Potty Talk: Are Your Bowel Movements Healthy?

Poop. Poo. Number Two.

Whatever you call it, we all do it. But do you know why, and how that sandwich made it from Point A to Point B? Michael Basista, MD, a ProMedica Physician specializing in gastroenterology, explains the function of our bowel movements (BM) and lays out what’s healthy and what needs the attention of a specialist.

How It Works

“Poop is how the body disposes of solid material that was eaten but not used,” explains Dr. Basista. “The GI tract acts like a factory, breaking down food as it’s passed from one section to the next. Each organ infuses the processed slurry with acids, enzymes, bile and other juices that speed up our body’s chemical reactions to break down food into different nutrients.”

Dr. Basista continues, “Food is digested in the stomach and small intestine. Nutrients are absorbed from the small intestine and then the remaining material reaches the colon. From that material, some energy and water is absorbed in the colon and the rest becomes poop.”

Does This Look Ok?

Generally, our waste is brown, but some colors are less common and could signal a more serious issue.

“The appearance of poop varies by what is eaten and how well the body digests it. Short of blood red material or black material, which can indicate bleeding, or white colorless stool, which could be from liver disease or bile duct obstruction, the color is not relevant,” says Dr. Basista.

As far as texture and shape, each person is different, and this is not usually a concern. Your bathroom schedule could also be very different compared to someone else’s.

“Normal is considered three BMs a day to one BM every three days. Fewer BMs is constipation, and too many can be diarrhea.”

The amount of fiber you’re getting also effects how much you go and how often.

When To Be Concerned

As Dr. Basista mentioned before, colors like red or black can mean bleeding, or a lack of color in stool can indicate liver disease or a bile duct obstruction. Remember, your body is mixing in fluids throughout the digestion process, so if one type of fluid is missing or a new one is present, it can affect the output.

“Also, a significant change in pattern of BMs or a decrease in caliber of the BM can signal a disease,” he says. For example, those with lactose intolerance can’t digest dairy properly, affecting BM patterns.

Dr. Basista adds conditions like bloody stools or your body’s inability to absorb the proper water or nutrients can produce a uniquely foul odor.

If conditions like chronic diarrhea and constipation or other changes in your bathroom habits persist, it’s time to talk to your doctor.

Keeping Things Moving

Many of the good habits that fuel a healthy body also benefit a healthy digestive system. Here’s how to be kind to your GI tract and ensure a smooth trip to the restroom:

  • Drink plenty of water
  • Exercise regularly
  • Eat plenty of fiber
  • Eat less fat
  • Manage stress
  • Eat slowly and give your body time to digest foods

For additional questions about your digestive health, contact your primary care physician.