Faeces aren't normally a hot topic of conversation, but it's actually a really important subject to consider when it comes to your overall health.
According to gastroenterologist Anish Sheth, author of ‘What's Your Poo Telling You? (opens in new tab)', "your bowel movements are the only real marker you have about what your gastrointestinal health is like." Your stools' colour and consistency may change temporarily, depending on what you've been eating, but "if you notice a change that lasts a week or more, and you're unable to trace it to any recent diet change, make an appointment with your doctor," Sheth recommends.
Poo meaning: what does your poo say about you?
1. If you pass soft, smooth, medium-to-dark brown sausage-shaped or slightly blobby stools 1-3 times a day
You're probably in good gastrointestinal shape. The ideal poo is the colour of milk chocolate and the consistency of soft-serve ice cream, according to the experts.
2. If your poo is hard and pellet-like, firm and lumpy or sausage-shaped but cracked
You're probably constipated, even if you go to the loo every day. Ideally, stools should pass through the colon within 72 hours. Hard, lumpy or ‘cracked' stools take at least a week to pass through your system and can usually be attributed to a lack of dietary fibre (opens in new tab) and/or a sedentary lifestyle. They may also indicate IBS (opens in new tab). Try upping your intake of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds and natural yoghurt, and cutting back on processed foods.
3. If it's loose and mushy, with ‘fluffy' bits and ragged edges
Your stools have probably passed through your colon more quickly than usual thanks to stress (opens in new tab) or changes in diet or activity levels. However, if very loose stools are an ongoing problem, you could have celiac disease. Celiacs are unable to tolerate gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye and barley). Eating gluten destroys the villi which line the small intestine, hindering nutrient absorption. Celiac disease is thought to affect 1% of the population. However, it's estimated that 83% of sufferers are unaware of their condition. If you think you may be affected, make an appointment with your GP. You could also try temporarily eliminating foods containing gluten from your diet.
4. If it smells...
If you eat lots of meat, dairy or sulphur-rich vegetables like kale, cabbage, Brussel sprouts or garlic, a sulphurous odour isn't necessarily a cause for concern. However, if your poo smells like sulphur or eggs and you also have diarrhoea, you could have giardiasis, a parasitic infection. Your GP can test a stool sample and prescribe antibiotics if necessary. Pungent poo may also be caused by food poisoning, lactose or gluten intolerance, celiac disease, IBS, processed foods, antibiotics, overdosing on vitamins A, D, E or K, cystic fibrosis or chronic pancreatitis.
5. If it floats
There is probably an excess of gas in your digestive tract. If you've eaten lots of beans, sprouts or cabbage, or recently enjoyed a large meal, there's probably no cause for concern. However, if your ‘floaters' become more regular, or appear greasy and yellowish, you should ask your doctor to test a stool sample, as an infection or allergy may be preventing your body from absorbing fats from food.
6. If it's pencil-thin
For another poo meaning, if yours are very thin, are probably constipated. However, very thin stools can also be a sign of rectal cancer. If this symptom persists, see your doctor.
MORE:'Lockdown means I can poo in peace', says our Health Editor - and she's not the only one (opens in new tab)
7. If it's white
Your stools are low in bile, the digestive fluid produced by the liver and stored in the gallbladder which gives poo its characteristic brown colour. This can be caused by taking certain medicines, such as diarrhoea medication. Long-term, however, it may indicate an underlying problem with the liver or gallbladder such as Crohn's disease, gallstones, hepatitis or tumorous growths.
8. If it's orange
You may have carotenemia, a harmless temporary condition caused by consuming too many carotenoid-rich foods like sweet potatoes, carrots and apricots. Carotenemia will also give your skin a rather fetching golden glow...
9. If it's black or red - or you experience blood when pooing
Haemorrhoids, a stomach ulcer or colon cancer may be causing bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract. If you think you spot blood in your stools, you should see your GP as a matter of urgency.
However, iron supplements, licorice, certain over-the-counter medications and even blueberries can also turn your stool black, whilst tomato juice, beetroots and red food colouring can turn it red. Blue food colouring can turn it blue, too.
10. If it's green
You've probably been eating more than your fair share of veggies - good work! Green food colouring and iron supplements can also lend your poo a greenish hue. However, if your poo is explosive, liquid and green, you may have a Clostridium difficile (C. diff) infection. C. diff is a normal part of the digestive flora which, in rare cases, can proliferate unchecked, often following a course of antibiotic treatment. If you experience these symptoms, see a doctor immediately, since the condition can be deadly in very severe cases.
Amy Hunt is an experienced digital journalist specialising in homes, interiors and hobbies. She began her career working as the features assistant at woman&home magazine, before moving over to the digital side of the brand where she eventually became the Lifestyle Editor up until January 2022. Amy won the Digital Journalist of the Year award at the AOP Awards in 2019 for her work on womanandhome.com.
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