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What's in your toilet?

Written by

Deborah Freudenmann BHSc

The average adult eats around three to four meals a day (breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack). Your body will absorb what it needs from those meals and then excrete the rest. And how we excrete is by daily bowel motions, yes popping! Stools are the waste products that are excreted from our body following the process of digestion. When your gut/digestive system is functioning normally, you can expect to have a bowel movement at least once a day, and up to three times in a day.

The colour, consistency, and appearance of stool change due to a variety of reasons. The change often reflects the normal or abnormal substances present in the stool and the abnormalities linked to the stomach and intestinal functions.

Therefore, there is a need to talk about poo to understand what a change in stool appearance could suggest about your health.

How does poop signify health?

The smell and appearance of your poop, or faeces is a direct reflection of your internal health. Your bowels can indicate inflammation present in the gut, as your digestive system connects with your nervous system and detox pathways. As you know, your gut connects with every system within the body.

The importance of regular bowel motions is also relevant to ensure your body does not store an excessive amount of toxic hormones. Our bodies produce hormones, and the liver is responsible for processing and inactivating them. And once, they are inactive the body moves them out via the gut. If bowel motions are not regular, the hormones can hang around a little too long in the gut. Eeek, this can cause hormonal imbalances as well as many other symptoms.

It’s very empowering to know how your body works! Your toilet bowel is a huge clue into your health, so let’s put that detective hat on and let’s dig into the details present in your poop.

How many times should you poo?

Normally, having one or up to 3 bowel movements in a day is considered normal. However, the frequency may vary among different individuals based on their food habits and daily routine. Generally, a person should, at a minimum, pass stool once a day.

What should my poo look like?

A healthy bowel movement requires minimal strain and is painless. Normal stools are usually soft and appear medium to dark brown due to the presence of a pigment called bilirubin that is formed due to the breakdown of red blood cells. The stools may be strong-smelling due to the gases released by bacteria in excrement.

The presence of the following components in the stool suggests possible health concerns:

  • Undigested foods: Having undigested food particles in stools like pellets can be a sign of inefficient digestion and a possible risk of developing a deficiency in multiple nutrients.
  • Mucus: Mucus in stools usually occurs with diarrhea. It can be a symptom of infection such as amoebic dysentery. It may also occur due to inflammation or inflammatory bowel disease.
  • Oily film: An oily film over the stool usually occurs in patients with liver diseases however, it can also indicate an issue with fat digestion.
  • Straining: Chronic constipation might indicate reduced water intake, fissures, piles, and a number of other conditions.
  • Foul-smelling: Foul-smelling stool points to the possibility of an infection in the stomach or intestine or indigestion.

What should the colour be?

The normal colour of stool is brown. However, the normal stool colour may range from light yellow or brown to almost black.

Yellow stool

A stool that is yellow often suggests the presence of undigested fats. Patients with liver and gallbladder diseases such as hepatitis – infective, alcoholic, or non-alcoholic -, cholecystitis, and gallstones can also have yellow stools.

Yellow stool may also occur as a result of diseases affecting the pancreas such as pancreatic insufficiency, which reduces the delivery of digestive enzymes to the intestines.

Some other causes of dark yellow stools include cystic fibrosis, chronic pancreatitis, chronic alcohol abuse, and obstruction of the pancreatic duct carrying enzymes to the intestines usually due to pancreatic cancer.

Celiac disease is another condition that could cause greasy and yellow stool. Infections like Giardia and fast transit time are some other causes of yellow stool.

Red stool

Having red stools is common after eating beetroot. The stool colour is restored to normal within a day or two in this case. Eating other red vegetables and cranberries can also turn the stool red in colour.

However, if you haven’t just eaten something “red”, red stools could be a sign of bleeding in the lower part of the gastrointestinal tract and would require attention. If the bleeding originates from the lower part of the intestines, blood would not come into prolonged contact with the digestive enzymes due to the very short distance between the site of bleeding and the rectum, causing the stool to appear dark red.

Conditions affecting the anus such as proctitis, bleeding piles, and fissures can also cause red stools.

Black stool

The common causes of black stool, also called melena, include the use of iron supplements and bismuth-containing medications like bismuth subsalicylate and Pepto-Bismol. The dark colour of stools caused due to any of these medications is typically not foul-smelling or sticky in texture. Black stool can be harmless (caused by a medication) or a sign that something is terribly wrong.

When bleeding occurs in the stomach and the upper part of the small intestine, the stool tends to turn black and sticky. It is often described as black and tarry stool. Generally, the black, tarry stool is foul-smelling.

Black stool can also be a sign of bleeding in the stomach due to gastritis or peptic ulcer. This change in colour occurs due to the chemical reactions occurring between the blood and the digestive enzymes released by the intestines as the food passes further through the digestive tract.

Green stool

Eating green foods like spinach can cause stool to appear more green than normal.

The green colour of stool can be due to the presence of a pigment called bilirubin. When stool passes through the intestines rapidly, there would be very little time for bilirubin to undergo the usual chemical changes, causing the stool to appear green due to the rapid transit.

Liver diseases like hepatitis, cirrhosis, and fatty liver disease can cause green stool. Infections like salmonella and biliary imbalances caused due to conditions like bile duct obstruction, cholecystitis, and gall stones are other common causes of green stool. The use of iron supplements and some antibiotics can also make the stool turn green.

Chalky white stool

Chalky white stool often occurs due to liver diseases, which affect the metabolism of fat causing the fats in foods to be excreted in the stool instead of getting properly digested.

Conclusion

To be honest, most people don’t pay much attention to their stool. However, inspecting your stool regularly could give you a sense of the poop colour, shape, and texture that could be normal or typical for you. As a matter of fact, asking about poop should be a standard in all health consultations. Understanding your bowels, would help you know when any underlying condition changes the appearance of your stool and allow you to identify the possible cause.

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  • 4 Responses

    1. Good job Deborah on this article. When my brother and I were taking care of Mom 24/7 we checked her bowel movement. If you are a care taker this is good to know. She passed in 2010 but she made it to 97 years young. Sorry to hear about your grandmother. She is paradise. No more pain and suffering. Blessing to you all!

      1. Hi Shirley, thank you! You’re so right. It’s very important to know this information as a care taker. I’m sorry for your loss, she did indeed reach a wonderful age!
        Much love

      1. Hi John, thanks for your comment. Have you seen our article on Parkinson’s disease? You’ll find it under the blog :)

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