Keeping track of how your poop looks can be an effective way to monitor your digestive health. In the medical world, there is a lot of information available about how stool should look in someone with a healthy digestive tract, and about what common indicators of illness are.
Appearance is very important, but others things that can be monitored are consistency, shape, smell, frequency, size, color, et cetera. You should pay attention to sudden changes in your poop, as that often indicates that something is off in your gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Your poop can indicate simple things like whether or not you are getting enough fiber in your diet, and can also show signs of: bacterial imbalance in your gut, hemorrhoids, ulcers, parasites, cystic fibrosis, endometriosis, Celiac Disease, Crohn’s Disease, tumors, and cancer (especially colon cancer).
Stool is supposed to be brown, smooth, and easily passed. Both longer pieces and many smaller pieces are considered healthy, but they should not be very thick. If your stool is usually hard, thick, difficult to pass, watery, or extremely soft, then your digestive tract probably isn’t in optimal health.
Luckily for the general population, the Bristol Stool Form Scale exists. It lists the 7 main types of stool, shows which are normal and which are not, and identifies potential causes of the abnormal ones; it even comes with pictures. This scale was created by Bristol Royal Infirmary research scientists, and is available online.
Here are the 7 stool types:
1. Type 1 is very hard stool that is difficult or painful to pass and is broken up into many small pieces. The most likely cause of this type is a bacterial imbalance called acute disbacteriosis. This occurs when many of the normal bacteria in the gut are missing; these are the bacteria that retain water and give poop its regular consistency and softness. When these bacteria are missing, poop is hard and difficult to pass.
2. Type 2 is lumpy and hard as well, but is one long piece. It is difficult to pass and can cause straining, which may lead to tearing and other issues. This occurs because the stool spends too long in the digestive tract, and is backed up. Because it is so large and hard, ripping of the small intestine wall is possible.
3. Type 3 is also one long piece, but it has cracks in it as opposed to lumps. This type, in addition to the last two, is due to constipation and potentially bacterial imbalance. This isn’t quite as dangerous as type 2, but can still lead to tearing of the digestive tract.
4. Type 4 is long, soft, and smooth. It isn’t too thick, and passes easily and without any straining. This type is considered healthy.
5. Type 5 is also soft and easy to pass, but is multiple small pieces rather than one long piece. This type is also considered healthy. Types 4 and 5 are the only ones that are considered healthy and ideal.
6. Type 6 is multiple pieces, but is mushy and/or watery. This type is not dangerous and is almost healthy, but not quite. This can occur due to stress, dehydration, or just a fast acting colon that produces stool more often than normal.
7. Type 7 is diarrhea, where there are no solid pieces, just watery stool. Oddly enough, this kind of stool can go along with constipation, because extra water accumulates underneath the backed up stool and must be passed on its own.
Let’s elaborate some more on loose stools, which are types 6 and 7 above. Diarrhea can happen due to stress or something else that is short-term, but regular or frequent loose stools can be problematic. For starters, frequent diarrhea is dehydrating, and means that your GI tract is not properly absorbing the nutrients in your food. When food isn’t digested properly and nutrients aren’t fully absorbed, bacterial imbalance becomes more likely. Stomachaches and Irritable Bowel Syndrome often occur over time if you let diarrhea or constipation go on for long. As with many of the unhealthy stool types, bacterial imbalance is often the cause. While this may mean an overabundance of the bad bacteria, it often means that there aren’t enough good bacteria.
Another common cause is intolerance; two of the most common are dairy and gluten intolerance. 70-90% of people are lactose intolerant, meaning that consuming dairy products causes intestinal distress. Gluten intolerance is when eating wheat and other grain products causes intestinal distress; this isn’t as common, but is also a potential cause of frequent loose stools.
Fortunately, both of these issues can be easily resolved, with a few simple steps:
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Stool is ¾ water, and the rest is bacteria, mucus, fiber, and other cells. Normal stool is brown because of what it consists of, but quite a few colors are also possible. Anything other than brown means that there’s something going on, but it does not necessarily mean that there is a problem. Having green stool once doesn’t mean your GI tract is messed up, but having any of these colors regularly is not a good sign. In particular, look out for black and tarry stool, as this almost always means that there is internal bleeding going on.
• Brown is the normal, healthy color.
• Green usually means that the stool travelling through the digestive system too quickly. Green is the color of the bile that is present.
• Yellow means that food is not being broken down properly. This is most common when fat is passing through undigested. Yellow can also indicate infections like giardia.
• Black can mean that there is internal bleeding somewhere higher up in the digestive tract, and means that there is an issue that needs to be addressed ASAP. Black stool can occur if you’re taking certain vitamin supplements as well.
• Red on the outside of the stool means that there is bleeding lower in the digestive tract, usually the rectum.
• Gray or white stool is usually a sign of a serious problem during digestion. It is possible that medications like antacids can cause this, but it is something to be cautious about.
If you poop between three times a day to three times a week, then that is considered normal and is probably healthy for you. The time it takes from food to pass through the digestive tract and become stool is from 8 hours to a day in a healthy person. If it takes less time than this, that can lead to diarrhea, and more time can lead to constipation. This is because the intestine must absorb a certain amount of water for the stool to be smooth and soft. If it has less time, then it cannot absorb enough water, and the result is watery stool. If the stool is in the intestine for too long, then too much water is absorbed, resulting in hardened stool. There are hundreds of ways you can improve the consistency and frequency of your bowel movements, and almost all of them revolve around your diet. Here are some of the most important tips:
• Eat plenty of natural foods, such as
fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds.
• Cut down on sugar, and eliminate artificial sweeteners.
• Stay hydrated every day.
• Get plenty of sleep and exercise.
The above are great tips for everyone. Below are tips that will help certain people, but vary based on the person. If you’re unsure of why you have frequent diarrhea or constipation, it’s a good idea to try each of these.
• Eat more fiber, even if it is in
• Get more probiotics, which are also available in supplement form.
• Eliminate dairy products from your diet.
• Eliminate gluten products from your diet.
• Stop taking non-vital medications whenever possible.
Here is a list of some miscellaneous traits of poop that isn’t healthy. These are things to look out for when monitoring your stool for signs of illness.
• Colors other than brown
• Very hard
• Too thick
• Really thin
• Rough texture
• Difficult to pass
• Painful to pass
• Floating stool
• Excess mucus
• Extreme odor
Your poop can tell you a lot about your health. In summary, stool should be passed between three times a day and three times a week, and it should be brown, soft, smooth, and easy to pass. If you regularly experience discomfort or pain, then something is probably off. Sudden changes in stool traits should be paid close attention to, as they can indicate serious issues. Fiber, such as psyllium husk powder, and probiotics are two fantastic tools when it comes to improving your GI health, so use them to your advantage.
Occasional episodes of diarrhea or constipation may just be due to something you ate or even to stress, but regular episodes mean that you are not in optimal digestive health. It’s best to talk to a professional about what you should do if you have severe constipation, as suddenly increasing your fiber intake can sometimes make the problem worse.
The vast majority of digestive issues are caused by diet, so it is extremely important that you eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds on a daily basis. If you ignore your digestive issues, serious problems can occur later on.
If you are constantly having unhealthy stool, you might want to take good care of your gut and digestive system. Go to the next page and watch the 3 tips for better gut and digestive presentation.
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