Here, experts shed light on number two and explain why it’s important to look before you flush.
If going to the toilet is comfortable, things are going well
Pooping shouldn’t require too much pushing. Likewise, bowel movements shouldn’t hurt. Your bowel movements can tell you a lot about your health, so taking a glance in the bowl to look at colour, shape, size – and even taking a little whiff on occasion – can be important.
A brown colour is best
Stools should be any shade of brown or green. “Typically, the food you eat takes three days from consumption to becoming waste,” says Dr Gabriel Neal, a clinical assistant professor of medicine. “If your stool is on the greener side, it may have taken a shorter time to digest, but it’s generally no cause for concern.” If your stool appears black or tarry, it may be evidence of blood, about which you should talk to your doctor. Certain over-the-counter medications can also turn your stool black.
Blood in your stool is always a red flag
If you see even a small amount of blood in your faeces on a recurring basis, talk to your doctor. Blood in your stool can be a sign of colon polyps or colon cancer, haemorrhoids or anal fissures, peptic ulcers, and more, according to medical authorities.
Too few or too many bowel movements can indicate trouble
While everyone has his or her own ‘normal’, having bowel movements three times a week or less is the common definition of constipation. Conversely, it’s hard to say what constitutes as too-frequent bowel movements, but three times a day is still considered normal. The main thing is that your own routine remains consistent, since one of the signs of trouble is when you experience a significant change in bowel movement patterns.
“If your digestive clock suddenly goes from three times a week to three times a day, that could be a sign of an underlying condition and shouldn’t be ignored,” says Dr Neal. Slight changes in the frequency of bowel movements or the consistency of your stool, however, generally don’t indicate a problem. “Maybe you ate something that didn’t agree with your stomach, or perhaps you were a little dehydrated,” says Dr Neal. “These and many other routine factors can change the colour, size, frequency and consistency of your stool.”
You can be regular but still constipated
Some people assume that if they go to the bathroom every day then they’re not backed up. But constipation also includes hard, lumpy stools and the need to strain while going, reports the Mayo Clinic. The most common culprit is inadequate fibre intake.
The average Kiwi adult only downs about 20 grams of fibre a day, well short of the recommended 25-30 grams. Read labels and keep a food journal for a week to track how much fibre you’re actually taking in. If you’re falling short, bulk up your diet with additional fruit, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds. A natural digestive aid that is derived from New Zealand kiwifruit – containing Zyactinase, prebiotics and fibre – has been clinically found to enhance support long-term digestive health.
Shape is also an indicator
The healthiest stool resembles smooth sausage links. Anything harder or softer than that can be a sign that something is wrong. Deviations in the form or frequency could be a symptom of something as simple as constipation.
However, they could also indicate a more serious problem, such as irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, a bowel obstruction, or maybe even colon or stomach cancer, says Dr T. Lee Baumann, a medical consultant and the author of Clearing the Air: Art of the Bowel Movement. If constipation isn’t the issue, make an appointment to see your GP. This is especially true if what you see in the toilet looks like thin ribbons or pencil-sized strands – a possible symptom of colon cancer.
Very loose stools may be a sign of coeliac disease
Although coeliac affects only about one per cent of the population, the rate may be higher as people are undiagnosed or misdiagnosed as having irritable bowel disorder. In people with coeliac disease, eating gluten destroys villi – the tiny, finger-like protrusions lining the small intestines – and they’re unable to absorb nutrients from the foods they eat.
This contributes to gastric symptoms such as diarrhoea, abdominal pain, gas and nausea. Talk to your doctor about whether you should be screened for coeliac disease. Switching to a gluten-free diet can aid absorption, firm up your stools and address other related symptoms.
A foul smell may mean something is off
Bowel movements that leave your housemates running for cover often have to do with what you eat, but may be a sign of a medical condition. “Food that’s not digested properly reaches the colon and starts a fermentation process that turns sugar into gas,” explains Dr Neal.
A healthy digestive system will break down food in your small intestine and likely not have as much food left to reach the colon to begin the fermentation process. If your stools go beyond the normal unpleasant but familiar odour, talk to your doctor. Foulsmelling stools may indicate a medical condition, such as coeliac disease or an intestinal infection.
Medication can mess with your bowel movements
Got the runs? A host of medications may stimulate your system, according to Dr Neal. Drugs that can cause diarrhoea include antacids, antibiotics, NSAIDs and the common diabetes medication metformin. If you suspect one of these is responsible, talk to your doctor about adjusting your dose or medication. Some drugs can also cause constipation.
The occasional floater is perfectly normal
When poop floats instead of sinks it may mean you have excess gas in your digestive tract. However, if floaters become more common for you or you spot an oil-slick appearance, it could mean something is preventing your body from absorbing fats from food, warns Dr Neal. It could signify pancreatitis, a gastrointestinal infection or a malabsorption syndrome such as coeliac disease.