Here's 6 Things Your Poop Can Tell You About Your Gut Health, According To Experts
It’s the thing everyone does, but that no one wants to talk about: Poop. Most people (understandably) prefer not to talk about what happens in the bathroom, but there’s a reason why most physicians ask you about your bowel movements when you go to the doctor’s office. It may not be the most comfy conversation to have, but your poop can actually tell you a whole lot about your gut health — which, in turn, can tell you a lot about your overall health.
“Research is showing that the health of your gut, ultimately the balance and functionality of the trillions of microorganisms that live in your intestines, play an important role in many other systems' health," Erika Angle, PhD, the CEO and cofounder of Ixcela, which makes a gut microbiome testing kit, tells Bustle. "These include mental health, autoimmunity and immune system health, and energy levels.” In fact, some researchers refer to the gut as the “second brain” because of the growing body of research that shows neurological health and gut health are inextricably linked — a connection referred to as the “gut-brain axis.” As Healthline reported, these healthy bacterias are also crucial to digestion, helping break down fibrous foods so they can pass through your gastrointestinal (GI) tract.
Skin issues, anxiety, frequently getting sick, and fatigue are some of the common signs that your gut microbiome is off. However, your bathroom habits may also reveal what’s going on inside your GI tract. Here are six things you can learn about your gut health from your poop.
1. Diarrhea Can Be A Sign Of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
"Many of us don’t realize that poop is one of the most important and visible biomarkers of our health," Ara Katz, co-founder and co-CEO of Seed, a probiotic company, says. In fact, poop is so important to health that doctors rely on the Bristol Stool Chart — a tool that classifies poop based on consistency, shape, and size — to determine if there could be a problem with your gut health. Katz explains healthy poop should be a type 3 or 4 on the chart, which means it should be "expelling easily, in a singular sausage or snake like shape, [and] not too watery, and not too dry."
However, she says if you are having diarrhea on a regular basis (classified as a 6 or 7 on the Bristol Stool Chart), you may have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). In addition to diarrhea, other symptoms of IBS include stomach pain, bloating, loss of appetite, and in some cases, alternating constipation and diarrhea. According to the International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders, IBS affects somewhere between 10 to 15 percent of the world's population, and women are especially prone to developing this digestive disorder.
2. Abnormal Poops Can Be A Sign Of Dehydration
On the topic of the Bristol Stool Chart, Angle says that poop that isn't "softish," or "well-formed" could indicate dehydration. While being dehydrated is a pretty broad symptom, it could be a sign you have an underlying GI-related disease. For instance, dehydration is often a symptom of Crohn's Disease. It's important to note that dehydration could also simply mean you didn't drink enough water one day. But, it never hurts to bring it up with your doc if you're constipated on the regular.
3. Painful Bowel Movements Can Be A Sign Of Inflammation
Experiencing pain while pooping can point to both minor and major gut health issues. In most cases, Angle says pain during or after a bowel movement is most likely due to a "build up of material in the intestines, gas, or sometimes anxiety and depression."
However, she adds that it could mean you have ulcerative colitis — a common inflammatory bowel disease that the Mayo Clinic reports can cause sores throughout the digestive tract that develop over time. "Pain accompanied by bleeding should be looked at," says Angle.
4. Regular Diarrhea Can Point To Food Allergies
According to Samantha Cassetty, RD, the chief nutrition officer for magnesium supplement brand OMG! Nutrition, routinely having diarrhea may mean you have food allergies or sensitivities — which can cause IBS, or similar symptoms. She explains that adopting a low FODMAP (Fermentable, Oligo-, Di-, Mono-saccharides And Polyols) dietcan help alleviate gastrointestinal discomfort.
4. Diarrhea Or Constipation Can Be Signs Of SIBO
"Both constipation and diarrhea are signs of SIBO — small intestinal bacterial overgrowth," Cassetty says. "It’s totally normal to have bacteria in your large intestines, [but] when bacteria gets trapped in the small intestines, it can lead to symptoms like bloating, diarrhea, and constipation." In addition to abnormal poops, research has shown people with SIBO may experience weight loss and malabsorption of nutrients. As Medical News Today reported, physicians sometimes treat SIBO with antibiotics, or encourage patients to adopt a low FODMAP diet, much like those who have IBS.
5. You Might Be Low On Fiber
"Frequency matters. You want to be visiting the toilet at least once a day. If you are not doing this at least once a day, and less than two to three times a week, there might be a problem," Angle says, adding that not having enough fiber is often the common culprit that's getting your gut backed up, and causing discomfort.
What's more, Katz says, "The FDA recommends 25g of fiber per day. [...] But currently, American adults average only about 15g a day." According to Healthline, you can increase your daily fiber intake by eating more whole grains, nuts, seeds, berries, and non-starchy vegetables.
6. Constipation Can Be A Sign Of Weak GI Muscles
As the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases Health Information Center writes, food moves through your entire digestive system thanks to a process called peristalsis (aka, gut motility), which triggers the muscles in the lining of your GI tract from your esophagus, all the way to your large intestine and rectum, to move so nutrients can be properly digested. Abnormal poops may signify your gut motility is off.
As Cassetty says, "Constipation can be a sign of many common things — from a low-fiber diet, to inadequate fluid intake — but it can also be a sign that the muscles that move things along are weak, or they’re not functioning properly."
Poop isn't the most pleasant thing to discuss, but when seeing your physician, try not to skip over any issues you may be experiencing when you go to the bathroom. Your gut health is so important to all aspects of your wellness, and your poop may give clue you in to underlying health issues before they progress.
Update: This article was updated on April 22, 2019 from its original version.