C’mon, everyone poops, but nobody wants to talk about it! Yeah, your digestive system is a complex network of organs that plays a vital role in your overall health and well-being. And you like it or not, one of the most visible signs of digestive health is the appearance of your stool. The colour, texture and smell of your poop can provide important clues about your gut health and any underlying health issues. Understanding your poop and its characteristics can help you make informed decisions about your diet, lifestyle and overall well-being too. But it’s one aspect of your health one rarely talks about. So, we’ve curated some frequently asked questions related to poop, and sought a gut health expert’s help to answer them for you!
In the Instagram series Poop Scoop presented by Health Shots, gut health expert Smriti Kochar answered some common questions on poop.
There are many yoga poses for constipation. There are wind relieving pose, seated twist, forward bending pose, child pose or even squatting, which help in easing bowel movements. These exercises help the muscles to relax and contract, exerting pressure on your intestines. Deep breathing exercises also have a direct effect on digestion because it helps in activating your parasympathetic nervous system, which will improve your digestion and bowel movements.
Blood in stool is a result of constipation which can be a cause of enlarged internal hemorrhoids or fissures which leads to bleeding. They also tear apart the delicate tissue that lines out rectum, and the resulting abrasion can be aggravated by straining. If your stools are bright red, it could be because of anal bleeding. If they are black or tarry then that’s a result of upper gastrointestinal tract bleeding, which could be your stomach or small intestine due to presence of bacteria like H Pylori, low stomach acid, ulcers or cancer that would need medical attention.
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Healthy poop should look smooth and sausage-like. But if you have hard lumps like pebbles then it suggests severe constipation, which could be due to lack of beneficial bacteria, less dietary fiber, less water intake. It could also be due to thyroid dysfunction which can cause anal bleeding. The soft blob with edges represents a lack of fiber. Diarrhea and watery stools suggest inflammation, infection and food sensitivities. Also watery stools are often a result of rapid transit time because they don’t get enough time to bulk up and form stool. You can also have loose stool because of excessive potassium intake, sudden dehydration or a spike in blood pressure which can lead to stress.
Healthy stools should be in the shade of brown. It can be tan or light brown. The colour of your stool may be influenced by the foods you eat. Like eating too much beetroot can lead to a red stool. Our liver produces bile for fat digestion and as the bile travels through our gut, our poop actually is altered by the enzymes and the colour changes from green to brown. If there is rapid transit which is often seen in cases of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, it can lead to green bowels too, as the bile does not get altered by the enzymes.
Black, red or clay colour stools are signs of dysfunction. Black and red suggests gastrointestinal bleeding and requires attention. Black coloured stool can also be because of an increase in intake of iron supplements. If your stools are white, clay or grey coloured, you have an issue with the gallbladder because it’s a sign of a biliary congestion or a sludgy bile.
Poop can be smelly due to two main reasons. Firstly, it can be foul smelling because of the bacteria in the gut and the by-products of digestion where they play a key role. Our gut bacteria basically ferments the fiber from our food in our colon and then emits gasses like methane, hydrogen and carbon dioxide. All these gasses can make up for smelly stools. The second big reason is food intolerance as in such cases, the foods don’t break down properly in our stomach and then they keep fermenting, leading to a foul smell which gets passed on to the poop. A lot of people cannot digest eggs or milk very well and because of that, it can make their poop smell.
Constipation is often a result of lack of fiber, water or imbalance in gut bacteria called dysbiosis. Another major factor is thyroid dysfunction, which can slow down bowel movements drastically. Constipation means hard, nutty lumps of stool. They can be hard because there is no fiber present to retain the water or bulk it up. The stools are also hard and abrasive, so they can be painful to pass. Constipation can also mean incomplete evacuation, but many people are likely to experience this when they go through an antibiotic course because that kills a lot of gut bacteria which helps us in pooping.
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A perfect poop should be smooth and sausage-like with no edges. The long sausage shape is because of the poop properly passing through a colon which is our large intestine. Also poop should not be smelly or sticky. It should be the shade of brown and should not be floating in water. Also, it’s great if you poop first thing after you wake up in the morning.
A healthy bowel movement can range anywhere from 1 to 4 times a day. Regular bowel movements actually are a sign that your digestive system is working properly. So don’t be scared of pooping multiple times. However rapid transit, loose stools or pooping after every meal is something you need to worry about. Many factors influence this such as fiber intake, presence of gut bacteria, water intake, stress levels, exercise and food intolerance.
If you wonder why poop becomes better before your periods, it’s because of the shift in your hormones which alter the gut motility or movement. In menstruating females progesterone will rise after ovulation and progesterone basically slows down on motility and causes constipation when it rises. And that’s why in early days of pregnancy, women often get constipated. Just before the period, progesterone levels drop which leads to an increase in transit time and makes you poop more.