This week Dr Zac Turner tackles the heady topic of what a healthy poo looks like.
Hi Dr Zac, I’ve always been curious about what constitutes a healthy poo, especially how many times should we go to the bathroom in a day/week and what should it look like?
I know this question is a two-parter, pardon the pun, but I always get nervous for my health when my mates tell me they poo three times a day, while I only poo once every two days Who is the unhealthy person in this scenario? – Ned, Perth 35
ANSWER: Hi Ned, thanks for your question. Patients typically visit a doctor worrying about their stool after scaring themselves by looking at Google or hearing of someone else’s poo cycle being drastically different to their own.
Every time a patient comes in with questions about their stools, I remind them of the Dr Suess quote: “There is no one alive who is youer than you.”
You should never compare your stools and cycles to other people’s – but there are warning signs you should look out for.
Stools can scare us easily because we see them as a window for what is happening inside our bodies. I’ve had patients come into my office terrified they had internal bleeding because their stool was red but didn’t mention they ate a beetroot salad for dinner the night before. Stools can offer insight into general health but they do not give a perfect picture, which is important to remember before you self-diagnose.
To answer your first question, there is no healthy number of times to go the bathroom. The word to live by is consistency. A person who goes to the bathroom three times a day for their whole life is just the same as someone who goes once every two days. As long as you remain consistent in trips to the bathroom, you should have nothing to worry about.
Take your time on the toilet. It should never be a workout to get it out. You should also sit up straight rather than hunching over which most people do looking at their phone. People are now starting to have poo-stools in their bathrooms as well, if you put your feet up on a stool you are mimicking the squatting stance which studies have shown is the healthiest position to be in to do a number two.
If you feel out of sync with your regular bowel pattern, I recommend taking note of what you eat and do for exercise every day, and take this to your doctor for consultation.
Diet and exercise are likely factors that contribute to irregular bowel movements. Not to forget, as we age we are more prone to constipation which is why there’s usually a bottle of Metamucil in your grandparents’ pantry.
But rather than having a glass of Metamucil to promote healthy bowel movements, I recommend keeping up a consistent intake of fibre from fruits, grains and vegetables. Apples, avocados, lentils, beans and broccoli are full of dietary fibre.
Stools should mirror the inside of the intestines meaning they should look like a smooth or cracked sausage.
The colour brown comes from the breakdown of red blood cells in our body. The trouble can come if your stools are either consistently hard, lumpy or watery and entirely liquid. If you are consistently on either side of this stool spectrum, I recommend you visit your doctor.
You must visit your doctor immediately if you have blood in your stool, which appears red or black and in the consistency of coffee grounds. Another warning sign is severe, stabbing abdominal pain as you go to the bathroom.
There are so many factors which contribute to our bowel movements, so self-diagnosing is extremely difficult.
Next time you have a stool scare, stay away from Google and consult your doctor!