Poop Health: Everything You Want To Know But Haven't Asked

unnamed-1
Update: This story was originally published on March 13, 2014. It has been republished in honor of World Health Day.
Advertisement
Going, er, #2 might be a rather uncomfortable topic for most of us, but turns out it’s actually pretty interesting. For instance, who knew the skipper caterpillar is just an inch and a half long but can shoot its poop a distance of six feet? Or, that a goose defecates an average of once every twelve minutes? In contrast, sloths go only about once a week.
Poop habits are pretty varied in the non-human animal world, and the same is true for people. Despite being a universal act, this part of “going to the bathroom” is rarely discussed. Greatist wants to change that — so read on for some straight talk.
How often should I go?
Everybody is different, and there is no set “normal” when it comes to passing stools. That said, the normal range spans three times a day to once every three days, meaning the average person poops approximately once a day — about 1 ounce of stool for each 12 pounds of her or his body weight. That means a person weighing 160 pounds produces an average of just under a pound of poop each day.
Going four-plus times a day or having watery, thin, or loose stools qualifies as diarrhea, a common condition that usually isn’t serious (except in severe cases or in elderly, young, or sick people, whose bodies might not be up to replacing fluids lost through diarrhea). Acute diarrhea usually results from an infection and goes away pretty quickly; persistent diarrhea lasts two weeks or more; and chronic diarrhea lasts longer than a month. Common causes include infections, medications, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), and diet (meaning, “It must have been something I ate” really is a legitimate reason some of the time).
Advertisement
If the runs strike, push fluids to prevent dehydration. Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and apple and pear juice — they can make diarrhea worse. Instead, try to eat solid foods like soda crackers, toast, rice, eggs, and chicken. Over-the-counter meds can also be helpful; ask a pharmacist for help if you’re overwhelmed by the choices. If diarrhea lasts longer than 48 hours or is accompanied by fever or dehydration, consult a physician.
Going less than once every three days qualifies as constipation. Though usually not serious, it can be painful and uncomfortable — partly because after three days, stool gets harder and more difficult to pass. Common causes include inadequate fiber or fluid intake, overuse of caffeine and alcohol, medications, chronic laxative abuse, mental issues (like depression), certain foods, and various diseases. Getting lots of fiber (nuts, whole grains, and fruit are all good sources), exercise, and water can lessen the chances of getting backed up.
unnamed
What should it look like?
First, it’s useful to know what it’s made of. Feces are about 75 percent water. The rest is a combination of dead and living bacteria (which help to break down food in the gut), protein, waste material from food, cellular linings, fats, salts, substances released from the intestines and the liver, and perhaps some insoluble-fiber-rich foods that the body couldn’t digest (read: that ear of corn from yesterday’s cook-out). The result is typically brown in color — mainly the result of bilirubin, a pigment generated by the breakdown of red blood cells.
Advertisement
The “bulk” of the stool is determined by how much water and fiber a person consumes. Check out this chart to learn what different shapes can reveal about the health of the gut. It’s normal for poop’s appearance to vary depending on lifestyle factors such as what a person eats in a given day, how hydrated and physically active they are, and even their stress levels. Some medical experts say the ideal stool should hold together and take roughly the form of an “S.” (The idea is that the colon and intestines are long and thin, so the ideal stool should adopt a similar shape.) But, don’t worry if that poop doesn’t form a perfect “S” — what matters more is that bowel movements pass fairly easily from the body into the toilet.
Why does it smell?
Knowing what stool is made of (see question #2) explains why it smells: The bacterial activity in feces produces a host of compounds and gases that create those infamous odors. Particularly stinky day? The most likely culprit is something you ate, though extremely foul-smelling stools can also signal certain medical conditions. If you’re concerned, consult a medical care provider.
What if it hurts?
Discomfort is frequently associated with constipation. But, if you regularly experience straining or sharp pains in the rectum or abdomen (or if you ever experience bleeding), consult a physician, as these can be signs of issues like hemorrhoids or anal fissures.
Why are we embarrassed to poop, and to talk about poop, in the first place?
Suppressing the need to go can create bowel issues, particularly in women. Yet, some of us would still rather hold it in than talk about it.
Some researchers take an existential approach to this phenomenon. It’s called Terror Management Theory, and the idea is that natural bodily functions remind us of our “creatureliness,” and therefore our mortality. But, scary as it might be to contemplate life’s fragility, it’s important to come to terms with it so that we notice our bodies’ signals — both on and off the marble throne.
Advertisement

More from Body

Ragazzi mi state seguendo in tanti e vorrei ringraziarvi e scusarmi se non riesco a rispondere a tutti...vi proprio ho una foto che mi ricorda tutte ...
Update: Kopp's original Facebook post has been removed, and, as Shape reports, the chances of contracting an infection so severe that draining is ...
Breast-feeding has numerous benefits for both mother and baby, but it doesn't always come as naturally as we might assume. And, as one viral photo shows, ...
Pregnant women get a lot of advice about motherhood, even when they don't ask for it. And in the first episode of Expecting, from Refinery29's comedy ...
Last week, Kelly Stanley was breast-feeding her 9-month-old baby during dinner when someone else at her table decided to grab a cloth napkin and try to ...
Periods may be annoying, but at least they're predictable — sort of. If yours is a little delayed this cycle, and you're not trying to get pregnant right ...
It sustains life. It boosts immunity. It may or may not taste like the milk left over from a bowl of Lucky Charms. (Full disclosure: I sampled mine just ...
(Paid Content) Stress sweat is different from regular sweat in that it feeds off bacteria and causes odor. Then you start to think about it — producing ...
Gina Rodriguez is the master of keeping it real. She's been open about everything from losing her virginity to coping with thyroid disease, so it makes ...
When you see your friend's adorable baby, your first instinct, understandably, is probably to hug and kiss her all over. However, you might want to think ...
Two years ago, Ericka Hart was about to walk into a Sephora in Lower Manhattan when she looked down at her ringing phone, and stopped right there on Wall...
Eve Torres Gracie, former WWE wrestler and current very dangerous person, posted a moving Instagram photo of her post-baby body today. Inspired by the ...
In an interview for People's Mom Talk video series, model and actress Molly Sims opened up about suffering through a thyroid problem that went ...
When I think about the aspect of sex that has made me most anxious over the course of my seven years of sexual activity so far, it’s not the risk of ...