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Poop Health: Everything You Want to Know But Haven't Asked
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 and 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 about poopin’.
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).
If the runs strike, push fluids to prevent dehydration. Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and apple and pear juice — they can make diarrhea worse (who knew!). 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  .
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.
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?
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.
Have a question we didn't answer? Leave it in the comments below, or email the author at newcomer [at] greatist.com.
- The Truth About Poop. Goodman, S. Viking Juvenile, First Ed., May 2004⤴
- Differential diagnosis for acute diarrhea. Kurai, H. Division of Infectious Diseases, Shizuoka Cancer Center Hospital. Nihon Rinsho, Japanese journal of clinical medicine, 2012 Aug;70(8):1395-9⤴
- Chronic constipation in adults. How far should evaluation and treatment go? Marshall, JB. Gastroenterology Division, Gastroenterology Division, University of Missouri, Columbia School of Medicine. Postgraduate Medicine, 1990 Sept 1;88(3):49-51, 54, 57-9, 63⤴
- Relationship between lifestyle factors and defecation in a Japanese population. Nakaji, S., Tokunaga, S., Sakamoto, J., et al. Department of Hygiene, Hirosaki University School of Medicine, Japan. European Journal of Nutrition, 2002 Dec;41(6):244-8⤴
- What’s Your Poo Telling You? Richman, J. and Sheth, A. Chronicle Books, 2007⤴
- Probiotics use to treat irritable bowel syndrome. Hosseini, A., Nikfar, S., Abdollahi, M. Tehran University of Medical Sciences, Razi Institute for Drug Research, Iran. Expert Opinion on Biological Therapy, 2012 Aug 16⤴
- What’s Your Poo Telling You? Richman, J. and Sheth, A. Chronicle Books, 2007⤴
- A comparison of stool characteristics from normal and constipated people. Aichbichler, BW, Wenzl, HH, Santa Ana, CA, et al. Department of Internal Medicine, Baylor University Medical Center, Texas. Digestive Diseases and Sciences, 1998 Nov;43(11):2353-62⤴
- The relation between irregular bowel movement and the lifestyle of working women. Kunimoto, M., Nishi, M., Sasaki, K. Colo-proctological Clinic, Kunimoto Hospital, Japan. Hepato-gastroenterology, 1998 Jul-Aug;45(22):956-60⤴
- Creatureliness priming reduces aggression and support for war. Motyl, M., Hart, J., Cooper, DP. Department of Psychology, University of Virginia, Virginia. The British Journal of Social Psychology, 2012 Aug 13⤴
Comments Leave a comment
Thank You, @nicmcdermott, for opening your mind to poop enlightenment!
Poop Health: Everything You Want to Know But Haven’t Asked http://t.co/HfgfMB10 @greatist @BexLife thought of you Bex! #FitFluential
@lcculhane Best. Title. Ever.
Oh I know you read it @Jake_Blatt!
@peterwmayer @drewmagary thanks for sharing!
@BaileyVaez hooray for health!
@InHomeFitSol thanks for the RT!
@gfreefun Ha! True! At one of my cooking classes, I had to gently say, "Ok, folks, no more poop talk!"
@ElizBarbone hahaha! Same in our meetup group! You know you are #celiac when, drinks over happy hour turn to poop talk. ;-)
Hubby was put on a high fibre diet. I was able to obtain a list of high fibre foods & fibre content but would like recipes for easy high fibre meal preparation. Any suggesions & dietician didn't have any.
@tony2tall @seanmcdh Thanks for the informative article lol
Meanwhile, in other news... > RT @SteveGonzalez: Poop Health: Everything You Want to Know But Haven't Asked http://t.co/0vAtBis6
health is wealth it is known to every one. but we don't know how to keep it feet.
i have learn a lot of important things from your blog. thanks for your expert article
@greatist we ALL do it, might as well just put it out there. Great website BTW, everyone go check these guys out! It's be worth the effort!
Hi, I need help on a problem with my 'poop' routine. I normally have a around 2-3 poos a day, sometimes even more. I know everyone must poo on a regular basis but mine need to poo so it speak is uncontrollable sometimes which leaves me rushing to the toilet in public places. I never really had any accident in public but it's not nice getting the need to go just out of the blue. I don't know why it happens? My poos can vary, but I mainly have solid poos, and on the rare occasion it's more liquidy. But I'm quite skinny as it is and when I poo as much as I do I feel weak and I'm affraid to eat much after incase I need to rush to the toilet. If you could offer some advice of the matter I would be grateful. Thank you. Kieran.
My Mother in law is 93 and in a care center. She is barely eating. But they keep giving her M.O.M for her to go poop. Will she actually have normal BM's? How much poop can you poop if you barely eat?? thanks
Creatureliness! God, that's amazing. I've always thought society is basically animals trying to pretend we're not animals, which is why pooping and sweating and sex are all completely unacceptable.