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Poop: What's Normal and What's NOT
If you're curious about whether your pooping habits are considered "normal" or not, then you are already thinking along the right path, since the health of your poop tells a lot about the health of your entire body.
[Food is Medicine] Is my poop normal? (Photo Credit: Dr. Josh Axe/ Food is Medicine)
Most of us have asked ourselves that at one time or another. When your poop isn't right, it definitely indicates something isn't quite right. Maybe you ate too much spicy food, are sick with a virus, or you could possibly have a digestive disease or other illness.
So, if you're curious about whether your pooping habits are considered "normal" or not, then you are already thinking along the right path, since the health of your poop tells a lot about the health of your entire body.
Poop, in simplest terms, is the body's natural way of expelling waste and toxins that it doesn't need once it's absorbed all of the usable nutrients from food.
The process of digestion - eating a food, the food traveling through your stomach and intestines and down to your colon, and then you pooping the digested waste from the food out- involves many aspects of your body including enzymes, hormones, blood flow, and more. So when just one of the involved organs or systems is off, your digestion really suffers- and that shows up in your poop of course!
What is a Normal Poop?
1. How many times per day should I poop?
The amount of bowl movements a day that someone should have varies from person to person, so there is not one specific number that is considered completely "normal"; however most experts agree that it's important to go to the bathroom at least three or more times per week at a minimum.
Generally, going once or twice a day is considered normal. Going every other day is also somewhat normal, as long as you feel comfortable and are not experiencing pain in your abdomen. Above all else, you want to make sure things are pretty consistent from day to day; this shows you what is "normal" poop for your own body and clues you in to when something internally is off.
2. What should my poop look like?
When you do go to the bathroom, it's ideal to have a poop that is all connected in one long, smooth "S" shape. Poops like this develop when you're eating enough fiber and drinking plenty of hydrating water.
However a smooth poop that is thin or broken up into a few smaller poops is not something to be concerned about according to digestive experts, as long as this is "normal" for you and does not cause you any discomfort. The color of a normal poop should be a medium to dark brown.
Although it may sound unpleasant, your poop smelling is actually not a bad sign. Poop smells because of the toxins it is helping to draw out of your body and because of the bacteria involved in the gut lining. There is not any specific smell that is considered "normal"; again it's just important to keep an eye on things being consistent and comfortable for you.
If you do notice a change in smell in your poop- from "not so great" to "very, very bad"- this could be a sign that something more serious is taking place within your gut. If the smell continues for several days, you may want to consult your doctor who can perform a colonoscopy if needed.
You may have heard of the Bristol Stool Scale in the past, which was designed in the 1990's to be a medical aid that classifies poop into one of seven categories. When physicians meet with patients and discuss their digestive health, they can use the Bristol scale to locate the patient's typical poop and learn what may be causing a problem.
The idea behind designing the scale was to classify how poop looks depending on the time that it takes for the poop to form in the colon, or the poop's "transit time". If a poop is considered abnormal, it usually falls into categories 1-2 (which are signs of constipation and poop being held too long in the body) or categories 6-7 (which are signs of diarrhea and the poop moving too quickly through the body).
BRISTOL STOOL SCALE
According to The Bristol Stool Scale, the seven types of stool are:
- Type 1: Separate hard lumps, like nuts (hard to pass)
- Type 2: Sausage-shaped, but lumpy
- Type 3: Like a sausage but with cracks on its surface
- Type 4: Like a sausage or snake, smooth and soft
- Type 5: Soft blobs with clear cut edges (passed easily)
- Type 6: Fluffy pieces with ragged edges, a mushy stool
- Type 7: Watery, no solid pieces, entirely liquid
Types 1–2: indicate constipation
Types 3-5: considered to be ideal (especially 4), normal poops
Type 6-7: considered abnormal and indicates diarrhea
3. How long should a normal poop take?
A healthy poop doesn't cause pain, break up into multiple little pieces, or take a very long time and lots of pushing to come out. It should feel pretty easy to produce a poop and you should feel like you've emptied your intestines.
What's NOT Normal?
1. Going too often or not often enough:
Having trouble going to the bathroom more than a few times a week, or going too many times per day (more than 3) is considered by most experts to be abnormal. Poop should not be painful, cause you to bleed, or require a lot of pushing and effort on your part. If you have to push very hard to poop and notice blood, you are likely experiencing hemorrhoids. While these are usually not very serious and do not require medical attention, they can be painful.
2. Experiencing changes in your poop's consistency:
If your poop is either overly watery or very hard and difficult to push out, this is a sign that things are not going well in your digestive tract. Diarrhea produces overly soft or watery poops and can be dangerous if it persists because it dehydrates and weakens the body. (1) The causes of diarrhea vary, but often the reasons are dehydration, a viral stomach flu or infection, as a result of eating something with harmful parasites or bacteria, or even nerves.
Diarrhea can also be caused by certain medications or medical conditions like Gluten Sensitivity or Celiac Disease (a gluten allergy), lactose intolerance (a dairy food allergy), and Inflammatory Bowel Diseases like Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, or Leaky Gut. This is why it's very important to see a physician if you experience diarrhea on an ongoing basis.
Constipation on the other hand is categorized by infrequent, usually painful poops that are caused by slow colonic transit or dysfunction in the pelvic floor. (2) Many people experience ongoing chronic constipation- in fact this is one of the most reported problems at doctor's visits every year. Constipation is caused by many different factors depending on the individual, which we will go over in more detail in the next section.
3. If your poop's color is off:
Experiencing poops that are black, green, gray, yellow or red in color can be a sign that something deeper is wrong. For example, black poops usually a sign that you may be internally bleeding, so if this persists for more than 2-3 poops, you will want to consult a physician.
Green colored poops usually mean that food is making its way through your digestive tract very quickly, which can be a sign that you are starting to experience diarrhea or have not been consuming enough fiber to slow the transition down within your digestive tract.
Red or purple poop can be somewhat common if you eat a lot of deeply colored vegetables like beets, but if you experience colors like this that you cannot associate with any food you recently ate, you will want to keep an eye on how many days it lasts and possibly see a doctor.
Finally, poop that is grayish or yellow in color is normally a sign that mucus is making its way into your stool. This shows that likely there is a problem with the liver or gallbladder, since the liver is responsible for producing bile that gives stool a grayish/yellow tint.
While you don't want to jump to any conclusions right away and assume the worst when your poop changes color, this is definitely something to see a doctor about and not wait out for too long, because certain colors can be pointing to possible serious conditions like gallbladder or liver disease, bleeding, gut parasites, and so on.
4 Common Causes of Abnormal Poop:
1. High levels of stress
Ongoing stress makes it difficult for many people to relax their body and go to the bathroom properly. Your brain and gut actually have a very close relationship; they communicate how you are feeling back and forth to each other, working to increase and decrease "stress hormones" depending on your moods, which play a big part in healthy digestion.
In fact, common digestive disorders like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) are closely correlated with high levels of stress. When we are feeling stressed, our brain communicates these uneasy feelings to our digestive tract, making it very common for the gut wall to either constrict and tense up (causing constipation) or to work overtime and cramp up (causing diarrhea).
Stress can sometimes be a huge digestive obstacle to overcome, so much so that you may already eat a healthy diet and drink plenty of water, but without also addressing high stress levels, you still can't experience some digestive relief. While you may not be able to control things like a busy schedule, you can prioritize reducing your stress by making sure you get good sleep each night and by regularly exercising, both of which help to bring down stress hormones levels.
2. Diet Low in Fiber
Fiber is extremely important when it comes to healthy poops; fiber is the binding substance that gives poop its form and helps it to move through the digestive tract. There are two kinds of fiber, both of which play a role in creating healthy poops: insoluble and soluble fiber. The difference between the two is their ability to dissolve in water; soluble fiber is able to dissolve in water while insoluble fiber is not.
If you struggle with ongoing constipation, pay close attention to how much fiber you are consuming daily. Consider swapping some of the foods in your diet that lack fiber- like meat, cheese, refined carbohydrates, and hydrogenated oils- for much healthier, whole foods that provide your body with a lot more benefits.
3. Inflammatory and Autoimmune foods
Unfortunately many people consume common inflammatory and allergen foods on a frequent basis, and these can really mess with the digestive system's ability to produce normal poops, in addition to creating more serious conditions like leaky gut syndrome and autoimmune disease. If you're struggling to go to the bathroom normally, try avoiding these inflammatory digestive "common culprits" which may be to blame:
- Conventional dairy foods (like cows' milk, cheeses, and yogurts that are not organic or pasteurized)
- Gluten (found in all wheat products, nearly all processed foods, and anything containing rye and barley) which makes any digestive disorders worse
- Processed soy (used in foods like soy milk, soy meat replacements, packaged veggie burgers, and many processed foods) which is a high allergen and autoimmune causing food
- High amounts of sugar, which unhealthy bacteria feeds off of in your gut
- Also keep an eye on different types of nuts, grains, and shellfish since these are also high allergens and difficult for some people to digest
4. Alcohol & Caffeine
Stress and caffeine can create a range of negative reactions in the digestive tract that depend on the individual person. For example, some people experience an increased need and ability to poop after having caffeine, while others have the opposite problem.
Caffeine and alcohol both dehydrate the colon, and as you learned, a well hydrated digestive tract is crucial for creating healthy, normal poops.
How to Get Your Poop Back to Normal
1. Increase Your Fiber Intake
Adults want to make sure they consume fiber from whole food sources as often as possible (as opposed to artificially created fibers that are found in things like "high fiber" diet products and pre-made, commercially sold shakes).
It's best to aim to get between 25-40 grams of fiber per day, with bigger individuals and men usually need an amount on the higher end of the scale. Getting this much fiber shouldn't be too difficult if your diet is made up of real, whole foods- including plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Vegetables, fruits, and beans are some of the best sources of both soluble and insoluble fiber which will increase your ability to properly poop. However each person reacts to these foods differently and some have trouble digesting certain kinds of beans and fibrous vegetables, which can actually worsen the problem. So, always be mindful about how you react to foods and try to zero-in on any that specifically may cause you digestive distress so you can avoid them.
Assuming they do not cause you known problems, work towards adding these types of fiber-rich foods to your diet as often as possible in order to ensure you're eating plenty of gut-loving fiber.
Eat all leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cabbage (try steaming these to make digestion easier), artichokes, peas, all types of beans (which you can also pre-soak and sprout), squash and potatoes, berries, apples and pears (which can be blended as well), figs, dates, chia seeds, flax seeds, and various nuts.
2. Drink Plenty of Water
Aim to consume water every 2 hours at a minimum; drinking 8 oz. every couple of hours will keep you hydrated throughout the day and set you up for a healthier poop the following morning.
Whenever you are eating a lot of fiber, you want to also make sure to drink plenty of water. A high amount of fiber, without enough hydrating liquids, can actually result in even more trouble going to the bathroom, unfortunately. Remember that fiber swells and expands in the digestive tract, so if it doesn't have enough water to absorb and to move it through the gut lining, you can experience uncomfortable bloating, gas, pains, and constipation.
Probiotics help to create a healthy environment in your gut "micoflora". Essentially this means that the amount of "good bacteria" in your gut is able to balance the amount of "bad bacteria," helping you to stay free of digestive problems including constipation or diarrhea.
Probiotic-rich foods include things like kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi and high-quality yogurts. Make sure that when buying dairy products, you always choose organic products as they are easier on digestion, such as goat milk products, organic kefir, raw dairy products, or dairy that doesn't contain A1 casein which can cause inflammation. You can also try supplementing with a good-quality probiotic as well.
4. Supplement with Magnesium
If you frequently deal with constipation, magnesium has the natural ability to safely soften poop. It works to draw water from your gut into the poop and helps it to easily move through your system. Magnesium is also a natural muscle relaxer which can help to stop cramping in the gut and abdomen.
Since magnesium is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in adults, there are really no downsides to trying magnesium, as long as you stick within the recommended daily dosage carefully; if you start experiencing stools that are too loose and watery, you can adjust your intake until its comfortable and back to normal.
5. Support your Liver!
Did you know that your liver is responsible for producing the bile that digests fat? Without enough bile, your fats become something like soap in your gut! This backs up and can lead to constipation and difficulty detoxing the body of toxins. One of the best ways to support your liver is with diet and exercise! You can also do a liver cleanse to clean everything out and get your body back to feeling its best!
6. Get Your Body Moving!
Being active is a great way to get your poop cycle on a more regular schedule. Exercise stimulates the bowels and lymphatic system, which helps to push waste down to your colon, making it easier for you to go. On top of this, exercise also relaxes your mind and reduces stress, which as you now know is one of the biggest reasons for digestive troubles.
Food is Medicine