the toilet before we flush?
Truth be told, there is difference between healthy and unhealthy poop. But unless we have a chronic digestive condition or food allergy, it is unlikely any of us would take notice of the condition of our bowel movements. But maybe we should. The frequency of bowel movements, the shape of poop, the color, and the smell are all indicators of digestive and overall health.
The Bristol Stool Chart, or Scale, was designed as a medical aid to assist us in determining what is going on with our bowels. According to the chart, there are seven different types of stool, ranging from severe constipation to severe diarrhea.
Stool types 3 and 4 indicate what a healthy stool should look like, which is sausage or snake shape. Normal poop is generally medium to dark brown, has a very strong odor, and is easy to pass. No pain should be experienced during a normal bowel movement. And poop should be consistent each time: consistent color, smell, and frequency of movements.
The other four types of stool on the Bristol Stool Chart represent unhealthy poop, from lumpy to liquid, constipation to diarrhea. Signs of abnormal poop include pain during a bowel movement; blood in the stool; bleeding while passing the stool; pooping more than three times a day or pooping fewer than three times a week; and stool that is red, black, green, yellow, or white.
Many things can cause an abnormal stool. Stress is probably the most common issue affecting our gut and digestion, which, in turn, affect our bowel movements. Stress can cause either constipation or diarrhea. It can cause conditions, such as leaky gut and heartburn, but it can also trigger chronic conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome.
An inconsistent diet can also cause fluctuations in our stools. Dehydration, as well as not eating enough fiber, can cause constipation. Food allergies and food intolerances can also be the source of abnormal poop. Most food allergies and food intolerances have common, non-specific digestive symptoms associated with them that lead to either constipation or diarrhea. For instance, after consuming lactose (the sugar found in milk), those with lactose intolerance experience gas, bloating, and abdominal pain, which can result in either constipation or diarrhea.
In some cases, an abnormal stool can be an indicator of a very serious health condition. Diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, cancer, and hyperthyroidism can affect the condition of the stool. If changes to a stool persist for two weeks, it’s time to seek medical attention. Additionally, a stool that is red or black or that looks like coffee grounds could mean we have some sort of internal blood loss. When you see this in your toilet, seek immediate medical attention to avoid a more serious medical complication.
Several things can be done to ensure we have healthy stool. It all starts with what we put in our mouths. Be sure to drink plenty of water and eat lots of fiber. And don’t forget to exercise, which helps to move everything through the system.