Excreting waste is a normal part of the digestive process. Poop is basically undigested food, protein, bacteria, salts, and other substances that are produced and released by the intestines. While this may not be a very pleasant topic, what your poop looks like can reveal a lot about your health.
Let us learn more about what is healthy poop, what normal poop should look like and how to ensure healthy bowels.
What is normal and healthy poop like?
Healthy poop can vary in color and texture, but there are a few basic rules that you can use to assess poop. Normal poop is generally:
- Medium to dark brown: Poop contains a pigment known as bilirubin, which is formed when the red blood cells break down.
- Strong-smelling: Poop contains bacteria which emit gases that contain the unpleasant odor that is associated with poop.
- Log-like shape: The log-like shape of the poop is due to the shape of the intestines. Poop that is passed out in one single or smaller pieces that are a couple of inches long is considered healthy. It shouldn’t come out in small pellets.
- Pain-free: Healthy bowel movement is comfortable and easy to pass. It is painless and requires minimal strain.
- Passed every other day to three times a day: A person with a healthy digestive system can pass stool up to three times a day or every other day. A person should pass stool at least three times a week, anything less could suggest constipation.
- Takes a minute: Healthy poop should take only a minute to push out, though some people take a little longer on the toilet. However, poop should not take more than 10 to 15 minutes.
- Consistent: Healthy poop can vary from person to person. However, if there is any change in the frequency, color or firmness in the poop, it can indicate a health problem.
What is Bristol stool chart?
In 1998, Stephen Lewis and Ken Heaton from the University of Bristol developed a seven-point stool form scale. The scale was designed to classify how poop looks depending on the time it takes for the poop to form or its transit time.
This chart helps the patients of gastrointestinal symptoms to describe their poop to the doctor without having to provide samples.
The chart divides stool into seven different types. Abnormal poop falls into type 1,2, 6 and 7, while type 3, 4, and 5 are considered healthy.
According to the Bristol Stool Chart, the seven different types of stool are (1):
Type 1: Separate hard lumps, like nuts, hard to pass (very constipated)
Type 2: Sausage-shaped but lumpy (slightly constipated)
Type 3: Like a sausage but with cracks on the surface (normal)
Type 4: Like a sausage or snake, smooth and soft (normal)
Type 5: Soft blobs with clear cut edges, passed easily (lacking fiber)
Type 6: Fluffy pieces with ragged edges, a mushy stool (inflammation)
Type 7: Watery, no solid pieces, entirely liquid (inflammation and diarrhea)
What does a person’s poop color indicate?
The color of the poop is determined by what we eat and the number of bile enzymes we produce. The color of normal poop should be between medium to dark brown. Some greenish-brown hues are also considered normal. However, if your poop is yellow, red, black, grey or white, it can indicate that not all is well
Iron supplements, bismuth medications (Pepto-Bismol), or licorice can cause black poop. However, if you have not consumed any such substances, black poop could indicate gastrointestinal bleeding.
Green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale, vegetable juices, pistachios, iron supplements and foods that contain green food coloring can give you green poop.
However, if you haven’t eaten any such food recently green poop might mean that your food is making its way through the digestive system too quickly. In such situations, the poop doesn’t pick up much bilirubin and has more bile in it.
White or grey
If your poop is white or grey, it indicates that your poop lacks bile. Bile is a fluid that comes from the liver and gallbladder. So white poop means there is an issue to your gall bladder or liver.
White poop can also be a side-effect of some anti-diarrhea medicines.
If your poop is yellow, greasy and stinky, it is a sign of too much fat. This may be caused by a malabsorption disorder like celiac disease. It can also be the result of the difficulty in producing enzymes or bile.
Orange poop is the result of consuming foods that are rich in beta-carotene like carrots, sweet potatoes, and winter squash. Blocked bile ducts, antacids and antibiotics like rifampin can also cause orange stools.
Foods like beetroot, cranberry, tomato juice, and red gelatine can turn poop red. Red poop can also be a result of hemorrhoids or bleeding in the lower gastrointestinal tract.
What does poop smell indicate?
Poop usually has an unpleasant smell. Poop smells because of the toxins that it is drawing out of the body and the bacteria present in the colon.
However, foul-smelling stool can also indicate a health problem. Flatulence, diarrhea and bloating can also occur with foul smelling poop. Some of the causes of foul-smelling poop include:
Malabsorption occurs when your body is not able to absorb the nutrients from the food you eat. This generally happens when there is an infection or a disease.
Celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, carbohydrate or protein intolerance and food allergies can cause malabsorption.
Eating food contaminated with E. Coli, salmonella, viruses and parasites can lead to the inflammation of the stomach and intestines. When you develop this infection, you may experience foul-smelling runny stools and abdominal cramps.
3. Medications and supplements
Antibiotics can alter your gastric flora, which may lead to foul-smelling stools. Specific over-the-counter multivitamins can cause an allergic reaction which can lead to foul-smelling stools.
Taking more than the recommended daily allowance of your vitamins and minerals can also cause smelly stools.
4. Other medical conditions
Certain other medical conditions like chronic pancreatitis, cystic fibrosis, and short bowel syndrome can also cause foul-smelling stools.
What causes abnormal poop?
There can be many causes for abnormal poop. These include:
According to the World Journal of Gastroenterology, psychological stress is an important factor in the development of irritable bowel syndrome.
According to clinical and experimental studies, mental stress can have a marked impact on intestinal sensitivity, secretion, motility, and permeability, and the underlying mechanism has a close correlation with mucosal immune activation, alterations in the central nervous system, peripheral neurons and gastrointestinal microbiota (2).
In some people, it can lead to diarrhea, and in others, stress can cause constipation.
Dehydration is a common cause of constipation. If you do not have enough water in your body, the large intestine soaks up water from the food waste, which makes the stools hard and difficult to pass.
Not drinking enough water, and taking too much caffeine and alcohol can contribute to constipation. So watch the amount of fluid you drink and have more water when your exercise and during hot weather.
3. Lack of dietary fiber
Fiber is the binding factor that gives the stool its form and helps it move smoothly through the digestive tract. Both soluble and insoluble dietary fibers are essential for creating healthy stools.
Processed foods, refined carbs, meat, and cheese are low in fiber. Consume more fiber-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains and pulses for a healthy digestive system.
4. Food intolerances and allergies
Food intolerances and allergies can mess up with the digestive system and lead to diarrhea and constipation. Some of the common culprits are:
- Cow milk, cheese, and yogurt that is not organic or pasteurized.
- Gluten (found in all wheat products and anything containing rye and barley)
- Processed soy foods like soy milk, soy meat, and packaged veggie burgers
- High amounts of sugar
- Certain nuts, grains, and shellfish
5. Hormonal changes
Changes in hormones during the menstrual cycle and pregnancy can lead to constipation, IBS and other digestive issues in women.
6. Medical conditions
Certain medical conditions can cause constipation, diarrhea and other stool abnormalities. These conditions include liver or gall bladder disease, gut parasites, cancer, overactive thyroid, IBD, Parkinson’s disease and depression.
Ways to ensure healthy bowel function
1. Eat enough fiber
Not eating enough fiber can lead to constipation. Fiber adds bulk to the stool and acts as a natural laxative. Women should consume at least 25 grams of fiber per day, while men should consume 38 grams of fiber.
Women over 50 should consume 21 grams of fiber and men over 50 should consume 30 grams of fiber daily.
Green vegetables, fruits, and beans are some of the best sources of dietary fiber.
2. Stay hydrated
You should try to drink at least eight glasses of water a day. Drink more during hot weather or if you are exercising. Not drinking enough water when you consume high amounts of fiber can lead to bloating, gas, pain, and constipation.
3. Consume probiotics
Probiotics help maintain a healthy balance of good bacteria and harmful bacteria in the gut.
This keeps the digestive system healthy and prevents constipation or diarrhea. Yogurt, kimchi, kefir, sauerkraut, are some of the probiotic-rich food that you can add to your diet.
4. Magnesium supplements
Magnesium softens poop as it draws water from the gut into the stools and helps it move easily from the system. Magnesium is also a natural muscle relaxer, and it stops muscle cramping in the stomach and abdomen.
5. Support your liver
The liver plays an essential role in producing bile that digests fats. If enough bile is not generated, it can lead to constipation. So keep your liver healthy with proper diet and exercise.
Exercise encourages normal bowel function and alleviates constipation. It also helps in mental relaxation and reduces stress, which can also lead to digestive issues.
7. Reduce stress
Stress can lead to many digestive troubles. So, manage your stress levels with mediation, yoga, and deep breathing exercises.
What your poop looks like can tell a lot about your health. Normal poop is medium to dark brown, log-like in shape and strong smelling. Healthy bowel movement is comfortable and easy to pass.
If you notice any change in the frequency, color or firmness in the poop, it can indicate a health problem. Stress, dehydration, lack of fiber and food allergies can cause abnormal stools. Eating a fiber-rich diet, regular exercise, reducing stress and staying hydrated ensures healthy bowel function.