What does your poo say about you? While it’s not something most of us feel comfortable talking about, moving our bowels is a completely normal bodily function – plus it’s essential to our health.
Our daily bowel habits can tell us a lot about our overall health and wellbeing and it’s not uncommon for our normal frequency or consistency to change from time to time. A change in colour, shape and firmness can be tell-tale signs of things like infection, food intolerances, dehydration and occasionally more serious issues.
So, what is “normal” and what can we do to have a better bowel movement?
Firstly, what is poop and why do we do it?
Bowel movements are your body’s way of getting rid of waste that the body doesn’t need. Made of around 75% water, our poop is basically made up of bacteria and undigested fibre, along with dead epithelial cells from our digestive tract. Poop also contains other substances, such as bile and bilirubin – a brownish coloured waste product produced from the breakdown of our red blood cells. It’s this compound that gives our bowel motions that brown colour.
How many bowel motions a day is normal?
Ideally, we want to be moving our bowels at least once per day. This is important so that we are moving toxic wastes out of our body and to prevent faecal matter from becoming backed up into the intestines or impacted.
For many, a morning motion is normal as our bowel is most active at this time and after our first meal. During sleep, our digestive system works hard to process our food eaten over the course of the day. On waking, our colon begins to contract to move contents along the intestines, prepping us for a movement. Couple this with a morning coffee – a colon stimulant – and most people will find themselves skipping off to the loo.
While you may not be a ‘once a day pooper’, the important thing is staying regular. If you notice any sudden changes to your bowel habits such as going more frequently a day or not at all, then this is a time to check in with your doctor.
What causes loose bowel motions?
If your stools are loose, watery and you’re going more than three times a day, this is known as diarrhoea.
Typically, diarrhoea is due to bacteria or parasites from contaminated food or water, as well as viruses such as the common cold, flu or norovirus.
Food intolerances and sensitivities are also a common cause, with dairy being a common trigger for many people.
Certain medications such as antibiotics and even supplements such as magnesium can also commonly cause looser bowel movements, as can caffeine from coffee because of its stimulating effect on the intestine and colon.
Along with these factors, stress and anxiety can also be a major cause. When we’re under emotional stress, this can often affect our digestive processes, speed and cause symptoms like bloating and diarrhoea, as well as upset our gut bacteria balance.
Are frequent loose bowel motions an issue?
The occasional bout of diarrhoea is normal, especially when we’re sick. But if it’s something you begin to notice frequently or it doesn’t go away, then this is more cause for concern.
Loose bowel motions can easily result in dehydration, because of the amount of water and electrolytes lost through the stool. Along with drinking plenty of fluids, consuming soluble fibre from foods such as oats, peas, beans, avocado, apples and carrots can help to absorb water in the bowel and slow transit time to alleviate diarrhoea.
Looking closely at your diet is also important, as this can help to identify any particular food triggers or sensitivities that might be contributing to loose bowel motions.
What causes constipation?
For some, sh*t just doesn’t happen. Going less than three times a week and having poop that’s hard, dry and painful to pass is classed as constipation. Like loose stools, this can also be caused by food intolerances, stress, certain medications like antidepressants or supplements like iron. The most common causes of sluggish bowel movements however are a diet lacking in fibre, a lack of physical activity and dehydration.
What about colour?
Along with frequency and consistency, colour is just as important. The colour of your poop should be a healthy dark brown colour. Seen the poop emoji? 💩 That’s exactly the colour a healthy and happy bowel movement should look like!
Occasionally, certain foods might cause a change in colour of our poop. For example, beetroot is well-known for turning poop a shade of red, and spirulina can also make our movements take on a deep green colour. This is normal and caused by the coloured pigment in those foods. Colours that might mean something more serious include:
- Black: Black stools can be due to iron supplements, eating liquorice or bleeding in your upper digestive tract.
- White or pale coloured: Lighter stools are often due to poor bile function or a blocked bile duct.
- Yellow: Yellow and foul smelling stools can be caused by poor fat absorption, infection or can be a sign of coeliac disease.
Red: Red stools can be due to beetroot consumption, from blood in the stool from haemorrhoids or bleeding in the lower digestive tract.
What about shape?
When it comes to what's considered a normal looking poo, doctors rely on what's called the Bristol Stool Chart, first developed in 1997. This chart lumps poo into seven groups to determine what's normal, what's indicative of constipation and what's indicative of diarrhoea.
The goal? An ideal poo would be classified as a 3 or a 4, in the shape of a relatively smooth-looking sausage.
What’s the best way to support regular bowel movements naturally?
When it comes to regular and healthy bowel movements, diet and exercise are key. Physical activity like walking, running, swimming and yoga are all fantastic ways to stimulate the bowel and support healthy movements each day.
Short on time? Not to worry, even 10-15 minutes can work wonders!
Along with exercise, it’s important to make sure you’re getting enough foods high in fibre each day. Focus on eating a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans and wholegrains, to provide your body with both insoluble and soluble fibre to support healthy bowel habits naturally.
We've put together an easy guide of what foods you can include in your diet to help fix your poo.
Hydration is also vital, so remember to aim for 8 glasses of water a day to help prevent constipation and move toxic wastes along. If you’re still struggling, supplementing with certain herbs can also be very beneficial. Herbs such as slippery elm, marshmallow and chamomile can help to naturally support bowel frequency, consistency, as well as support overall digestion and gut health. Two Islands Happy Gut can also support gut health and healthy digestive function, containing high dose glutamine, soothing herbs and prebiotic fibre.
Read more about gut health
- What Is The Gut and What Does It Do?
- Why Is Gut Health Important For Our Total Wellbeing?
- What Is the Gut Microbiome and Why Is It so Important?
- Gut Health and Mood – The Gut/Brain Connection
- How Does Our Gut Health Affect Our Digestion?
- Gut Health, Pregnancy and Breastfeeding