The Scoop on Poop

Submitted by SharpMan Editorial Team on Saturday 16th October 2010
In this article
  • What’s normal?
  • What if you can’t go?
  • How to stay (or get) regular.

Though toilet humor has long been a staple of comedians, the health of your bowels is no laughing matter. In fact, your body’s waste disposal system is something that deserves a little respect. No need to voice embarrassing questions here, just read on for the SharpMan 411 of human waste:

What’s Normal?

How often you move your bowels depends on several things, like what you eat and how active you are. According to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, (NDDIC), the normal range is between three times a day and three times a week. On the other hand, many health professionals say at least once a day is ideal. If you don’t normally do so, pay attention to what comes out next time. Here are some pointers to keep in mind:

Color: You’ll have Technicolor-stool if you eat food with a lot of artificial coloring, but generally, it should be brown. The exact shade depends on what you’ve been eating. But if your stool looks reddish or bloody, you may be suffering from internal bleeding. A little blood on your toilet paper and some discomfort around your rectum might mean you have hemorrhoids, which are painful, but not so serious. In any event, if you see blood, check with a doctor. Very dark stool may also have blood in it. Call your doctor immediately if your stool is black and tar-like, especially if you feel weak. White, gray or pale yellow bowel movements over the course of a couple of days also warrant a call to the doctor.

Odor / Gas: Believe it or not, excrement shouldn’t smell too bad. Of course, the definition of bad is relative. A meat-eater’s stool will smell worse than a vegetarian’s. The point is, a really awful stench means your digestive system is struggling.

Shape: Not to put you off breakfast, but your poop should vaguely resemble a sausage link or a banana. It should be firm but not hard and it should sink to the bottom of the toilet bowl. "Floaters" float because they contain gas or undigested fat. If you produce a lot of greasy stool, then you should reduce your intake of fatty foods. Long and stringy worm-like bits could indeed be parasites, so call your doctor to find out for sure.

Loose Stool

If your stool is loose, watery and shapeless, you may have mild diarrhea, which, though common, is also abnormal. The NDDIC reports that the average American adult suffers from diarrhea a few times a year. If you have it, then your body is experiencing a problem of some sort. Perhaps you’re allergic to something you ate. Maybe you were exposed to some bacteria or a parasite, as is often the case with traveler’s diarrhea. Some people get diarrhea when they’re anxious or upset. Whatever the cause, be sure to drink plenty of fluids if you get "the runs." Although rare, you actually can die of the dehydration caused by diarrhea.

Chronic diarrhea can be a sign of a serious health problem, such as colon disease. Definitely check with a doctor if diarrhea is a frequent guest in your bathroom. For more information, check out the NDDIC’s website.

Spotlight on Constipation

On the other end of the spectrum lies the frustration of constipation. There may be times when you feel like you need to go and can’t. This can be very unpleasant and painful. How easily should you be able to produce stool? Think how easy it is to urinate; defecating shouldn’t be much harder. Straining to go can mean that you’ve waited too long. Maybe you had the urge earlier but ignored it. Now there’s a traffic jam in your colon. It can also mean that your stool is too hard and dry. Perhaps you haven’t been drinking enough liquids or getting enough fiber in your diet. Constipation can also occur if you’re bedridden or on certain medications. However, there are products that can solve the problem pretty quickly:

Laxatives — pill form: These medications help you move your bowels. They take several hours to kick in, but when they do, they effectively empty your bowels. Unfortunately, some people see them as a dieting shortcut. Keep in mind that laxatives should be used very sparingly. Talk to your doctor if frequent constipation is a problem for you.

Laxatives — suppository form: These are bullet-shaped medications that you insert into your anus. As startling as that might sound, it’s easy and fairly painless. A glycerin suppository helps loosen up compacted stool, plus it lubricates your rectum. Suppositories start to work after just a few minutes. But like laxative pills, they’re not something you should use on a regular basis.

If abused, laxatives can actually impair your body’s ability to eliminate waste. You can become dependent and therefore unable to move your bowels independently. In light of this, use caution and talk with your doctor if you find that you’re using these medications on a regular basis. In the meantime, there’s plenty you can do to encourage and maintain bowel health.

Natural bowel aids: If you’re the type of guy who has never had an easy time eliminating waste, consider adding natural bowel aids to your daily vitamin intake. "Fast-Absorbing" Magnesium, such as Magnesium Glycinate, can help move your bowels daily, with no additive side effects. A happy side effect is that Magnesium also serves as a natural relaxant. Alternatively, supplements of fibrous algae and other plants can also provide the same natural, non-habit-forming effects.

To Keep Things Running Smoothly

If your bowels are already in good working order, congratulations and keep it up. Otherwise, here are some tips for getting – and staying – regular.

Diet: Eat your vegetables. You’ve been hearing the mantra since you were a kid and for good reason. A healthy and balanced diet is key to digestive health. Make sure you’re getting 20-30 grams of fiber per day. Fiber-rich foods include fruits and vegetables, beans, lentils, brown rice, barley, bran cereal, oat bran, oatmeal, whole wheat bread and wheat bran. Visit the New York-based Continuum Health Partners website for more information on bowel function and dietary fiber.

To wash it all down, drink plenty of water and other non-caffeinated and non-alcoholic beverages throughout the day.

Exercise: If you’re reading this, then you probably spend several hours a day sitting at a desk. In order to move your bowels regularly, you need to move your body regularly, too. Doctors routinely ask patients to get up and get mobile as quickly as possible following surgery — this is, in part, to prevent constipation. If you enjoy playing sports or working out at the gym, great. If you don’t, try walking, cycling or swimming. Even little things like taking the stairs help. Get up and speak to a coworker face-to-face rather than sending an e-mail.

Good bathroom habits: When you’ve gotta go, you’ve gotta go. Waiting for a more convenient time or place puts unnecessary strain on your body. Also, be sure to take enough time to sit on the toilet for a few minutes a day. You’re far more likely to get constipated if a hectic schedule has you in and out of the bathroom within 10 minutes -- shower and shave included. On the other hand, don’t bring the entire newspaper with you. Sitting and reading for 20 minutes can strain and weaken your rectum muscles. If nothing’s happening, just move on. After all, there are better places to spend your spare time.

This article last updated on Saturday 16th October 2010
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