Take a look after you poop: What your stool colour and consistency could be telling you.
Pooping! A necessary ritual many shy away from discussing. And who can blame them? It doesn’t really make for a pretty dinner conversation. But should the subject of poop just be flushed down the toilet (of course the pun was intended)? I think not! Aside from being a natural process (yup, everybody poops), your bowel movement directly reflects your overall health. So before you are quick to flush, let’s learn a little about what your poop says about your health.
What is poop?
Poop or stool is largely made up of water, undigested food residue (fibre), waste material from food, bacteria, proteins, fats, salts, cellular linings, and substances released from the intestines (such as mucus) and liver.
So what is normal?
There is no standard when it comes to pooping. Healthy stool can be as varied and unique as the individuals making it. Everything from the consistency, size and time it takes for the body to pass stool is based on the individual. This notwithstanding, there are some standards to consider when you want to listen to the story your poop is telling you.
Healthy poop is generally light to dark brown (like a bar of milk chocolate). However, as we’ll get to later, normal poop may sometimes take on other colours depending on diet and medication. The brown colour is mainly from bilirubin – a pigment that results from the breakdown of red blood cells in the liver.
Shape and consistency
Due to the shape of the intestine, healthy stool is supposed to take on a sausage-like shape that is passed as one single piece or fewer smaller pieces. Consistency ranging anywhere between firm and soft is considered normal.
How long it takes (duration)
Well, I suppose this depends on whether you go in with a good book or not. While some people like to get it quickly over and done with, some prefer to savour the moment. It is however not advisable to stay too long on the WC as it can lead to contracting haemorrhoids. Anyway, the normal duration for passing stool ranges from about a minute to no more than 15 minutes. Anything longer indicates constipation.
How often (frequency)
Although the average range of bowel movement is from 3 times a day to once every three days, there is actually no normal frequency. To say that your bowel movements have become more frequent or less frequent is based on an increase in your usual pattern and not on a standard definition that applies to everyone.
The two main conditions associated with bowel movement are:
- Constipation (infrequent – usually less than 3x a week – that are hard, dry or lumpy; or stools that are difficult or painful to pass) and
- Diarrhoea (passage of three or more loose or liquid stools per day; or more frequent passage than is normal for the individual).
In summary, normal poop should be brown, firm to soft, sausage-shaped and easy to pass without straining.
What Your Stool Consistency Is Telling You
No argument on stool consistency can be made without talking about the Bristol stool chart. The Bristol stool chart is a chart that was developed by doctors of the Bristol Royal Infirmary which makes poop consistency very easy to understand. It was based on a 2000-person study and classifies stool into seven main types:
- 1: Separate hard lumps (hard to pass)
- 2: Lumpy, sausage-shaped
- 3: Sausage-shaped with cracks on the surface
- 4: Sausage-shaped or snake-like; smooth and soft
- 5: Soft blobs with clear-cut edges
- 6: Fluffy pieces with ragged edges; mushy
- 7: Entirely liquid, watery, no solid pieces
Stool that is well-formed and easy to pass (Types 3 and 4) is considered ideal. Stool that is hard and difficult to pass (Types 1 and 2) indicates constipation, and stool that contains excess liquid or is entirely liquid indicates diarrhoea (Types 6, and 7).
What Your Stool Colour Is Telling You
Stool colour is a reflection on the overall general health of your digestive system, how quickly stool passed through the intestines, and food, drugs and drinks that you recently consumed.
You can have green poop if you eat large amounts of green leafy vegetables or food and drinks with green food colouring. However, green poop may also indicate that food may be moving through the large intestine too quickly, such as due to diarrhoea. As a result, bile doesn’t have time to break down completely.
Black poop indicates there is bleeding in the upper gastrointestinal tract, such as the stomach. You may also pass black stools is you are taking iron supplements. Consult your doctor if it’s not the latter.
This is a sign of bleeding in the lower gastrointestinal tract, such as the large intestine (bowel) or rectum. Though this is often from haemorrhoids, it can also be due to cancers and other growths in the colon. It may sometimes be due to red food colouring. Consult your doctor.
White/Pale or clay coloured
Pale stools indicate a lack of bile in stool. This points to a problem with the drainage of your biliary system, which is comprised of your gallbladder, liver, and pancreas. Clay-coloured or pale stool is usually a sign of a serious problem and you should consult your doctor immediately. Please run to the emergency room if your child has clay coloured poop.
Yellow, greasy, foul-smelling
Yellow stool indicates that there is excess fat in the stool. The stool usually floats. This can be due to a malabsorption disorder such as celiac disease. Consult your doctor for evaluation.
So there you have it. Your water closet can be a window to your health. Next time you poop, take a look and as uncomfortable as it may be for you, don’t wait to report pooping problems. It may be nothing serious but the sooner you talk to a doctor, the better.
So eat a fibre-rich diets, take regular exercise, try to reduce stress, stay hydrated, pay attention to your poop and report concerns about them.