Healthy Bowel Movements: Why You Should Pay Attention to Your Poop
Jul 08, 2020 Cedars-Sinai Staff
Everyone poops, but most people still feel a little uncomfortable talking about their bowel movements.
While the subject of poop might make you squeamish, it's important for your health to notice your bowel movements and be aware when something isn't right.
"As humans, we often don't go around looking at each other's poop. We often don't realize what's not normal until we know what normal is."
The most important thing to look for in your stool
The main thing to know about healthy poop is that blood in the stool could indicate a serious health problem.
"Blood should be the first thing you look for in your stool," says Dr. Mark Pimentel, a gastroenterologist at Cedars-Sinai.
Blood in the stool (also known as rectal bleeding) could be a marker of cancer or other health issues, such as Crohn's disease or colitis.
When it comes to poop, what's considered healthy?
If you don't have blood in your stool, there are other things to monitor in your bowel movements.
"As humans, we often don't go around looking at each other's poop," Dr. Pimentel says. "We often don't realize what's not normal until we know what normal is."
To explain what healthy poop looks like, Dr. Pimentel will ask patients if they have any pets who poop.
"Dog poop gives you a reference point for what human poop should look like," Dr. Pimentel says.
Consistency, color and smell
Three things to observe are consistency, color and smell.
When examining your stool, pay attention to its consistency, color and smell.
Your poop should have a mainly solid, not loose, consistency.
"If someone tells me that their stool looks like soup, gravy or mashed potatoes, and it's been like that for a long time, their stool is not normal," Dr. Pimentel says.
Generally, healthy poop is brown, but the color can range from a very light brown to an almost greenish brown.
"Those colors are all perfectly normal, and it also varies by what you eat," Dr. Pimentel says.
Black poop is never normal. Black can mean decomposed blood, so this can be serious.
However, Dr. Pimentel says your stool could also turn black if you're taking iron pills or certain over-the-counter stomach aids.
As far as smell is concerned, if your poop is "extremely foul," this can be a sign of maldigestion or malabsorption, Dr. Pimentel says.
What about fiber?
Adding more fiber to your diet is another misconception people have about maintaining regular bowel movements.
"Fiber is confusing because it has benefits and harms," Dr. Pimentel says. "If you eat a healthy and balanced diet, you'll have plenty of fiber."
Another myth is that drinking a lot of water can help improve your bowel movements.
"Your bowel can absorb every single drop of water that you ingest," Dr. Pimentel says. "You can't overdrink water to treat constipation."
Exercise is key
One thing that does make a difference is exercise.
Exercise impacts the bowel, so it's good to engage in physical activity on a regular basis to keep your stool moving.