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Everyone excretes bodily waste through what is called pooping, but nobody feels very comfortable talking about it. This hesitation can keep important information about your health that can be derived from the appearance of your poop (also called stool and feces). Poop gives a lot of insightful clues about your well-being and overall fitness.
Just by looking at your poop, experts can tell if you’re consuming enough fiber and whether you’re hydrated enough. Any small or big change in your poop appearance or bowel habits can signify a medical condition that can be controlled via proper management and timely interventions.
In this article, you will learn why talking about your poop and sharing details of your poop health is important health-wise. Poop is nothing but some undigested food that comes out of your body with bacteria, salts, and other substances produced by your digestive system. Everyone has a specific and different type of poop shape and smell, and there are a few ways of knowing whether your poop is unhealthy. (1)(2)
How to Know If You Are Healthy by Looking at Your Poop
The next time you go to the bathroom to do a number two, make sure you look at your poop and try to know whether your poop is healthy or not. According to experts, the typical frequency of bowel movements is no more than three times per day and no less than three times per week. (2)
The appearance of your stool may vary daily, depending on factors such as your diet, fluid consumption, and overall well-being. Here are some general characteristics of a healthy poop:
1. Poop size
According to experts, a typical stool length should be a few inches long, generally ranging from 4 inches to 8 inches. An extremely small stool size is generally not indicative of good health. While pellet-like stools are commonly observed in wild animals, they are not considered normal for humans. (3)(4)
2. Poop shape
The ideal form for a healthy stool is cylindrical, as it passes through a tubular system in the digestive tract. Any deviation from this log-like or cylindrical shape may indicate an underlying digestive issue or an unhealthy condition in the body. (5)
3. Poop consistency
The consistency of your stool can also be an indicator of your overall health. Ideally, your stool should neither be excessively soft nor excessively hard.
You can assess the consistency of your stool without direct physical contact by observing whether it has a well-formed cylindrical shape. If the stool passes easily without difficulty, it suggests that it was not excessively hardened. (6)
4. Poop color
According to experts, the typical color of stool is brown, which may range from light to dark shades of brown. This distinctive color is the result of the pigments derived from bile.
Bile is a yellowish-green fluid produced by the liver and stored in the gallbladder, and it is eventually mixed with intestinal juices and food during digestion. This process culminates in the production of brown-colored stools.
Moreover, your poop color is a reflection of what you have eaten. The food you eat, the beverages you drink, and sometimes even the medicines you take can influence your poop color.
Other than brown, here are other poop colors and what they mean:
a. Black poop
If you are taking iron supplements or bismuth medication, you may end up having black-colored poop. Black poop can also indicate intestinal bleeding in the gastric tract. Anytime you observe that your poop is black, seek medical advice as internal bleeding can be incredibly dangerous. (7)
b. Green poop
It is generally considered normal for stool to have a slight green tinge, which can be caused by the consumption of excessive amounts of green vegetables or incomplete digestion. (8)
A vivid and bright-green stool may be caused by the consumption of food containing artificial coloring agents, such as those in some beverages and frosting.
c. Red poop
Foods that have a red color can cause your poop to turn red as well, such as cranberries, tomatoes, and beetroot. However, it can also be due to bleeding in the colon, which is a sign of colon cancer. Although the presence of red stool can be a cause for concern, it can sometimes be attributed to conditions such as hemorrhoids or anal fissures.
Individuals with hemorrhoids may experience painless rectal bleeding, where bright-red blood may be visible on the stool after a bowel movement or on toilet paper. Fortunately, straightforward surgical techniques are now available for these conditions, which can be explained in detail by a qualified surgeon.
Digestive issues can also cause red poop. If you see tiny red spots on your poop and don’t recall eating anything red, then you may want to get medical attention. (9)
d. Yellow or white poop
A pale-yellow color in your stool may indicate a high intake of fatty foods, resulting in a strong, greasy odor. It may also be due to malabsorption, where the body is unable to effectively absorb nutrients, leading to incomplete digestion. (10)(11)
A very pale and chalky stool may indicate an underlying issue. The lack of color could signify that the body is not producing enough bile juice or that the bile duct is blocked. It may also suggest the presence of an infection. Some medications can also cause this effect. It is best to consult a doctor if you notice pale or white stools. (12)
5. Poop timing
Usually, pooping is a morning activity after your body has had an entire night to digest and process the food you ate. But remember, this does not mean that a bowel movement at any other time of the day is a bad sign. Some people can poop multiple times a day and that is fine too. (13)
6. Poop smell
Based on research, the smell of normal poop is generally described as a slightly unpleasant odor that is not overpowering. However, if an individual has a gastrointestinal disorder, the smell of their stool can be different and more pungent.
Research data suggest that the headspace volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in stool samples can be used to diagnose gastrointestinal illnesses, including inflammatory bowel disease and colorectal cancer.
By analyzing the VOCs present in fecal headspace, doctors can detect abnormalities and make an accurate diagnosis, which can help in the timely and effective treatment of the disorder. Thus, changes in the odor of stool can be an indication of underlying health issues, and it is recommended to consult a doctor if there is a persistent change in stool smell. (14)
Characterize Your Poop
If you have problems pooping, it is important to be able to talk about it with your doctor and care providers.
Don’t worry if you have trouble explaining to your doctor your stool issues, appearance, and type; there’s a scale that classifies poop into seven categories and is used by doctors. It is known as the Bristol stool chart. (15)(16)
This chart describes bowel movements based on their shape, texture, and consistency.
Here are the seven stool categories according to the Bristol stool chart:
This type of stool is small and round. The pellet-like stools are hard to excrete out and require much squeezing even though they look like marbles and berries.
Such poop type may be caused by constipation. The stool remains in the digestive tract for longer durations than usual and, hence, is hard to pass out.
It is can be due to a sedentary lifestyle, a lack of fiber in the diet, and dehydration. Other reasons can be hormonal imbalances caused by pregnancy or diabetes.
This type of stool is the healthiest of all poop types. The poop resembles a log or cylinder. It can be sometimes hard to pass out due to mild constipation caused by a lack of physical activity and hormonal changes.
This kind of poop is also cylindrical but with a few cracks on the poop surface. It is bumpy, resembling an ear of corn. It is easy to pass out and is considered normal and healthy as well.
This type of stool is also characterized by a cylindrical log-shaped poop that has a smooth surface unlike type 3. It passes out easily without much effort and flushes down without breaking. It is also considered to be healthy and normal.
The type 5 stools are soft blobs with proper edges. They are small but easy to push out unlike type 1. This type of poop points toward a diet lacking enough fiber.
Type 6 stools are blob-like pieces that have ragged edges and look almost like slurry. They are considered pointers of mild diarrhea. They are due to illness, disease, or an unhealthy diet. They can also be a side effect of various medicines.
Diarrhea causes your body to not have enough nutrients and experience excessive fluid loss. In such a condition, it is important you stay hydrated and consume electrolyte solutions.
In this category, the poop is basically fluid with no solid pieces, and it simply means you have diarrhea. It can be caused by food poisoning and other medical conditions. They can also signify intolerance to a particular category of food.
Additional Tips for Good Digestive Health
Experts claim that establishing a healthy toileting routine is crucial for good digestive health.
It is recommended to sit on the toilet 20–30 minutes after each meal and before bed, ensuring that the feet are in a flat and firm position with the knees above the hips. To achieve this, a box or stool can be used for support.
Making the experience enjoyable and relaxing can help facilitate bowel movements. You can incorporate toys, games, or books to make the process more pleasant. Ignoring the urge to poop can lead to constipation and other digestive problems, so it is important to listen to your body’s signals and respond accordingly.
Doctor’s Recommendation Regarding Screening Tests for Poop
Your doctor may ask for a stool examination, particularly for fecal occult blood (FOB). Fecal occult blood refers to the presence of blood in the stool due to bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract.
A small amount of blood may not alter the appearance of stool, which is why the test is a useful screening tool when clinical symptoms are present. Before taking the test, it is typically advised to prepare by taking certain measures.
These include stopping the use of medications such as aspirin, iron, indomethacin, or corticosteroids for at least 3 days before the test and avoiding foods such as raw or red meat, broccoli, cauliflower, radish, and turnips for 3 days before the test to obtain accurate results.
Patients are also advised not to brush their teeth for 3 days before the test, and the stool should be analyzed no later than 8–12 hours after defecation. When the stool is to be tested for protozoa, it should be analyzed quickly after defecation. (17)
When to See a Doctor
Experts say that if you experience any of the following symptoms along with blood in your stools, it is important to seek medical attention immediately:
- Anorexia and weight loss
- Pain that wakes you up from sleep
- Blood in urine
- Abdominal mass or enlargement of organs
How long should it normally take to poop?
Pooping can take a few minutes. However, if you take more than 20 minutes to poop or if your bowel movements are strenuous and cause a lot of pain, you may have constipation and you should go see a doctor. (18)
How often should I poop?
Having a bowel movement once a day is normal. However, pooping thrice a day to even three times a week is also considered healthy. (18)
Should my poop sink or float?
Generally, the poop will sink, but poop that floats is nothing to worry about. Stool floats because of excessive gas produced when eating beans or candies. What is worrisome is the floating stools also have a very bad stinky smell as they can hint toward an infection, digestive issue, or food intolerance. (19)
Your poop can provide a huge understanding and knowledge about your health and wellness. So, the next time you sit or, even better, squat to poop, make sure you look inside the toilet bowl to check if your poop is healthy or indicates a health problem.