Poop, the good old number two; everyone does it. It’s a healthy part of being a living animal, and it turns out it can tell you a lot about your body and how your body is reacting to your diet. The important things to consider when observing your stool (a scientific word for poo) are the color, shape, and ease of passage.
Stool color covers the spectrum, but only some colors are considered normal. The Puristat website agrees:
The color of your stool can tell you all sorts of things about the health of your digestive system, ranging from what you ate the previous night to having dangerous bleeding in your colon.
Gastroenterologist Michael F. Picco M.D. states that:
All shades of brown and even green are considered normal.
Only rarely does stool color indicate a potentially serious intestinal condition.
Stool color is generally influenced by what you eat as well as by the amount of bile — a yellow-green fluid that digests fats — in your stool. As bile pigments travel through your gastrointestinal tract, they are chemically altered by enzymes — changing the pigments from green to brown.
Both websites agree; brown and green are good colors for poo. Colors divergent from brown or green are a strong reason to go see the doctor. While some abnormal colors are more serious than others, all indicate a problem with the digestive tract. Black and any shade of red indicate bleeding within the system and lighter colors indicate a blockage of the bile duct or a lack of bile for some other reason.
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The shape of your poo is also important. The Bristol Stool Chart defines 7 different types of stool with descriptions. The Continance Foundation of Australia explains the chart saying:
Every person will have different bowel habits, but the important thing is that your stools are soft and easy to pass – like types 3 and 4 below.
- Type 1–2 indicate constipation
- Type 3–4 are ideal stools as they are easier to pass, and
- Type 5–7 may indicate diarrhoea and urgency.
I was strongly under the impression that a daily bowel movement was important for the digestive systems health. However, a helpful page on constipation and impaction, reviewed by the Harvard Medical School, informed me that:
Normally, people have bowel movements at fairly regular intervals, and stool passes out of the body easily without much straining or discomfort. Although the normal frequency of bowel movements varies from person to person, about 95% of healthy adults have a pattern that ranges from three times a day to three times a week.
The ease of passing a bowel movement can be affected by the amount of fiber, and fluids in a diet, or by the amount of exercise or medication in one’s life. For more information on how to keep normal, easy bowel movements head over to the Intelihealth page about constipation and impaction.
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Another factor that can also be an indication of a health problem is the smell of your stool. Stool is not a generally pleasant smelling byproduct, but if it starts to smell particularly foul for an extended period of time, consider the factors at hand. If there has been no change in your diet it might be time to see a doctor.
The New York Times- Looking Beyond Fiber to Stay ‘Regular’
Harvard Medical School Reviewed- Constipation and Impaction
Puristat- Understanding Bowel Movement Stool Color
Mayo Clinic- Stool Color: When to Worry
The Continance Foundation of Australia
Medline Plus- Stools Foul Smelling
Extra Reading for those Interested:
PLOS ONE- An In-Depth Analysis of a Piece of Shit: Distribution of Schistosoma mansoni and Hookworm Eggs in Human Stool
NDDIC- Gas in the Digestive Tract
io9- This scientific article about poop may have the best title in the history of peer-reviewed research (possibly NSFW figures)
The American Gastroenterological Association- Understanding Constipation: A Patient’s Guide from Your Doctor
National Institutes of Health- Let’s Talk About Bowel Control
Mayo Clinic- Frequent Bowel Movements