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7 Things Your Poop Can Tell You About Your Health

We all do it, but are you doing it right?
FACT CHECKED BY Alek Korab
A young woman uses a toilet with a roll of toilet paper in her hand.

What would you say if I told you that more than 10,000 micro-organisms were living in your GI tract right now? 10,000! It seems like a lot. It almost seems like too many, but in fact, a diverse microbiome is one of the surest signs of a healthy system. These thousands of microbiomes have created a balance that keeps your system running efficiently, working hard 24/7 to keep you regular, comfortable, and healthy. But it's a delicate system, and anything that affects that balance (antibiotics, lack of exposure to the outdoors, a change in diet), can throw the entire system in disarray. One of the easiest ways to tell there's an issue (outside of a stomachache)? Your poop (or lack thereof).

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Let's face it: Everybody poops. But everybody poops differently, so there's no such thing as a "right" way to do it. But you know your own body, and you know when something changes, so here are a few things to look out for, and what they might mean:

  1. Small, dark stools, often experienced with pain and bloating could have broader implications if it's a chronic issue.
  2. Floaters—this can be a symptom of fat malabsorption, due to what you've eaten that day. If you have continuous floaters that are getting worse, that may be cause for concern – see your GI doctor.
  3. Bloating, pain, and diarrhea—This could be a sign of many issues, including imbalances in your gut bacteria or a motility disorder (a problem with the motion of the bowels). A motility disorder can be caused by an endocrine issue, a neurological issue, scar tissue, adhesions, trauma to the nerves, an infectious process, etc.
  4. It isn't brown!—Healthy poop is usually brown because of the breakdown of red blood cells, but sometimes you might see a different color. The color can be related to what you ate that day; however, sometimes it can signify a bigger problem, such as a liver condition.
  5. Pencil-thin poops—If it's only occasionally, it might seem weird, but it's nothing to worry about, and could just mean your intestines are working overtime to help compact your waste. If it's a continuous problem, you'll want to ask your GI doctor about it.A sudden change in smell—Nobody actually thinks their shit doesn't stink, but the smell of your poop changes suddenly for the worse, you could be suffering from any number of intestinal issues such as a bacteria imbalance.
  6. Consistency—Some people poop several times a day, some only a few times a week. Either is normal as long as it's consistent. If there's no pattern around how often you poop, you may have some underlying gastrointestinal issues. 

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There's also, if you can believe it, the Meyers Stool Scale, which helps identify the look of your poop from 1 (pebble-like, small, hard to pass) through 7 (Watery) if you really want to start getting specific about it. But before you turn into an armchair scientist and start really dissecting what's at the bottom of your toilet, remember: There's no such thing as perfect poop, and if you notice some changes every once in a while, but aren't experiencing intestinal distress, it could just be the natural variance that occurs from maintaining a diverse microbiome. Think of your poop like a talkative friend: There's always something to listen to, but it's not always important. If they keep harping on and on about the same thing though, you might want to start paying more attention. And to get through life at your healthiest, don't miss these First Signs You Have a Serious Illness.

Dr. Sabine Hazan is a gastroenterologist, creator of ProgenaBiome, and author of Let's Talk Sh!t.

Sabine Hazan, MD
Dr. Sabine Hazan has over 22 years of experience in clinical trials and is the Founder and CEO at both Ventura Clinical Trials and Malibu Specialty Center. Read more