The Scoop on Poop!
What’s Bad, What’s Good and What’s
Too Embarrassing to Mention (But You Probably Should)?
Even though we all do it, pooping is one topic that most people would rather NOT discuss — even with their doctor. Yet, your bowel habits — from the frequency to the shape and color of your poop — can give you invaluable clues about what’s going on inside your body. You may find it crude, embarrassing or just plain gross, but the truth is that from a health standpoint your poop is not something to be ignored.
Been awhile since you’ve discussed your bathroom habits with your doctor? You could be missing some important clues to your health.
Dr. Oz on Poop: “S Shaped” is Best
You may have seen Dr. Mehmet Oz’s appearance on the Oprah show several years back during which he talked all about poop. According to Dr. Oz, your bowel movements should be “S shaped” and hit your toilet with a “swoosh” sound. Pellet-like poop that plops into the water is a sign of constipation.
Dr. Oz shares on Oprah.com:
“It[Poop] should be an S shape and you want to make sure the color’s normal because the color of the poop tells you a lot about how you made it. You don’t want [pieces]. Food is a medicine for you. It helps you.
[If the stool is in pieces] by the time you finished digesting your food, you don’t have enough of it left to poop out in the right way and probably it’s hurt the colon that has to process it. At the end of the day you can analyze your body really effectively by looking at what comes out of your body.”
Looking for an “S shape” as opposed to pellets is one sign you can look for in your stools, but there are many others as well.
Signs of Healthy Vs. Unhealthy Poop
There is a wide variation in what’s considered “normal” when it comes to bowel habits. In fact, healthy people can have anywhere from three bowel movements a day to three a week and still be considered within the “normal” range, according to the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA).
As for what it should look like, Dr. Oz believes it should be an S-shape. Other expert opinions vary and suggest healthy stool should be the shape of a banana (with tapered ends), formed but soft enough that it’s easy to pass, and brown or golden brown in color.
Other signs your stool is healthy include little to no odor, all in one piece and it should sink to the bottom of the toilet slowly.
Signs that something is amiss include:
- More than three days pass between bowel movements
- Difficulty or pain when passing a stool
- Changes in the consistency, volume or appearance of your stool
- Abdominal pain
- Blood, mucus or pus in your stool
7 Stool Signs You Need to be Aware Of …
More specifically, here are seven stool signs to watch out for:
- Undigested food: A healthy stool should be relatively smooth, with no pieces of undigested food. If you notice undigested food, it could mean you have insufficient HCL and/or pepsin production, or that you’re not chewing your food thoroughly enough. At times you’ll also notice bits of high-fiber vegetables that may move through your digestive tract intact, and this is generally not a cause for concern.
- Mucus in/on stool: A little bit of mucus is usually normal, but an increased amount can be a sign of inflammation in your intestines, bacterial overgrowth or food allergies. It can also be a sign of ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, celiac disease or diverticulitis.
- Loose, watery stool/diarrhea: Loose stool can be due to an intestinal irritation, a viral infection or eating or drinking water contaminated with bacteria or parasites. Loose stool may also be a sign of a medical condition like inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease, lactose intolerance or malabsorption. Medications, including antibiotics, laxatives and chemotherapy, can also cause loose stools.
Ongoing diarrhea that does not resolve on its own in a few days warrants a trip to see your physician.
In some cases, especially if you’ve recently been in a hospital or taken antibiotics, diarrhea can be caused by a dangerous superbug called Clostridium Difficile (C. diff). Symptoms include watery diarrhea that occurs three or more times a day for two or more days along with mild abdominal cramping and tenderness.
- Hard stool (constipation): According to AGA, “As a rule, if more than three days pass without a bowel movement, the intestinal contents may harden and a person may have difficulty or even pain during elimination. Stool may harden and be painful to pass, however, even after shorter intervals between bowel movements.”
Generally, if you have chronic or moderate constipation your stool will be small, round and hard.
Lack of fiber in your diet and not drinking enough water are two common causes of hard stools. Generally, you can make your bowel movements more regular by eating a well-balanced diet (including plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, drinking plenty of water, exercising regularly and always taking time to use the bathroom when you feel the urge.
- Floating stool: If you’re not properly absorbing fats from the foods you eat, your stool may float, and also be yellowish in color and greasy. Malabsorption of fats can be caused by celiac disease and also by eating Olestra, a synthetic fat substitute used in crackers and potato chips, marketed under the brand name Olean.
- Ribbon-like or pencil-thin stool: Very thin stools can result from spastic bowel, rectal narrowing or stricture or partial obstruction due to uterus malposition, polyp, prostate enlargement, colon or prostate cancer or tumor. See your doctor to determine the underlying cause.
- Extremely smelly: Stool with a particularly offensive odor may be the result of nutrient malabsorption, food decay or dysbiosis, which is an imbalance in your intestinal flora that can lead to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and leaky gut syndrome.
Before you flush take a look at your bowel movement and get to know what’s normal — and what’s not — for you.
What About Color?
The color of your poop can also reveal clues about your health. Under normal circumstances, billirubin, a breakdown product of red blood cells, makes your poop brown. But changes in the speed at which your food is digested, health conditions and your intake of certain foods and medications can also impact the color of your stool.
- Bright or Dark Red: Bright red or dark red stool can be a sign of bleeding in the rectum, stomach or duodenum, or may indicate colon cancer. Blood on the outside of your stool is typical of hemorrhoids. If you see blood in/on your stool, or in your toilet bowl, contact your health care provider immediately to determine the cause. Red stools can also be caused by eating lots of beets or foods with red food coloring, like fruit punch or popsicles.
- Yellow: A yellow stool can result from a lack of intestinal flora (such as occurs after antibiotic use) or may be a sign that food is passing through your digestive tract quickly (such as occurs in gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD). Yellow stool can also be due to irritation of the small intestine or a bacterial infection.
- Very Dark or Black: Bleeding in the upper digestive tract due to ulcer, Crohn’s disease, colitis, cancer and other causes can lead to a dark or black stool. Certain foods and medications, such as iron, activated charcoal, aspirin and NSAIDs (which can cause stomach bleeding), Pepto-Bismol, and even black licorice, can also cause black stools.
- Green: Green stool may mean that food is moving too quickly through your large intestine, according to Michael Picco, M.D., Mayo Clinic gastroenterologist. It can also be due to eating lots of green leafy vegetables, foods with green food coloring or taking iron supplements.
- White/Tan/Clay-Colored: This is typically due to a lack of bile in the stool, according to Dr. Picco, possibly due to gallbladder problems or a bile duct obstruction. Pepto-Bismol and anti-diarrhea drugs may also cause this, but you should see your doctor to rule out a more serious problem, including liver infections, gallstones, cysts, tumors and more.
When to Wait and When to See Your Doctor?
An occasional bout of diarrhea or constipation can be considered completely normal, assuming it resolves on its own in just a few days.
However, ongoing, unexplained or unusual changes in the frequency, texture, color, shape, size, or odor of your stool should be discussed with your doctor — and, if your stool is white (or very light-colored), bright red or black, or accompanied with abdominal pain, you should see your doctor immediately.
Remember, your stool gives you a window of sorts into what’s going on inside your body. It’s a good idea to regularly monitor your bowel movements so you learn what’s normal for you and can discuss any unusual changes with your health care practitioner.
MayoClinic.com “Stool Color: When to Worry”
American Gastroenterological Association “Understanding Constipation”
MedicineNet.com “Stool Color & Texture Changes”
About.com “Stool — Healthy and Unhealthy Stool”
MSN Health & Fitness “What Your Bowel Movements are Telling You About Your Health”