Reprinted with the kind permission of DrAxe.com.
Wondering if your poop is considered “normal”? Most of us have asked ourselves this question at some point.
When you’re not regularly having normal bowel movements, or your feces is an unusual color and/or consistency, this can definitely indicate that something isn’t quite right. There are many reasons why you might not be pooping regularly or why something else may be off, such as your stool color. Maybe you ate too much spicy food, are sick with a virus, you’re dehydrated, or you possibly have a more serious underlying digestive disease or illness.
If you’re curious about whether your pooping habits are considered healthy or not, then you are already thinking along the right path. The frequency, color, shape, size and consistency of your poop can actually tell you a lot about the health of your entire body.
For example, green poop — a common health problem among children and some adults who struggle with diarrhea — can indicate that something you ate isn’t agreeing with you. Constipation may be due to a poor diet that lacks fiber, high amounts of stress, or something hormone-related like your menstrual cycle or pregnancy.
Below we’ll cover in much more detail what a normal poop should look like, about how often you should be pooping, as well as what the smell and color of your stool can tell you.
What Is a Normal Poop?
Poop (feces) is defined as waste matter that is discharged/excreted from the bowels after food has been digested. In simplest terms, poop is the body’s natural way of expelling the leftover waste and toxins that it doesn’t need once it’s absorbed all of the usable nutrients you consume from the foods you eat. Defecation is another term for pooping, which means the discharge of feces from the body.
The process of digestion — eating a food, the food traveling through your stomach and intestines, it making its way down to your colon and anal canal, and then you pooping the digested waste out — involves many different aspects of your body. For example, digestive enzymes, hormones, blood flow, muscle contractions and more are all involved in the pooping process. So when just one of these is off, your digestion really suffers — and that shows up in your poop.
How many times per day should I poop?
Going too often or not often enough is not considered normal. Having trouble going to the bathroom more than a few times a week, or going too many times per day (more than three), is considered by most experts to be a sign of abnormal bowel movements.
The amount of bowel movements a day that someone should have varies from person to person, so there is not one specific number that is considered completely “normal”; however, most experts agree that it’s important to go to the bathroom at least three or more times per week at a minimum. Any less than this indicates that you are constipated. (1)
Generally, going once or twice a day is considered normal. Going every other day is also somewhat normal, as long as you feel comfortable and are not experiencing pain in your abdomen. It may be normal for one person to poop two times per day, and for another person to poop just once every other day. Above all else, you want to make sure things are pretty consistent from day to day; this shows you what is “normal” poop for your own body and clues you in to when something internally is off.
What should my poop look like?
When you do go to the bathroom, it’s ideal to have a poop that is all connected in one long, smooth “S” shape. Poops like this develop when you’re eating enough fiber and drinking plenty of water or other hydrating liquids which lubricates your bowels.
However, a smooth poop that is thin or broken up into a few smaller poops is not something to be concerned about according to digestive experts, as long as this is “normal” for you and does not cause you any discomfort.
In terms of color, the color of a normal poop should be a medium to dark brown. Sometimes you may have green poop if you consume green foods, such as lots of leafy green vegetables, and this is considered normal.
You may have heard of the The Bristol Stool Chart in the past, which was designed in the 1990s to be a medical aid that classifies poop into one of seven categories. When physicians meet with patients and discuss their digestive health, they can use the Bristol chart to locate the patient’s typical poop and learn what may be causing a problem.
The idea behind designing the scale was to classify how poop looks depending on the time that it takes for the poop to form in the colon, or the poop’s “transit time.” If a poop is considered abnormal, it usually falls into categories 1–2 (which are signs of constipation and poop being held too long in the body) or categories 6–7 (which are signs of diarrhea and the poop moving too quickly through the body).
According to The Bristol Stool Chart, the seven types of stool are: (2)
- Type 1: Separate hard lumps, like nuts (hard to pass)
- Type 2: Sausage-shaped, but lumpy
- Type 3: Like a sausage but with cracks on its surface
- Type 4: Like a sausage or snake, smooth and soft
- Type 5: Soft blobs with clear cut edges (passed easily)
- Type 6: Fluffy pieces with ragged edges, a mushy stool
- Type 7: Watery, no solid pieces, entirely liquid
Types 1–2: Indicates constipation. (3)
Types 3–5: Considered to be ideal (especially 4), normal poops.
Type 6–7: Considered abnormal and indicates diarrhea.
How long should a normal poop take?
A healthy poop doesn’t cause pain, break up into multiple little pieces, or take a very long time and lots of pushing to come out. It should feel pretty easy to produce a poop, and you should feel like you’ve emptied your intestines once you’re done going. The whole process should not take more than several minutes for most people, or ideally even shorter. In fact, one recent study found evidence that most mammals, regardless of their size, produce bowel movements in about 12 seconds (give or take about 7 seconds)! (4)
It’s not normal to experience lots of straining, pressure and pain while passing a bowel movement. Poop should not cause too much pressure or burning, cause you to bleed, or require a lot of pushing and effort on your part. If you have to push very hard to poop and notice blood, you are likely experiencing hemorrhoids. While these are usually not very serious and do not require medical attention, they can be painful.
You also shouldn’t experience too many changes in your poop’s consistency and how long it takes you to go. If your poop is either overly watery or very hard and difficult to push out, this is a sign that things are not going well in your digestive tract. Diarrhea produces overly soft or watery poops and can be dangerous if it persists because it dehydrates and weakens the body. (5) It might also cause your poop to be green.
What does it mean when your stomach hurts and your poop is green? The causes of diarrhea and green poop vary, but often the reasons are dehydration, a viral stomach flu or infection, as a result of eating something with harmful parasites or bacteria, or even nerves (more on green poop can be found below).
Diarrhea and the sudden urge to poop can also be caused by certain medications or medical conditions, such as:
- gluten sensitivity or celiac disease (a gluten allergy)
- lactose intolerance (a dairy food allergy)
- inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis
- leaky gut syndrome
This is why its very important to see a physician if you experience diarrhea on an ongoing basis.
Constipation on the other hand is categorized by infrequent, usually painful poops that are caused by slow colonic transit or dysfunction in the pelvic floor. (6) Many people experience ongoing chronic constipation — in fact, this is one of the most reported problems at doctor’s visits every year.
Constipation can also be accompanied by other digestive symptoms like flatulence (gas), abdominal pain, stomach bloating and loss of appetite. It can be caused by many different factors depending on the individual, which we will go over in more detail in the next section.
How bad is it to hold in your poop?
Because you might not have access to a bathroom 24/7, or feel comfortable pooping in certain places, you might need to hold in your poop from time to time. Doing this occasionally isn’t a big deal, but you don’t want to make a habit of it.
Holding in your poop can put added pressure on your bowels and colon, potentially even leading them to change shape slightly if you do this often enough. It may also contribute to constipation and straining when you do finally poop because it causes your stools to further bulk up.
Over time, if you regularly ignore your urge to poop, you might stop responding to the urge as well. The muscles that control your bowels may stop working properly, leading to more constipation. Try to honor your body and poop when you need to, avoiding holding it in for more then several minutes if possible.
Poop Color (Including Green Poop), Poop Smell & What It Means for Your Health
Facts About Poop Color:
Stool color is determined by what you eat and the amount of bile enzymes you produce. Bile is a yellow-green fluid that mostly helps you digest fats in your diet. It can change the color of your poop during the digestive process due to how enzymes impact pigments in your stool. (7)
As mentioned above, the color of a normal poop should usually be a medium to dark brown. However, occasionally having green poop is also common and not a problem. Experiencing poops that are black, gray, yellow, white or red in color can be a sign that something deeper is wrong. If you have green poop along with other symptoms like stomach aches and diarrhea, this is also problematic.
- Green poop can sometimes be a common problem among both children and, to a lesser extent, adults. Why is your poop green, and what health problems can cause green poop? If you haven’t recently eaten anything green, green-colored poops might mean that food is making its way through your digestive tract very quickly, which can be a sign that you are starting to experience diarrhea or have not been consuming enough fiber to slow the transition down within your digestive tract.
- What foods can give you green poop? These include green leafy vegetables like spinach or kale, vegetables juices, blueberries, pistachios, green food powders, foods that contain green food coloring, and also sometimes iron supplements.
- In infants, the color and consistency of stool in differs according to the type of formula they are given, or if they are breast-fed. Babies fed formula may also deal with harder stools/more constipation compared to breast-fed babies. (8) When babies start eating solid foods, certain veggies or fruits might cause green poop in babies.
Other than green poops, there are also other reasons you might develop abnormal stool colors. For example, you may have blood in your stool or mucus in your poop.
- Black poops usually a sign that you may be internally bleeding, so if this persists for more than 2–3 poops, you will want to consult a physician.
- Red or purple poop can be somewhat common if you eat a lot of deeply colored vegetables like beets, but if you experience colors like this that you cannot associate with any food you recently ate, you will want to keep an eye on how many days it lasts and possibly see a doctor.
- Blood in stool can result in black poop or bright red blood in poop, which may be a symptom of bleeding from the anus (also called rectal bleeding). Blood in stool is also referred to medically as hematochezia, which can be caused by: bleeding stomach ulcers, blood supply being cut off to part of the intestines, gastritis, anal fissures, bowel ischemia, diverticulosis, hemorrhoids (often the cause of bright red blood), infection in the intestines, inflammatory bowel diseases, and polyps or cancer in the colon or small intestine. (9)
- Poop that is grayish or yellow in color is normally a sign that mucus is making its way into your stool. This shows that likely there is a problem with the liver or gallbladder, since the liver is responsible for producing bile that gives stool a grayish/yellow tint.
- Mucous in your stools can cause you to pass “stringy poops” that appear to contain a jelly-like substance, which is made by the body to keep the lining of your colon moist and lubricated. (10) What are some causes of mucus in poop? These can include: Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis and even colorectal cancer. A small amount of mucus in your poop is not a big deal or a sign of a problem, but a lot is not normal. If you notice mucus in your poop, blood, abdominal pain, and diarrhea happening at the same time, head to your doctor for an evaluation.
Facts About Poop Smell:
Although it may sound unpleasant, your poop smelling is actually not a bad thing or an indication of poor health. Poop smells because of the toxins it is helping to draw out of your body and because of the bacteria involved in the gut lining. There is not any specific poop smell that is considered “normal”; again, it’s just important to keep an eye on things being consistent and comfortable.
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If you do notice a sudden change in the smell of your poop — from “not so great” to “very, very bad” — this could be a sign that something more serious is taking place within your gut. If the smell continues for several days, you may want to consult your doctor, who may recommend a colonoscopy if needed.
5 Common Causes of Abnormal or Unhealthy Poop
1. High levels of stress
According to a report published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology,
Psychological stress is an important factor for the development of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) … psychological stresses have marked impact on intestinal sensitivity, motility, secretion and permeability, and the underlying mechanism has a close correlation with mucosal immune activation, alterations in central nervous system, peripheral neurons and gastrointestinal microbiota. (11)
Chronic stress makes it difficult for many people to relax their body and go to the bathroom properly. Your brain and our gut actually have a very close relationship; they communicate how you are feeling back and forth to each other, working to increase and decrease “stress hormones” depending on your moods, which play a big part in healthy digestion.
In fact, common digestive disorders like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are closely correlated with high levels of stress. When we are feeling stressed, our brain communicates these uneasy feelings to our digestive tract, making it very common for the gut wall to either constrict and tense up (causing constipation) or to work overtime and cramp up (causing diarrhea).
Stress can sometimes be a huge digestive obstacle to overcome, so much so that you may already eat a healthy diet and drink plenty of water, but without also addressing high stress levels, you still can’t experience some digestive relief. While you may not be able to control things like a busy schedule, you can prioritize reducing your stress by making sure you get good sleep each night and by regularly exercising, both of which help to bring down stress hormones levels.
2. Diet Low in Fiber
Fiber is extremely important when it comes to healthy poops; fiber is the binding substance that gives poop its form and helps it to move through the digestive tract. There are two kinds of fiber, both of which play a role in creating healthy poops: insoluble and soluble fiber. The difference between the two is their ability to dissolve in water; soluble fiber is able to dissolve in water while insoluble fiber is not.
If you struggle with ongoing constipation, pay close attention to how much fiber you are consuming daily. Consider swapping some of the foods in your diet that lack fiber — like meat, cheese, refined carbohydrates and hydrogenated oils — for much healthier, whole foods that provide your body with a lot more benefits (you’ll find a list of these foods below).
3. Inflammatory and Autoimmune foods
Unfortunately, many people consume common inflammatory and allergen foods on a frequent basis, and these can really mess with the digestive system’s ability to produce normal poops, in addition to creating more serious conditions like leaky gut syndrome and autoimmune disease. If you’re struggling to go to the bathroom normally, try avoiding these inflammatory digestive “common culprits” that may be to blame:
- conventional dairy foods (like cows’ milk, cheeses and yogurts that are not organic or pasteurized)
- gluten (found in all wheat products, nearly all processed foods and anything containing rye and barley) that makes any digestive disorders worse
- processed soy (used in foods like soy milk, soy meat replacements, packaged veggie burgers and many processed foods) that is a high allergen and autoimmune-causing food
- high amounts of sugar, which unhealthy bacteria feeds off of in your gut
- also keep an eye on different types of nuts, grains and shellfish since these are also high allergens and difficult for some people to digest
4. Alcohol & Caffeine
Stress and caffeine can create a range of negative reactions in the digestive tract that depend on the individual person. For example, some people experience an increased need and ability to poop after having caffeine, while others have the opposite problem.
Caffeine and alcohol can also both dehydrate the colon, and as you learned, a well hydrated digestive tract is crucial for creating healthy, normal poops.
5. Hormonal Changes
Women typically report dealing with more constipation, IBS and digestive issues than men do. Experts believe there are a number of reasons that contribute to women’s digestive issues, some of which include: changes in hormones throughout the menstrual cycle (period a woman menstruates she may be more constipated due to higher progesterone levels), pregnancy, hormonal medications, feeling more stressed, and rushing or leaving too little time for a healthy bathroom routine. (13)
Anther possible contributor is societal pressure and embarrassment that prevents women from going to the bathroom in public bathrooms or at friend’s houses.
6. Underlying Illnesses
As explained above, there are many health conditions that affect stool color and cause abnormal bowel movements. While you don’t want to jump to any conclusions right away and assume the worst when your poop changes color or you’re constipated, this is definitely something to see a doctor about and not wait out for too long.
Certain changes in your bowel habits can be pointing to possible serious conditions like gallbladder or liver disease, bleeding, gut parasites and so on. Other health conditions to rule out with your doctor include: inflammatory bowel disease, cancer, food allergies, or reactions from medications/supplements.
7 Steps to Get Your Poop Back to Normal
1. Increase Your Fiber Intake
A common cause of constipation is not eating enough dietary fiber. Fiber acts like a natural laxative in many ways because it add bulks to your stool and helps sweep your intestines clean.
Adults want to make sure they consume fiber from whole food sources as often as possible (as opposed to artificially created fibers that are found in things like “high fiber” diet products and pre-made, commercially sold shakes).
It’s best to aim to get between 25–40 grams of fiber per day, with bigger individuals and men usually need an amount on the higher end of the scale. Getting this much fiber shouldn’t be too difficult if your diet is made up of real, whole foods — including plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Vegetables, fruits and beans are some of the best sources of both soluble and insoluble fiber, which will increase your ability to properly poop. However, each person reacts to these foods differently, and some have trouble digesting certain kinds of beans and fibrous vegetables that can actually worsen the problem. So always be mindful about how you react to foods and try to zero-in on any that specifically may cause you digestive distress so you can avoid them.
Assuming these foods do not cause you to experience digestive problems, work towards adding various types of high-fiber foods to your diet as often as you can. This helps ensure you’re eating plenty of gut-loving fiber, plus getting other important nutrients for your digestive system like vitamins, minerals, electrolytes and antioxidants.
- eat all types of leafy greens (but don’t be alarmed if they wind up causing green poop)
- cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cabbage (try steaming these to make digestion easier)
- peas and other types of beans (which you can also pre-soak and sprout)
- squash and potatoes
- berries, apples and pears (which can be blended as well), figs and dates
- chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds and various other nuts/seeds
2. Drink Plenty of Water
Aim to consume water every two hours at a minimum; drinking roughly eight ounces of water every couple of hours will prevent dehydration and set you up for a healthier poop the following morning.
Whenever you are eating a lot of fiber, you want to also make sure to drink plenty of water. A high amount of fiber, without enough hydrating liquids, can actually result in even more trouble going to the bathroom, unfortunately. Remember that fiber swells and expands in the digestive tract, so if it doesn’t have enough water to absorb and to move it through the gut lining, you can experience uncomfortable bloating, gas, pains and constipation.
3. Consume Probiotics
Probiotics help to create a healthy environment in your gut “micoflora.” Essentially this means that the amount of “good bacteria” in your gut is able to balance the amount of “bad bacteria,” helping you to stay free of digestive problems, including constipation or diarrhea.
Probiotic-rich foods includes kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi and high-quality yogurts. Make sure that when buying dairy products, you always choose organic products as they are easier on digestion, such as goat milk products, organic kefir, raw dairy products or dairy that doesn’t contain A1 casein that can cause inflammation. You can also try supplementing with a good-quality probiotic as well.
4. Supplement with Magnesium
If you frequently deal with constipation, magnesium has the natural ability to safely soften poop. It works to draw water from your gut into the poop and helps it to easily move through your system. Magnesium is also a natural muscle relaxer, which can help to stop cramping in the gut and abdomen.
Since magnesium is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in adults, there are really no downsides to tying magnesium, as long as you stick within the recommended daily dosage carefully; if you start experiencing stools that are too loose and watery, you can adjust your intake until its comfortable and back to normal.
5. Support Your Liver
Did you know that your liver is responsible for producing the bile that digests fat? Without enough bile, your fats become something like soap in your gut! This backs up and can lead to constipation and difficulty detoxing the body of toxins. One of the best ways to support your liver is with diet and exercise. You can also do a liver cleanse to clean everything out and get your body back to feeling its best!
6. Get Your Body Moving
Being active is a great way to get your poop cycle on a more regular schedule. Exercise stimulates the bowels and lymphatic system, which helps to push waste down to your colon, making it easier for you to go. On top of this, exercise also relaxes your mind and reduces stress, which as you now know is one of the biggest reasons for digestive troubles.
7. Manage Stress
Try natural stress relievers like meditation, prayer, exercise, using relaxing essential oils, deep breathing exercises, yoga and spending time in nature.
Final Thoughts on Normal vs. Abnormal Poop
- Every person is different when it comes to their bathroom habits. It’s considered “normal” to poop one to three times daily, or just once every other day. Ideally poop should be one long, smooth “S” shape and not require straining or painful pushing.
- Poop color depends on what you eat, supplements you take and your production of bile. Poop should ideally be medium to dark brown, but you might have green poop occasionally if you eat green veggies, green juices or take iron supplements.
- Some reasons that you might not be pooping normally include: stress, infection, autoimmune diseases, other underlying illnesses, lack of fiber, dehydration, alcohol and caffeine.
- Ways that you can improve your pooping habits include: eating more fiber, drinking enough water, consuming probiotics, exercising, supporting your liver and managing stress.