Here’s What Your Poop Says About Your Health
Let me ask you a question: Do you have a healthy gut? If your answer is, “Well, I’m not sure?” — you’re not alone. It’s hard to know if what’s normal for us is normal for everyone, or if there’s actually an issue that needs attention.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that there’s something that can give you a lot of information about your gut health. And yes, it’s your poop!
It may come as a surprise, but your next trip to the bathroom can tell you a lot about how healthy your gut actually is. Everything from the shape, the consistency, and frequency of your bowel movements can provide helpful hints as to what’s going on in your stomach, colon, and microbiome.
As a functional medicine practitioner, I had to learn early on that if I was going to be a good practitioner, I had to get super comfortable talking about #2s. So today, let’s not shy away from this subject. After all, everyone poops!
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What your poop says about your health
First, let’s talk about frequency. How often you “go” depends on your diet (including not just what you eat but how often and how much). Ideally, you should be pooping 2 or 3 times per day for optimal elimination of hormones, toxins, and chemicals that inevitably find their way into your food and water.
When it comes to consistency, your #2s should be soft and long enough to form a curled up “snake”-like shape in the toilet. If you’re not sure exactly where yours falls, don’t worry. The Bristol Stool Scale was developed for exactly this purpose! It breaks your bowel movements down into seven types and makes poop health easier for everyone to understand.
- Type 1: Little hard rabbit-like pellets indicate severe constipation and shouldn’t ever happen.
- Type 2: A super hard, lumpy log shape is another sign of constipation but a more mild case.
- Type 3: A log with just a few cracks that is quick and easy to push out is considered a normal poop.
- Type 4: This is where the snake shape comes in and is the gold-standard for a healthy poop.
- Type 5: You start to tread into diarrhea territory if you are easily passing small, soft separate blobs of poop.
- Type 6: One type of diarrhea is when your poop is super soft but still intact almost like pudding or yogurt in consistency.
- Type 7: This is full-blown diarrhea when you have no solid pieces and comes out watery and extremely quick. Ever heard of the term “explosive diarrhea”? Yeah, that’s referring to this type.
Ideally, your poop should be a standard brown color, which is thanks to a compound called bilirubin, which is formed during the breakdown of red blood cells in the body. If it’s not, here are some other colors and what they likely mean:
- Black: This can happen if you're taking certain supplements or medications, so don't be alarmed if this happens if you start taking something new. But it's still important to check with your doctor because it could be a sign of upper intestinal tract bleeding.
- Green: Most of the time green poop occurs if you ate something that was in that color family.
- White/Cream: This could mean a few different things whether that is the presence of too much fat from your diet, you aren't absorbing enough nutrients, or in extreme cases a blocked bile duct.
- Red: If you ever experience blood in your stool you should speak with your doctor right away as it can be a sign of hemorrhoids or intestinal bleeding.
If you have a healthy gut, you should be able to go to the bathroom in a few minutes. It shouldn’t be a major event! Anything longer than that, or any straining or long waits, is probably a sign of underlying gut dysfunction.
How to have healthier bowel movements
If, after reading the information above, you decide that your digestion could use a little TLC, here are some tips:
1. Identify any hidden food sensitivities
If there’s one thing I know for sure it’s that no diet is right for everyone. And while there are some foods that can be irritating to a majority of people — like gluten, grains, and dairy — many other foods have to be approached on a person-to-person basis.
The good news is that an elimination diet can help you identify any underlying food sensitivities, which can help you have healthier bowel movements. Here’s what you need to know about elimination diets before you try one out. I also go over tailored elimination diet protocols in my book, The Inflammation Spectrum.
2. Eat more fiber
More specifically, insoluble fiber, which doesn’t dissolve in water and is important for healthy excretion because it encourages the movement of material through your digestive system. It also keeps it at a softer consistency, making it easier to pass to help with constipation.
Here’s something that might surprise you: Insoluble fiber is important even if you struggle with diarrhea because it adds bulk and weight to your feces so it’s not so watery. Some of my favorite clean, whole-food sources of fiber include artichokes, avocados, almonds, and chia seeds.
3. Get a comprehensive stool test
If you really want to know what’s going on with your #2s, you can ask your doctor about a comprehensive stool test, which involves collecting samples from the toilet over multiple days. It’s gross I know! But it’s worth it because it can reveal fungal, bacterial, or parasitic overgrowth as well as beneficial bacteria levels, giving you a more complete look at the microbiome. I do one of these tests for almost every person that comes though my telehealth functional medicine center.
4. Try magnesium
If you are struggling with constipation, a magnesium supplement is a great natural mineral to lean on. Certain forms of magnesium, like magnesium oxide and citrate, can help pull water into the intestines so you can go to the bathroom more often and with more ease.
5. Eat more resistant starch
Last but not least, consider adding more resistant starch — which provides the benefits of both soluble and insoluble fiber — to your diet. Resistant starch, also known as prebiotic fiber, doesn’t get digested in your stomach and ends up in your intestines where it provides food for your beneficial gut bacteria. Some great sources of resistant starch include green bananas and plantains, cooked and cooled potatoes and potato starch.
Talking about poop is uncomfortable at first but trust me when I say that you can learn a lot from it! Pay attention to color, shape, and frequency and allow it to guide your healthy lifestyle choices. Your gut health will thank you!
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BY DR. WILL COLE
Dr. Will Cole, IFMCP, DNM, DC, leading functional medicine expert, consults people around the world via webcam and locally in Pittsburgh. He received his doctorate from Southern California University of Health Sciences and post doctorate education and training in functional medicine and clinical nutrition. He specializes in clinically researching underlying factors of chronic disease and customizing a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. Dr. Cole was named one of the top 50 functional medicine and integrative doctors in the nation and is the best selling author of Ketotarian and The Inflammation Spectrum.