Last updated: July 31, 2019
Richard Honaker M.D.
Primary Care Physician
View Full Profile
Dropping off the kids at the pool can give you an inside look at your internal health. Pay attention before your next flush.
What and how you eat affects your digestive system, and sometimes, your bowel movements can change simply because of changes in your diet. Other times, changes in bowel movements signify something more serious. What’s “normal” depends on each individual person — but there are some signs you can look for that mean something may be off.
What’s considered normal?
Stools are key indicator of what’s going on in the digestive system. The consistency, color, and the general appearance of stools, can help provide insights on a person’s overall health.
While most of us won’t really spare a few seconds to see what our poop looks like, it is wise to do so. What is left behind in the toilet bowl can give you important clues about your health and if you need to make any changes to your diet.
When it comes to stools, there is no specific description of what is considered normal. Broadly speaking, normal bowel function means that the stool is soft yet well-formed, is easy to pass and the bowel movements happen anywhere between 1–3 times a day to 3 times in a week.
Additionally, other key indications of normal bowel function is that you do not experience pain which passing stool, are able to completely empty the bowel in one go, and can hold the stool for a short amount of time, if required.
Bristol Stool Chart
As determining what’s normal and what’s not normal a bit tricky, the Bristol Stool Chart comes in handy. The chart basically helps in assessing how long the stool has spent in the bowel. It classifies stools into seven categories.
Type 1 has spent the longest time in the bowel and can indicate constipation. While Type 7 may indicate diarrhea as the stools are runny. While every person has different bowel habits, Type 3 and Type 4 are what is considered normal as they are soft and easy to pass.
What do different colors indicate?
The color of the stool can indicate many things. Usually it is normal to have poop which is brown, yellow, or green in color. Green color could be due to consumption of foods such as some vegetables including spinach or broccoli.
According to the US National Library of Medicine, stools that are pale, grey or clay colored may indicate a problem in the biliary system, which is the drainage system of the gallbladder, liver, and pancreas.
The stool gets its brown color when the liver releases bile salts. Clay color can indicate possible issues will bile production or flow which warrants an immediate consultation with a doctor.
Additionally, red or black poop is also a matter of concern. Bright red color in the stool can be an indication of hemorrhoids or more serious conditions like inflammatory bowel disease or diverticular bleeding. Black stools are more alarming because they can be an indication of large amount of bleeding into the digestive system, usually from the upper GI tract including the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum. Is the stool is red or black, an immediate consultation with a doctor is recommended.
If your poop is loose and watery and you have to go more than three times in one day, that’s diarrhea diarrhea is a common problem, and it usually goes away on its own. If it lasts more than a few days, though, it can be a sign of a more serious problem, talk to a doc
- Eat plenty of fiber-rich veggies (cook them so they’re easier to digest; it won’t affect the fiber content).
- Eliminate grains, seeds, legumes, gluten, and alcohol, which can affect your stomach lining and impact the diversity of your gut bacteria.
- Feed your biome with prebiotic-rich foods like sweet potato, carrots, and asparagus.
Poop that’s hard, dry, and/or painful to pass is called constipation. If you only have three or fewer bowel movements per week, constipation could point to issues with your diet.
Some causes of constipation are:
- A diet low in fiber, which is a nutrient found in foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
- A lack of exercise or physical activity
- Medications such as antidepressants or opioids
- Drink plenty of water
- Add magnesium to your list of daily supplements. You should take it anyway; most Americans are deficient.
- Eat a plate full of salad greens (or add to smoothies) at every meal to make stools softer and larger.
- Be sure you’re getting enough healthy, high-fat foods, like eggs, avocado, or salmon, to help soften stools.
- If that doesn’t do the trick, see a doctor about thyroid tests; you may be under-producing thyroid hormones.[4
So, next time you go to the bathroom, take a moment to see what your stool looks like to ensure that your bowel movements are good and the digestive system is functioning well.
You know your body the best, so if you do notice something out of the ordinary, don’t hesitate in consulting a doctor.
Do you have questions about your poop and your health? Connect with one of our doctors for medical insights without the embarrassment.
Disclaimer: This article provides general information and is not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease or medical condition. If you require specific advice, please consult one of our medical professionals through the app. However, in case of an emergency, please call 911.
About Richard Honaker M.D.
Living with IBS: From having bouts of constipation and diarrhea to finding Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) solutions.
Where do I even begin? My gastric complaints started in secondary school, as episodes of ...Read more
A Healthy Return to School with Advice from a Doctor
Preparing to go back to school is going to look different this year. Parents, teachers ...Read more
Five Simple Ways to Deal with a Gassy Stomach
Are you passing gas more than 21 times a day? Does your stomach often feel painful ...Read more