Is my poo healthy?
How Can Feces Determine Your Health
Did you ever look at your feces right before you flush it out? Did you notice changes with its characteristics such as in regularity/frequency, size and shape, consistency, odor, color, etc.? Maybe you did notice some alterations in your stools but didn’t know if it is normal and you are embarrassed or shy to ask anyone. Or maybe you never really cared inspecting or observing your poop. This article will talk about how feces can determine one’s health. Once you’ve finished reading this article, the next time you go poop, you’ll definitely look at your stool before flushing it out.
What are feces, stools or “poop”?
Feces, stools, “poop” or however you call it are waste products of digestion that man eliminates or excretes from the body. This is the end result of the digestive process where those that can’t be absorbed stays in the large intestine and until it is excreted.
Regularity / frequency
There is no definite number of stools per day that can define what is the normal regularity or frequency of excreting stools in a day. However, there is an average number, which is once or twice per day. Remember that this is not definite and it may vary from person-to-person because some people may have a bowel movement greater than 2x a day, while some may eliminate feces every other day or even once or twice a week only. This factor may be affected by the amount of food and water intake, physical activities and even health conditions a person have.
SIZE AND SHAPE
The fecal mass is determined by amount of water and fiber a person consumes. In general, it is said that it should somehow assume an “S” shape because of the anatomy of the intestines. A stool that is pencil-thin, narrow or ribbon-like in shape may be a sign of gastrointestinal problems or diseases such as an obstruction, cancer, etc.
Dr. Ken Heaton of the University of Bristol developed a scale called Bristol stool scale or Meyers Scale (in UK) that classifies the form of human feces into seven categories depending on the time it passes through the colon. Here is an illustration of the Bristol stool scale.
The first two types (#1 and #2) may be a sign of constipation while the last three types (#5 to #7) may indicate diarrhea or increase in urgency. On the other hand, types 3 and 4 are the most favorable types, especially type 4, because they are the easiest to excrete (compared to #1 and #2) without having excess fluids (unlike #5 to #7).
As for the consistency of the stool, normally it is soft and it should not be too hard nor too watery. If it is too hard it may be difficult to defecate or you may not defecate at all because first, it is painful, and second is that it may cause slow intestinal movement. On the other hand, if your stool is too watery, you may be having diarrhea that may lead to dehydration and electrolyte imbalances. Seek you doctor if you have these types of consistency.
Stools have a relatively unpleasant odor or smell. This is because fecal material contains bacteria and parasites that produce gases that lead to its unusual, unpleasant smell. Some of the reasons for the foul odor are intake of certain medications, the stool have been in the colon for too long, too much fat in your poop, infection, etc. However, if the smell is gravely foul or stinky, don’t ignore this and see a doctor you may be suffering from an infection or even bleeding in you GI tract.
Take note that the color of your of feces can determine your health as it can indicate dietary factors/changes, intake of medicines or substances that can affect the color of stools or presence of gastrointestinal infection or disease.
Normally, stools are typically light to dark brown in color. There may be slight variations in color that may occasionally be noted but it will not necessarily mean that the person is sick. Stool color, in general, is affected by the amount of bile — a yellow-green fluid that is produced in the liver and functions to digest fats — that is present in one’s stool. The bile pigments are altered by the enzymes that are present in the gastrointestinal tract. This will then change the bile pigments from green to brown.
Changes in stool color may indicate type of diet (eating dark-colored foods, foods high in fat), kind of lifestyle (intake of certain substances like alcohol), taking medicines (that may irritate the gastrointestinal tract and cause bleedings, etc.) and a sign of gastrointestinal diseases.
If color change is drastic and prolonged, it may be dangerous and you need to consult your doctor. But if the change in stool color happens only in one occasion and does not persist then you may not have to worry too much.
Now, let us go into details regarding stool color.
GREEN / DARK GREEN
Stool color will most likely reveal what you eat. This color may be due to intake of green colored foods such as leafy vegetables and colored drinks as well as iron supplements. On the other hand, this color may also be a sign that the food may have rapidly passed through the intestines (i.e. diarrhea), thereby, not completing the breakdown of bile.
The cause of this color is similar to what was mentioned above in the color green. It is due to intake of foods, drinks or medicines that are orange-colored. The transit time of stools may also be very fast that there was less exposure to the bile.
Yellow-colored stool is also due to consuming too much yellow color food, drinks or medicines. This may also be an outcome of infection or malabsorption of fat in the stool (steatorrhea).
PALE / WHITE / GRAY / CLAY-COLORED
This may be caused by the lack of bile in the stool resulting to malabsorption of fat or presence of excess fat in the stool which is medically term as, steatorrhea. In steatorrhea, aside from having this color, the stool also tends to float, foul-smelling and appears oily or greasy due to the excess fat. Steatorrhea may be a consequence of an obstruction in the biliary tract that causes the lack of bile in the stool. If steatorrhea is temporary or short-term it may only be due from changes in the diet or gastrointestinal infection. However, once it persists, it may be a sign of serious condition, therefore, seek immediate consultation.
BRIGHT RED / RED
If your feces is red or bright red in color, aside from eating red-colored foods, it may contain fresh blood. This is most certainly a sign of bleeding in the lower gastrointestinal tract such as in the case of hemorrhoids, polyp, cancer, etc. Please see you doctor in this situation.
DARK RED / BLACK
This may be typical stool color if and only if you are taking iron supplements or eating too much red or dark-colored food. But if that is not the case, then you need to consult prompt medical care because it may be indicative of upper gastrointestinal such as in the rupture of esophageal varices, gastric ulcers, cancer, etc.
All these factors show just how feces can determine your health. This is NOT definite and may only be used for information purposes and NOT a substitute to your doctor’s advice.
If you are concerned about the characteristics and changes in your feces, stool or poop, consult your physician. Remember to seek immediate medical attention once you notice a sudden and persistent change in your stools.
Casio Wiser is a medical advocate dedicated to educating the public on common ailments