Eileen Babb, BSN, RN, CGRN, CFER
SGNA Board of Directors
It’s not polite to talk about, but your bathroom habits can provide important signs about your overall health.
As adults, we don’t openly talk about our own body’s natural process of defecation. Pooping is not sexy, but it can be an indicator of your overall health — so pay attention.
The trillions of microorganisms (microbiome) that live in your gut affect other systems’ health in your body, including mental well-being and the autoimmune system.
Don’t let the fear of embarrassment prevent you from consulting your health care provider if you notice a bowel issue that doesn’t go away within two weeks. Seek medical attention promptly when you experience pooping problems such as bleeding, pain, weight loss, or any radical changes in your bowel movement habits. If your stool is bright red or black, consult your physician right away, as this may suggest blood loss.
Early detection means early treatment for gastrointestinal (GI) disorders such as colorectal cancer and inflammatory bowel disease. Follow through with your gastroenterologist with recommendations, including preventive screening colonoscopies. Colorectal cancer is treatable and beatable in its early stage. Sometimes, the signals waste sends us aren’t obvious, so it is important to know what a healthy stool looks like, including the shape and size.
Poop is a normal byproduct of the digestive process. It consists of non-digested food particles, bacteria, salts and other insoluble substances.
Consistency, size, and how long it takes for the body to pass may vary significantly from person to person, but a person should be able to go number two easily, painlessly, and with minimal strain in under 10-15 minutes.
Most people go one to three times daily or every other day. At a minimum, a person should pass their stool three times a week.
Any changes in the smell, appearance, frequency or color of your poo can indicate a problem, but other variables may have an effect as well. Diet and other factors such as medications may temporarily cause a rainbow of colors. Once food has passed through the GI tract, it should go back to the baseline brown. If the unusual color change persists for two weeks or more, consult your physician. Red color may signify GI bleeding, but it could also be caused by eating red berries or drinking beet juice. Certain medications, such as some antacids and beta-carotene rich foods such as carrots can cause orange color.
Yellow-colored, greasy-looking stool can be caused by olestra, which is a fat substitute used in the preparation of high-fat foods such as potato chips, but it may also suggest that the body is having difficulty producing bile or enzymes (which are needed to break down food into nutrients). Kale and spinach can cause green-colored poop.
Pale or whitish-looking poop can signify that a person may be having liver or gallbladder issues. Barium and certain antacids/antidiarrheal medications can cause white poop, while iron supplements and bismuth medications can cause black poop. Stool that resembles coffee grounds can suggest GI bleeding.
Certain medical conditions, such as those for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and cancer can cause abnormalities. Food intolerances and allergies can cause diarrhea or constipation and irritable bowel syndrome can be exacerbated by stress. Lack of dietary fiber can also lead to bowel problems. Many of the health conditions that cause bowel issues can be managed with proper care.
Taking care of your digestive health is just as important as any other kind of wellness, because a well-functioning gut is essential for life.