Everybody poops. And while most conversations on the topic are usually met with a round of snickering or embarrassment, our stool can tell us a lot about the state of our health. In fact, factors like the size, shape, smell, colour, consistency and length of time it takes to go are all ways that your poop holds clues to your wellbeing.
Shape and consistency
When it comes to the shape and consistency of our poo, there is a widely accepted diagnostic tool called the Bristol Stool Chart that classifies human feces into seven distinct categories.
According to the chart, hard, separate lumps that are difficult to pass or are sausage-shaped and lumpy, are associated with constipation; one sausage-like lump with cracks on the surface, or long, smooth and soft like a snake are considered normal, and soft blobs with defined edges, mushy stool with fluffy pieces or entirely liquid are a sign of diarrhea.
Believe it or not, when it comes to poo, size matters. Your stool should be about the diameter of a banana and four to eight inches in length. Anything considerably smaller could be a sign of constipation or another underlying issue.
Let’s be honest. Your poop isn’t ever going to smell like a fresh batch of cinnamon rolls. But the smell shouldn’t make your eyes water either. The smell will fluctuate normally depending on what you eat, but a particularly pungent poop could be the sign of an underlying health condition. Cystic fibrosis, celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, or an infection somewhere in the digestive tract can all lead to an abnormally smelling poo.
And while it would be difficult to make any sort of definitive diagnosis based on smell alone, an off-putting scent could be the sign of trouble if paired with other signs.
Colour: You want it to be brown
Like the smell, the colour of our poop can also change depending on what we eat. But sometimes the colour indicates a further issue.
Black. Stool could appear black if you are taking iron supplements or eating lots of black licorice or blueberries. However, black stool that is accompanied by what looks like coffee grounds could be a sign of gastrointestinal bleeding.
Green. If you are eating a lot of leafy green vegetables, like kale or spinach, it would be normal to have poo with a greenish tinge. But it could also be a sign that you are digesting your food too quickly as it doesn’t spend enough time inside you for it to turn brown. Note that some antibiotics, or parasites such as salmonella can cause that faster-than-normal digestion.
Yellow. According to the Canadian Digestive Health Foundation, yellow poop could be a sign of liver, pancreas, or gallbladder issues. Yellow usually indicates that the body is not absorbing nutrients properly, so it’s best to see a doctor if you’re noticing this colour change — especially if accompanied by a particularly bad smell.
White or light-coloured.White or chalky poop could be a sign that your body is not producing bile and is usually sign of a significant underlying problem. A blocked bile duct, liver disease or a side effect of some medicines are likely culprits.
Red. Red poop is a problem. Usually due to blood, this colour could be a sign of internal bleeding, so you should see a doctor immediately. Also, eating a lot of red food colouring or other red foods, like beets, can also produce a red stool.
Brown. Brown is good. Your poop should be brown pretty much all the time and can be many different shades of brown depending on your diet. If your poop is brown, smooth on the outside and about the diameter of a banana, keep doing what you’re doing. Those are the poops we strive for.
Frequency and style are two other things to consider when evaluating your poo. Going too often (more than three times a day), not enough (fewer than three times per week), excessive straining, greasy or fatty poops, pain during a bowel movement, or bleeding, are all other indicators worth checking with a doctor about.
Eating food that helps support a healthy digestive track, drinking lots of water and staying active can all help keep those poops brown and sleek.
Nick Beare is a Toronto-based freelance writer. He can be reached here.
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