The scoop on your poop
Unless you’re an 8-year-old boy, you probably don’t spend much time talking about your poop…even to those closest to you. Yet, it’s a big part of life. I mean, you could spend as many as 6,000 hours pooping throughout your life. That’s more time than most millennials will spend reading. But we’re much more willing to talk about the latest sci-fi book we read than to share about our toilet time, aren’t we?
Due to my international lifestyle, I am more than familiar with all kinds of toilets (and intestinal problems). You’ve got the Middle Eastern/Asian squatty potty, the African outhouse, the American sit-down, and the European bidet. And believe me, the restrooms at Gasworks Park in Seattle are a thousand times worse than anything I’ve seen in the “developing world.” But I digress.
As you might imagine, my American-raised gut does not take kindly to unrefrigerated food or untreated water. This has often led to difficult bathroom situations that have slightly tarnished my otherwise delightful memories of India, Thailand, Rwanda, and Mexico. I won’t go into the details of my bowel movements, but let’s just say there has been a wide variety.
Even if you don’t often leave your country of birth, you probably still have intestinal challenges from time to time. Taco Bell can get you as good as any Chinese street food, am I right?
Here’s the problem: how do you know when your poop is healthy if you never talk about it? Well, my friend, that’s what I’m here for. Consider this your go-to poop guide.
The many colors of poop
Contrary to what the poop emoji would have us believe, poop is not always brown. Please hear me, I’m not suggesting that Apple create a green poop emoji and a yellow poop emoji. I think the one we have is enough.
There are several different colors your poop can be. What do they mean?
If your poop is yellow or light-colored, it’s probably from eating yellow food. Alternatively, it could mean you have an infection in your liver, pancreas, or gallbladder. It could also point to a blockage in your bile ducts or to celiac disease. See a doctor if this color persists.
Brown is the color we like to see. Any shade of brown usually means you have normal, healthy poop.
Black poop can be a result of eating blueberries or black licorice or taking iron supplements. But be careful because it also might mean you have bleeding in the upper intestinal tract.
Green poop typically means you’re eating a lot of green vegetables, which is a good thing. If your diet is not full of green vegetables and you have green stool, you might have a bacterial infection.
Traces of red in your poop are usually the result of blood. Sometimes it’s harmless blood, like when you’re on your period. But other times, it’s a cause for concern. It could be due to intestinal bleeding, abnormal blood vessels, cut-off blood supply, swollen stomach lining, or cancer. If you have red poop, it’s best to see your doctor.
Too much poop
I will never forget something that happened in my classroom when I was teaching in China. One of my students raised her hand in the middle of class and said, “Teacher, can I go to the bathroom? I have diarrhea.” I looked around the classroom, surprised to find that no one was as shocked as I was. Perhaps other cultures are more comfortable talking about diarrhea than we Westerners are. And why shouldn’t they be? It’s part of life.
Having diarrhea for a couple of days shouldn’t alarm you. If it persists, you might need to seek medical care. Be sure to drink plenty of fluids to avoid the dehydration that often accompanies diarrhea. Trust me, going to the hospital for an IV bag of fluids is not a pleasant experience.
Here are some possible causes of diarrhea:
- A virus such as the flu
- Food intolerance such as lactose intolerance
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBD)
- Bacteria or parasites from unclean food or water
- Certain medications such as antibiotics
Too little poop
Constipation is literally the worst. It’s super painful and uncomfortable, and it makes you walk like you have a stick up your butt. If you have two days or more between bowel movements, you’re probably constipated. Here’s what it could mean:
- Your diet is low in fiber (found in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains)
- You are dehydrated
- You don’t exercise enough
- You take medications such as antidepressants
Remember, it’s okay if you don’t poop every day. That’s normal for some people. But if you have pain or discomfort, get some help. You might need to increase the fiber in your diet.
Sink or swim
Have you ever noticed your poop floating in the toilet? Don’t worry. This usually just means this turd is more dense than your other turds. If you have other problems such as weight loss, you might need to mention the floater to your doctor. In some cases, floating poop indicates poor absorption of nutrients, pancreatitis, or a gastrointestinal infection.
If your poop sinks like a rock, celebrate! Your poop is healthy and dense with nutrients.
Poop health is a key part of life. Don’t be ashamed to consult your doctor whenever you have questions about your bowel movements.
Hapbee CEO Scott Donnell found out all sorts of interesting things when he did a stool sample as part of his 100 Days Challenge. Follow along with his journey here.