Here's the second part of Poop 101
What should my poop look like?
Have you ever heard the expression ‘you are what you eat’? Well, it’s true! What we put into our bodies affects the health of our gut, which has more neurons than is in our brains! Say what? So, it’s helpful to occasionally take a peek at the color, shape and size of your poop.
The chart above reflects this. Imagine if you’ve barely had any water all day, as you are busy rushing from place to place. Maybe you grabbed a sandwich or pizza for lunch. Your stool may end up looking like Type 1, separate hard lumps, difficult to pass because you are dehydrated. The stool is hard because the intestines have absorbed all of your fluid, leaving nothing behind but what looks like rabbit pellets.
If you’ve ever had a stomach virus, you may have had type 7 or diarrhea. Your body also may have trouble digesting certain types of foods such as products with lactose or artificial sweeteners. Generally, softer stools are associated with inflammation.
Normal, healthy stool is type 3 or 4, sausage shaped which is not too lumpy and stays together as one solid mass.
If your stool is not diarrhea, but comes out in soft blobs with clear-cut edges, you may be lacking fiber in your diet. Fiber can prevent and relieve both constipation and diarrhea. Insoluble fiber moves bulk through the intestines and balances the intestinal pH, whereas soluble fiber binds with fatty acids and slows transit time. The best form of fiber is from natural sources, such as fruits and vegetables.
How frequent should I go?
The frequency of a bowel movement (BM) varies frequently from once a day to every 3 days and that can be completely normal. Again, you do not need to poop every day to be normal and healthy. Remember, it takes up to 72 hours for the stool to pass through the large intestine alone. Everyone has their own version of normal. Now, what is abnormal?
Diarrhea is defined as loose stool more than 3 times per day. Constipation is defined as straining to pass stool or a feeling of incomplete emptying with a frequency of bowel movements less than 2 times per week.
As a general rule of thumb, the longer digestive contents are in the intestines, the harder the stool and greater chance of constipation. The opposite is true of diarrhea. In other words, if the intestines don’t have time to absorb fluid, the feces are more likely to be soft or liquid. Remember, the intestines absorb 1000 – 1500 mL of liquid leaving just 100- 150 mL for the stool. If the body doesn’t have time to absorb this liquid, diarrhea can occur.
What factors affect intestinal motility?
- Amount of feces
- Chemical makeup of feces
- Intestinal hormones
- Nervous input to intestines
- Female hormones
- Visual and olfactory input
- Time of eating, schedule
- Systemic diseases – anorexia, diabetes myelitis, hypothyroidism
- Activity level
What Can I Do To Poop Better?
You can improve bowel regularity through exercise; find out the side effects of medications, especially beta-blockers and opioids; learn some easy ways to relieve your stress and eat regular meals.
Other helpful tips to stimulate a BM:
- drinking warm water w/ lemon in the AM to stimulate the bowels
- do an “ILU massage” or self-intestinal abdominal massage
- taking a morning walk or do some yoga poses
An example of a self-intestinal massage is shown above. Provide light strokes in the direction in a clockwise direction as shown for 1-3 minutes or until you hear a “gurgling” of your stomach.
Doughty, D. (2002). “When Fiber is Not Enough: Current Thinking on Constipation Management.” Ostomy Wound Management 48(12):30-41
Force, A. (2005). “An Evidence-Based Approach to the Management of Chronic Constipation in North America.” American Journal of Gastroenterology 100(S1):S1-S22.
Hawkey, C.J., Bosch, J., Richter, J.E., Garcia-Tsao, G., &Chan, F.K. (Eds.). (2012). Textbook of clinical gastroenterology and hepatology. John Wiley & Sons.