Poop, also known as stool or feces, is a normal part of the digestive process. Poop consists of waste products that are being eliminated from the body. It may include undigested food particles, bacteria, salts, and other substances.
Sometimes, poop can vary in its color, texture, amount, and odor. These differences can be worrying, but usually, these changes are not significant and will resolve in a day or two. Other times, however, changes in poop indicate a more serious condition.
Keep reading to discover more about the different types of poop, including what is and is not normal.
Normal poop is generally:
- Medium to dark brown: This is because it contains a pigment called bilirubin, which forms when red blood cells break down.
- Strong-smelling: Bacteria in excrement emit gases that contain the unpleasant odor associated with poop.
- Pain-free to pass: A healthy bowel movement should be painless and require minimal strain.
- Soft to firm in texture: Poop that is passed in one single piece or a few smaller pieces is typically considered to be a sign of a healthy bowel. The long, sausage-like shape of poop is due to the shape of the intestines.
- Passed once or twice daily: Most people pass stool once a day, although others may poop every other day or up to three times daily. At a minimum, a person should pass stool three times a week.
- Consistent in its characteristics: A healthy poop varies from person to person. However, a person should monitor any changes in the smell, firmness, frequency, or color of poop as it can indicate there is a problem.
Image credit: Kylet, 2011.
Devised by doctors in the Bristol Royal Infirmary, England, and based on the bowel movements of nearly 2,000 people, the Bristol stool chart characterizes the different types of poop as shown above.
While brown poop is considered the “normal” color of poop, some greenish-brown hues may also be acceptable.
Poop can be other colors too, such as:
Stools that are black, especially if they have the appearance of coffee grounds, suggest gastrointestinal bleeding. Substances such as iron supplements, black licorice, black stout, and bismuth medications also cause black poop.
If stools are white, gray, or pale, a person may have an issue with the liver or gallbladder as pale stools suggest a lack of bile. Some anti-diarrhea medications cause white stools.
Spinach, kale, or other green foods can cause green poop. However, green-colored stool may be a sign that there is too much bile and not enough bilirubin in the poop.
Poop that is red-colored may be the result of gastrointestinal bleeding. Small amounts of blood in the stool can indicate hemorrhoids.
Eating beets or red berries, or drinking beet or tomato juice, also turns poop red. Once these foods have passed through the digestive tract, poop should become brown again.
Consuming many orange-colored foods, which are rich in a pigment called beta-carotene, causes orange stool.
Carrots, sweet potatoes, and winter squash are among the many foods that contain this pigment.
However, blocked bile ducts or certain medications including some antacids and the antibiotic rifampin can cause orange poop.
If stool appears yellow or is greasy-looking, it suggests the poop contains too much fat. This may be the result of absorption issues, or difficulty producing enzymes or bile.
Most people will experience variations in stool color at some stage. Usually, this is down to diet or some other minor cause. However, anyone who experiences changes in poop color that last for 2 or more weeks or has red or black stool should see their doctor.
How long should a poop take?
At most, it should take no more than 10 to 15 minutes to pass stool.
People that take longer than this may have constipation, hemorrhoids, or another condition.
The following situations may suggest a digestive issue:
- pooping too often (more than three times daily)
- not pooping often enough (less than three times a week)
- excessive straining when pooping.
- poop that is colored red, black, green, yellow, or white
- greasy, fatty stools
- pain when pooping
- blood in the stool
- bleeding while passing stool
- watery poop (diarrhea)
- very hard, dry poop that is difficult to pass
People experiencing any of these types of poop should see a doctor.
Abnormal poop can have many causes, ranging from minor to severe. Causes can include:
Not drinking enough water and other fluids can lead to constipation, as stool requires moisture to be able to move through the digestive tract. Too much caffeine and alcohol can contribute to dehydration.
Lack of dietary fiber
Fiber acts as a binding substance to give stool its form. It also helps poop to move smoothly through the digestive tract. A diet that is low in fiber-rich foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and pulses, can lead to bowel problems.
Food intolerances and allergies
People with an intolerance or allergy to certain foods can often experience diarrhea, constipation, or other traits of abnormal poop when they consume a problematic food.
Certain conditions can cause constipation, diarrhea, or other poop abnormalities. Examples of such conditions include:
See a doctor if changes to poop persist for 2 or more weeks.
Seek immediate medical treatment if the stool is bright red, black, or resembles coffee grounds. This suggests blood loss, which could become a medical emergency if left untreated.
How to ensure healthy bowels
To ensure healthy bowel function and healthy poops, follow the tips below:
- Eat enough fiber: Aim to get the recommended minimum daily amount of fiber, which is 25 grams (g) for women and 38 g for men under 50 years old; women over 50 should aim for 21 g while men over 50 should consume 30 g daily.
- Drink plenty of water: A reasonable amount is about 8 glasses (64 ounces) per day. It is especially important to stay hydrated when consuming more fiber.
- Take probiotics. These beneficial bacteria can be found in capsule form, although some yogurts and drinks can also provide probiotics. Probiotics have been found to aid in
relief from constipation, as well as infectious diarrhea.
- Try magnesium: Magnesium hydroxide is
often usedto treat constipation. It is safe for most people, although it is not recommended for people with renal insufficiency.
- Exercise: Staying physically active can encourage normal bowel function and can alleviate constipation. It also relieves stress, a common cause of abnormal poops.
A well-functioning digestive system is essential for health and wellbeing. It also suggests that a person is eating a balanced diet balanced diet.
Poop abnormalities that persist can lead to complications. For example, ongoing diarrhea can result in nutritional deficiencies while constipation can cause bowel obstructions.
Normal poop tends to be brown, soft to firm in texture, and easy to pass. If someone experiences changes in poop, they should monitor the changes and consult a doctor if the issue does not resolve within 2 weeks.
To encourage a normal bowel function, a person should eat a fiber-rich diet, take regular exercise, try to reduce stress, and drink lots of water to stay hydrated.