Do You Have Healthy Stools? 8 Questions About Poop Youre Too Shy to Ask

How often should you poop, what’s a healthy poo and more for better holistic health

Text: Jo

Bowel movements and toilet habits are not the sexiest subject. We all poop, but no one talks about it, and we get that. The thing is, your stools and bowel habits can tell you a lot about your health. “Your poop can reveal so much,” explains General Practitioner Dr Hina Kadwani of International Medical Clinic (IMC); “It can give an indication of dietary habits, the presence of infection, an indication of bowel or liver conditions and even your alcohol intake. There’s also growing research regarding the brain-gut connection.”

What are normal bowel habits vary from person to person. It’s important to understand your own individual toilet habits, and to be aware of any changes to know when to seek further help. As a bid to remove the stigma of this traditionally taboo body function, ishonest and Dr Kadwani present you with the scoop on poop for better holistic health. No tittering at the back.

1. What colour, shape, size and consistency makes for a healthy poo?

Poo — also referred to as stools or faeces — is the remains of undigested food that is not absorbed in the small bowel that is then broken down further by bacteria in the large bowel. Stools can vary in size, colour and texture, and this can indicate a lot about your diet, digestive health and overall holistic health.

When thinking about the ‘perfect poo’ doctors often refer to the Bristol Stool Chart — this is a clinical aid that aims to categorise stools into 7 main types. It can help in a consultation for patients to describe what they mean by their bowel habits.

The 7 types range in consistency from Type 1 — several hard lumps suggesting severe constipation, to Type 7 — a liquid consistency to suggest severe diarrhoea.

Types 3 and 4 are thought to be the ‘perfect poo’ consistency — a smooth sausage shape that is easy to pass.

2. How often should you poop, and is there a specific time of day to go to the toilet?

Some suggest that the optimal time of day to open your bowels is first thing in the morning. Your bowel has already been digesting the food from your dinner and so is ready to be passed out. Alternatively, about 20 – 30 minutes after a meal is also a good time. But being regular is more important than the time and ‘normal’ is considered anywhere between going three times a day (at most) to three times a week (at minimum). Anything more or less than this that becomes a new pattern should be mentioned to your doctor.

3. Is there a correct way to poo?

The main thing is to be somewhere that you are comfortable and relaxed to help with bowel movements. A ‘squat position’ is thought to be ideal and toilet footstools exist to help with this.

4. Why does some poop smell worse than others?

It is natural for poo to smell — this is due to the sulphur containing compounds found in stools. Foul smelling stools can be due to foods that have been eaten, medication taken, an infection or sometimes may suggest an underlying health condition. Problems such as infection, coeliac disease or inflammatory bowel disease amongst others may be the cause of this. So, whilst a one-off smelly poo is okay, persistent smelly stools should be investigated.

5. How does women’s monthly cycle and hormones affect toilet habits?

Women’s monthly cycle and fluctuations in hormone levels may be responsible for bloating, constipation or diarrhoea. Just before ovulation, progesterone levels rise and this is thought to cause constipation around the time of ovulation and up to a few days later.

After ovulation, your oestrogen and progesterone levels are rising and this can cause abdominal bloating. When your period starts, there is a release of prostaglandins (a hormone-type product) which is what causes cramping as the smooth muscle of the womb relaxes. In the same way they affect the muscles of the bowel wall and cause them to relax, which can lead to diarrhoea and increased gas production.

6. Does our poo change as we age?

As we get older changes can occur in within our digestive tracts. Our abdominal muscles and bowel wall muscles get weaker, you may be on medications with side effects, diets and exercise levels change, and new conditions such as diverticular disease (a benign condition where outpouchings of the colon wall occur) become more common. All of these can lead to a change in bowel habits towards more constipation or loose stools.

7. What can we do to become more regular?

Aim to go at the same time daily to help build up a regular pattern. Also, if you feel the urge to go, listen to that rather than avoiding the bowel movement to avoid constipation and irregularities. Maintaining adequate hydration with water and fibre intake helps to keep bowel movements softer and more consistent. Increased fibre should be introduced slowly and steadily in the form of nuts, seeds, wholewheat grains and fruits in addition to green vegetables. Regular exercise — even short bursts — also helps.

8. What poop issues should be considered a cause for concern?

It’s important to not be embarrassed and to look at your stools in the toilet bowl. Things to look out for are: blood in your stools (this can be due to variety of problems and should always be discussed with your doctor); a persistent change in the colour of your stools (for example paler or white or black and tarry); mucus in the stools, or floating stools that are difficult to flush away (as a one off this is nothing to worry about, persistent stools like this may indicate an underlying issue).

Lastly any new abdominal pain that occurs with your bowel movements should also be discussed with your doctor. Try to remember that they will have heard (and seen!) it all before, so never feel shy to speak to them if you have noticed any changes that are worrying you.

About Dr Hina Kadwani

Dr Hina Kadwani graduated from Imperial College London UK in 2011 and has worked as a GP in a busy North London practice and in Out of Hours triage in London . Dr Kadwani moved to Singapore in 2019 and initially worked at the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine as an Education Associate and Clinical Communications Skills facilitator, before starting her practice at IMC.

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