Here’s What Your Poop Says About Your Health
posted june 17, 2019
by Vera Johnston
“You are what you eat” couldn’t be truer when it comes to your poop. But beyond ingesting food that makes you constipated or keeps you visiting the bathroom, your bowel movements can provide a window into your health. Sure it’s gross, and no one is advocating inspecting your poop each time you go, but giving it a look every now and again can go a long way towards ensuring your health and clueing you into potential problems.
- Poop Consistency Gives You a Clue
Take the consistency of your poop for starters. Bowel movements fall into a few different categories. There’s the sinkers (the best indication you’re healthy), hard little pieces, floaters, and loose stool that isn’t diarrhea. Outside of the sinkers, all can be signs that something is amiss.
Hard pieces that require work to get out are usually due to constipation. That may seem like a no-brainer for people who have trouble in that department, but for those who go daily and have small, hard bowel movements, they may not realize they are stuffed up. The main culprits for this often harmless but uncomfortable problem: a lack of fiber and water in the diet. The more fiber you ingest the softer and easier your bowel movements will be. According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, men should have 38 grams of fiber each day while women need 25 grams. The average for adults is 15 grams or less daily.
Hydration is another important weapon in the fight against constipation. The amount of water needed depends on the individual’s age, weight, and health, but a general rule of thumb is to make sure you have eight glasses of water daily. On hot days it doesn’t hurt to consume more. Lack of exercise can also be a contributor to chronic constipation. The more you get up and get going the more it will kick-start your metabolism and give you healthier poop. Outside forces negatively impact the health of your GI tract, too. Prescription drugs for depression, pain management, and iron deficiency can lead to severe constipation. The problem is so bad there’s even a drug to fight opioid-induced constipation.
- Loose Poop That Is Short of Diarrhea
We’ve all been there. Eat the wrong thing and a few hours later you’re spending the night in the bathroom. But if loose stool, not diarrhea, is a common occurrence, it may be more than something you ate. Take celiac disease which plagues just 1% of the U.S. population, according to the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center.
Often times, a person’s bowel movements are the first indication of the disease. Conventional wisdom says diarrhea is the red flag, but the University of Chicago’s Celiac Disease Center found only 35% of newly diagnosed patients had chronic diarrhea. Loose stool, on the other hand, may be the sign to look out for.
- You Are a Floater Not a Sinker
With a healthy bowel movement, the poop sinks to the bottom of the toilet. If you fall into the latter category it could be a sign something is wrong with your diet.
People who consume a lot of beans, cabbage, and other gas creating food typically have floaters. But if you don’t eat gas-creating food and all of a sudden your poop is constantly floating, it could be a sign of an infection or something else that is preventing your body’s ability to absorb food.
- Blood in Your Stool
Blood in your stool can be alarming, conjuring up fears of a serious medical condition. After all, it does indicate that there is bleeding somewhere in the digestive tract. But the color of the blood matters, a lot. Bright red blood means it’s new and likely lower down on the GI tract while black blood implies it’s older and probably higher up, which can be more serious.
Bright red blood in the stool is most likely caused by hemorrhoids, which are swollen blood vessels that can sometimes bleed, or anal fissures or tears in the lining of the anus. Pushing and straining can cause the bright red blood. The fresh blood could also be caused by Diverticulitis, which according to LiveStrong, is the main cause of GI bleeding. The disease occurs when small pouches push out from the walls of the large intestine or colon. Common with seniors, Diverticulitis can result in bleeding that is painless.
Black blood is old, which is why it can be an indication of something more serious than hemorrhoids or an anal tear. Typically, bleeding in the upper end of the digestive tract can cause the dark blood and may signal that you are suffering from an ulcer or another irritation in the stomach or esophagus. That is known as gastritis and can spark the bleeding. Some medicine and iron supplements can also create black, tarry stool. If you notice black blood in your poop and it doesn’t go away, get on the phone with your doctor as soon as possible to rule out any underlying diseases.
- Your Poop Smells Really, Really Bad
Smelly poop is a fact of life no matter how healthy or bad you eat. But if the smell emanating from the bathroom is downright foul and unusually strong, it may be more than something you consumed last night. Take malabsorption for example. The culprit for nasty smelling poop, this happens when your body can’t absorb the correct amount of nutrients from the food you digest daily. It can be triggered by an infection or from a disease that stops your intestines from absorbing the necessary nutrients.
Another disease that accompanies really bad smelling poop is celiac disease. When the body reacts to gluten, it hurts the small intestine lining and can give off a bad smell. Because smelly poop can be an indicator of several GI diseases, the best defense is to watch what you eat and see if the smell goes away. If it persists, it’s time to consult a physician.
Bowel movements aren’t the things of romance novels nor are they the usual topic of conversation around the water cooler, but how often and the type of poop you have can provide a window into your health. Nine out of ten times stinky poop, constipation, and even diarrhea are the product of what you consume, but in some cases, it can be a red flag that something is not right.
While no one wants to inspect their poop under a microscope, a quick glance at the consistency and a quick note of just how smelly it is can go a long way towards ensuring that you and your GI tract remain healthy.
Vera Johnston is a registered Nurse working for a private clinic under a gastroenterologist. When it comes to patients with digestive issues and strange stool, she’s seen it all and wishes to share her knowledge with the public at large—as peculiar as it can be to discuss poop with strangers.