Everybody does it. Whether you call it stool, poop, excrement, feces, #2 - whatever makes you feel a little less ‘icky’ – the fact is that it’s a biological process, allowing for the disposal of waste, that is integral to the survival of every known species of animal! While we generally tend to avoid the topic altogether, opting out of any casual conversations about our personal excrement experiences, it’s also common that many of us never give pooping a second thought…unless something is seriously wrong. But what if there’s more to just ‘post-poop-problem’ dissertations? What if, by paying attention to our bowel movements, we could read the signs of our body without waiting for molehills to become mountains? Or even just make small changes based on our digestive discrepancies, that could greatly improve the rest of our bodily functioning? All of this is possible, if before you flush it down – maybe take a look around?
To give ourselves partial credit, we’ve always been aware that suspicious stool situations often mean something is awry. But what we’ve only just come to investigate is just how deeply crucial ‘gut-health’ is to our overall functionality. Research has indicated that our good gut bacteria - housed in the gut microbiome - communicates directly with our brains, influencing mood, the immune system, and inflammation. There is also linkage between gut bacteria and your heart; direct ties between cholesterol levels and the production of certain chemicals by gut bacteria. So, if your poop is sending you messages about your gut health – it’s a very important call to answer, even if you don’t see any other close-proximity indicators (as they may be somewhere else in the body other than just the digestive area).
Soft, hard, and everything in between - Texture is telling!
For starters – the actual definition of ‘poop’ is an important thing to familiarize yourself with. Our excrement is the remains of food that could not be digested our intestines; once our good gut bacteria has broken it down and we have the nutrients we need, the rest passes through the colon and then….sayonara! A crucial fact to comprehend about the composition of poop is that it’s 75% water. The rest is dead bacteria that has aided in digestion, waste material from food, fiber, and substances released from the intestines and liver. This is important to know when your bowel movements become irregular - it can have an effect on the ease at which you relieve yourself!
Not a fun place to visit. But anyone with bowels has most definitely stopped here. the main causes of constipation or overly-hardened and painful pooping are not eating enough fiber, not drinking enough fluids, anxiety or stress, as well as less frequent but still important factors such as lifestyle changes and medication side-effects. Constipation is an indicator that your poop spent too much time in the large intestine/colon. When your stool passes through these organs too quickly, the opposite occurs; loose consistency, unpleasant frequency, also known as Diarrhea.
The best way to avoid it striking at the wrong time is to avoid it altogether! When a person experiences this unfortunate form frequently or suddenly, it tends to be a more alarming indicator of one’s health - largely because it may be a sign of a current viral or bacterial infection, a food intolerance, or an underlying chronic medical condition like IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) or Celiac Disease. Loose and watery stool can also be caused by less severe factors that still deserve acknowledgement such as stress and medication, among other lifestyle factors. Stool composition is such a strong indicator of potential diagnosis’ that there is a medical chart used in referencing, called the Bristol Stool Chart.
Colors? Not all are created equally.
Poop could be compared to stoplights in concept, but not quite in colors – as you might guess, brown means go (and pretty much everything else means stop or ‘hang on a sec.’) To reiterate, healthy poop is generally brown in color due to bile (AKA the fluid your liver produces to digest fats). Brown stool means your liver is producing bile – yay! So, what happens when your poop comes out a color very dissimilar to the standard? Well, it depends on the hue…
Stool that is devoid of color (aka ‘white’) could easily be a cause for concern. As mentioned previously, bile from the liver turns stool brown, and a lack of coloring (aka white) can be an indicator of bile production issues or liver malfunctioning.
Can be an indicator of high levels of iron or stomach ulcers. Fun(ish) fact – Pepto Bismal almost always turns the stool black. But if you did not recently take Pepto, you could be bleeding from higher up in your GI tract – which means the color is darker, as it has passed through more of the tract.
Bright red stool (when not caused by food) on the other hand, is not a good sign - think hexagonal stop sign. Unlike the darker color from high GI tract bleeding, red means that you have fresh blood in your stool. This can indicate polyps, inflammation, or even colon cancer. Frequent red colored stool, if benign causes are eliminated, also usually warrant some serious investigation.
These colored stools due to health concerns tend to be less common – green stool is seen quite often due to ingesting leafy greens. However, yellow stool can indicate that your body is having issues digesting fat, sometimes tied to gallbladder issues, Pancreatitis or Celiac disease. While it may be more common to write off discolored stool as a natural and isolated side-effect, one should still take note if these variances occur frequently or with other symptoms!
While it’s less likely that studying your own stool will become a cherished hobby, per se, you can still expect more and more encouragement of grasping a basic knowledge. Since we’re currently making medical breakthroughs that show our ‘gut-health’ does affect our entire health more than we’ve historically been aware of, you’ll be ahead of the game if you’re well versed on these emerging connections between yourself and what goes in that porcelain throne. As always, your body truly knows you best, and something so biologically natural and frequent will only tell you exactly what you need to know. As always, if your symptoms persist, consult your physician.