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Your stool is about 75 percent water. The rest is a fetid combination of fiber, live and dead bacteria, miscellaneous cells and mucus. The characteristics of your stool will tell you a good deal about how happy and healthy your digestive tract is the color, odor, shape, size, and even the sound it makes when it hits the water and whether it’s a “sinker” or a “floater” are all relevant information.
The Bristol Stool Chart is a handy tool that may help you learn what you’re going for. Ideally, your stool should approximate Types 3, 4 and 5, “like a sausage or a snake, smooth and soft” to “soft blobs that pass easily.” Type 4 is the Holy Grail
Fiber tends to bulk up your stool and acts like glue to keep the stool stuck together, instead of in pieces. If your stool is on the softer side, short of diarrhea (“soft serve,” as some call it), it could be related to lactose intolerance, artificial sweeteners (sorbitol and Splenda), or a reaction to fructose or gluten.
What’s normal and what’s not when you look into the toilet? The following table will help you narrow down what to look for, so that you aren’t needlessly alarmed. Of course, there are a few signs that ARE cause for concern, and those are listed too. If you have a change in stools accompanied by abdominal pain, please report this to your physician.4
Healthy Stool Unhealthy Stool Medium to light brown Stool that is hard to pass, painful, or requires straining Smooth and soft, formed into one long shape and not a bunch of pieces Hard lumps and pieces, or mushy and watery, or even pasty and difficult to clean off About one to two inches in diameter and up to 18 inches long Narrow, pencil-like or ribbon-like stools: can indicate a bowel obstruction or tumor – or worst case, colon cancer; narrow stools on an infrequent basis are not so concerning, but if they persist, definitely warrant a call to your physician S-shaped, which comes from the shape of your lower intestine Black, tarry stools or bright red stools may indicate bleeding in the GI tract; black stools can also come from certain medications, supplements or consuming black licorice; if you have black, tarry stools, it’s best to be evaluated by your healthcare provider Quiet and gentle dive into the water...it should fall into the bowl with the slightest little “whoosh” sound – not a loud, wet cannonball splash that leaves your toosh in need of a shower White, pale or gray stools may indicate a lack of bile, which may suggest a serious problem (hepatitis, cirrhosis, pancreatic disorders, or possibly a blocked bile duct), so this warrants a call to your physician; antacids may also produce white stool Natural smell, not repulsive (I’m not saying it will smell good) Yellow stools may indicate giardia infection, a gallbladder problem, or a condition known as Gilbert’s syndrome – if you see this, call your doctor Uniform texture Presence of undigested food (more of a concern if accompanied by diarrhea, weight loss, or other changes in bowel habits) Sinks slowly Floaters or splashers Increased mucus in stool: This can be associated with inflammatory bowel disease like Crohn’s disease, or ulcerative colitis, or even colon cancer, especially if accompanied by blood or abdominal pain
Normal bowel habits vary. When we talk about regularity, what we’re really talking about is what’s regular for you. Three bowel movements per day to three per week is considered the normal range.
What’s more important than frequency is the ease with which you move your bowels. If you need to push or strain, something is off – moving your bowels should take no more effort than urinating or passing gas. The thing to watch for is a sudden change in your bowel habits. Many factors can affect regularity, such as diet, travel, medications, hormonal fluctuations, sleep patterns, exercise, illness, surgery, childbirth, stress and a whole host of other things.