Talking about poop can be gross at times, but it is a perfectly normal bodily function (I mean, there’s even a book called “Everybody Poops”) and it can tell you a whole lot about your health. Seriously — your bowel movements are one of the easiest ways to gauge your wellness and predict any oncoming or current health issues. The characteristics of your poop can indicate everything from bacterial infections, to letting you know you need more of a particular food group in your diet. Though poop may not be the most pleasant topic (or maybe you love talking about poop — more power to you!), it’s super necessary to have discussions about it, and helps ensure your health is on the up-and-up.
A 2017 survey conducted by the website Healthline revealed that, out of 2,000 participants, 50% of people reported pooping once a day on average. However, 28% of people reported pooping twice a day, and 5.6 percent reported only pooping once or twice a week. How much you poop on any given day can be impacted by a number of variables — including your fluid intake, diet, exercise, hormones, and stress.
In some cases, the frequency of your bowel movements may indicate that you have a health issue, or that you are developing one. Colleen Webb, MS, RDN, CLT, a registered dietician who specializes in gastrointestinal issues, and an OMG! Nutrition advisory board member, tells Bustle, "Even though it's normal to have multiple daily bowel movements, sometimes there can be cause for concern."
Pooping more than once a day is not cause alone for a trip to the doctor. Webb says alcohol, sugar-sweetened drinks, and eating too fast can make you poop more regularly, which isn't necessarily a big deal. However, if you’re making multiple trips to the bathroom in a day, and your stool is mushy, loose, or flat-out watery (here’s the handy-dandy Bristol Stool chart if you are not sure), you should be a bit more concerned.
Fiber intake is a common culprit behind more frequent bowel movements, but depending on the consistency of your poop, it may indicate that you have an underlying digestive health issue that needs addressed. "If you eat a high-fiber diet, then it’s normal to have one to three painless bowel movements a day. However, people with gastrointestinal issues might find that eating too many of these foods leads to diarrhea, constipation, or abdominal pain," Webb explains.
What's more, she says pooping more than once a day may mean you're feeling more stressed or anxious than usual. In fact, research has shown your digestive health is directly linked your mental health, and vice versa: This connection, often referred to as the "gut-brain axis" by physicians, means that heightened stress or anxiety could lead to constipation, diarrhea, cramping, or other gastrointestinal issues. “Many people have that experience where stress causes irregularity of their bowels,” Kyle Staller, M.D., M.P.H., a gastroenterologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, told SELF in 2017. "Your gastrointestinal tract has many nerves, and is a nervous system organ much like the brain."
According to the CDC, diarrhea is also universal symptom of many common illnesses, such as food poisoning and the stomach virus. Though these frequent bowel movements should pass as you get over the illness, it’s crucial to drink water, and give your physician a ring if you don't begin to feel better within a few days — especially since diarrhea can easily cause dehydration.
Moreover, certain chronic health conditions may also impact the amount you poop. Webb says that, "Most often, these [health] issues impact the intestines, pancreas, or gallbladder because these organs are essential for breaking down (digesting) food, absorbing nutrients, and removing waste." For example, people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a digestive health condition that can cause stomach aches and diarrhea, are more likely to poop than once a day — and that can be the “normal.” Certain autoimmune diseases, like Crohn’s disease and celiac disease, are also linked to chronic diarrhea and frequent bowel movements. Further, Webb says people with food allergies, food intolerances, and pancreatic insufficiency may also cause more frequent bowel movements.
Chances are, if you’re diagnosed with a disorder that affects your digestive health, pooping more than once a day (or, oppositely, experiencing chronic constipation) is pretty typical. If you frequently have loose stools and no diagnosis, it may be a good idea to follow up with your doctor. They may suggest you follow up with a specialist, such as a gastroenterologist (aka, a doctor that manage health issues that affect the gut), and even a registered dietician.
Understanding your own body and your own “normal” is key to determining whether or not the frequency of your poops is a health concern. Though pooping once a day is a pretty solid average, a 2010 study suggested anywhere between going to the bathroom three times a day to three times a week is normal. So, simply being aware of how much you poop on average, and if it fluctuates, will clue you into the state of your health.
This post was originally published on January 9, 2018. It was updated on June 26, 2019.
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