“Is my poop normal?” Well, what the heck is normal? Everyone poops, but no one really talks about it… Plus, everybody’s poop is different, and the shape, color, and consistency of your own stool may not be exactly the same every day. Luckily, there are some general characteristics of “normal,” and a handful of signs and symptoms that can indicate your hydration status, digestive power, rate of gut motility, and even your organ health.
The Shape of Your Stool
The shape of your stool is greatly influenced by your level of hydration and rate of your digestive tract. Our picture perfect poop is smooth, snake-shaped, and has no cracks in the surface. When we have hard, round, “pebble poo,” it often means our rate of digestion is slow, and can indicate dehydration. Bulky, caterpillar-shaped stool can tell us that things may be moving quicker, but that that dehydration is still plaguing us, or that we are not eating frequently enough to signal for a bowel movement, meaning that our poop is getting dehydrated in the large intestine from water reabsorption! Other aspects that can slow our stools are things like low thyroid function, high progesterone levels, or imbalanced gut flora such as yeast overgrowth.
On the other end of the spectrum, we’re looking at blob-like stools that are soft, fluffy, or mushy. Perhaps things are moving so fast that we can’t absorb and process our food properly, or that inflammation in the gut is cranking up the speed. Stool that is completely liquid, AKA diarrhea, means that things are moving and grooving in your digestive tract, and nothing is slowing it down. Diarrhea can occur when there is gut inflammation, when you ate something that your body doesn’t agree with, or when there are some stomach bugs ganging up on you.
Keeping track of the shape of your stool, and occurrence of these shapes, especially if they are not picture perfect, can help us determine where to focus our efforts. Perhaps we need to help slow down or speed up your digestive tract, or assess for inflammation or hormonal imbalances.
Food In Your Stool
We’re not talking about corn here – everybody has kernels in their stool after eating corn! However, undigested food, or a “food flashback,” is not something that should be a common occurrence. Poop should look like poop, and not like a meal you recently ate.
Undigested fruits or vegetables can suggest that your body is not producing the adequate stomach acid needed to break food down. Your gut bacteria plays a large role in breaking down food, so making sure that you have good levels of good gut bacteria will help this process. Undigested fats in the stool are harder to identify, and may typically appear mucousy or slimy in appearance. Lipase and bile are the slackers here, when we don’t break down our fats well.
Strands of protein could indicate a few things; Either your stomach acid may be insufficient, or protease – the digestive enzyme which is secreted by the pancreas and activated in the small intestine – is not properly digesting protein. Speaking of digestive enzymes, if you’re finding undigested rice and potatoes, it could be related to amylase, which is the enzyme responsible for breaking down starches into sugars.
The Color of Your Stool
Out of all the colors of the rainbow, brown is the ideal color here! There are a variety of browns that are all considered normal – especially if your stool is well-formed and food-free. Different colored stools can indicate how other organs in the body are functioning.
If you’re noticing pale or pastel colored poop, it’s time to talk to your health care provider and evaluate the liver and gallbladder. These light shades can indicate that your bile is not doing its job. Bile helps to break down fat, absorb fat soluble vitamins, and balance our intestinal pH. Our stomach acid is very acidic, and bile helps reduce that acidity in order to make the pH more favorable for the rest of the digestive system. Additionally, bile is a laxative and helps us to have better bowel movements! Yellow poop can indicate that your bile isn’t functioning properly, and if there is excess bile in the GI tract, it may cause you to have green stool. Green may also occur when experiencing diarrhea.
Black stool can be a result of taking iron pills or using pepto bismol. However, if this is not the case, then black stool can be a sign of a stomach ulcer or upper GI bleed. Similarly, red stool can indicate an internal bleed. You may have hemorrhoids if you have blood streaks on the outside of the stool or small amounts of red blood when you wipe. If you are noticing lots of blood, or blood that is intertwined with the stool, don’t ignore these signs. This is your body’s literal red flag telling you to talk to a medical professional and find out the reason.
The Bottom Line (Pun Intended)
There’s a lot that your poop can tell you, and all it takes is a careful observation. If you have more concerning shapes, colors, or particles that don’t belong, take note of your patterns (or lack thereof) and bring this information to a medical professional who can help you identify the trends and find some answers.
Your physician should also be asking the right questions, such as these:
- How often do you have a bowel movement?
- What does it look like? What is your range of stool shape, and what is your average?
- Do you have “extras” like blood, mucus, or undigested food?
- Do you feel “complete” after a bowel movement? [Meaning does your brain and body agree that what you just created is everything, or is there more that hasn’t been produced yet?]
- Do you experience discomfort? If you do experience discomfort, what does it feel like (sharp, dull, aching, throbbing, darting, squeezing, expansive, empty, etc.)?
The details are KEY for finding out the WHY. If you’ve been experiencing stool that is out of the norm, it’s important to pay attention to it, listen to your body, and work with a medical professional. At ISAIH Natural Medicine, there’s no funny business when it comes to your poo. If you’re looking to find the answers behind your stool, consider becoming a patient with us!